Gramps had been getting worse over the past few months. Aunt Janet called and left voicemails. She went on about his most recent falls and the toll it was taking on Nan. She said she had to lug him out of bed sometimes when he got confused. It was getting to be too much.
I drove down on a Tuesday. I had the time. I wasn’t exactly working and my roommates were doing a lot of complaining about it. I was getting to be too much.
I found it fascinating, spending time with him. Aunt Janet would go to work and Nan would rest and that would leave the two of us to fend for ourselves. Gramps talked about all sorts of things—things Aunt Janet would have been horrified to hear about, things I didn’t know my sweet old grandpa would’ve ever thought to say until he got sick.
Obviously, this was not the grandpa I’d known. This Papa didn’t hold back. He didn’t chuckle at black and white sitcoms and he never watched golf. This Papa like rapped videos. He cursed, drank beers in the morning. He wore a thin v-neck t-shirt and always had a bruise under either or both eyes that gave him an edge.
This Papa didn’t give a shit. And neither did I.
We settled into a routine. I’d find him in the den, the TV on some morning court show. He wouldn’t notice me at first, only staring out the window. Then he’d say “Oh hi Darla.”
The first time he did it I corrected him. But that only confused him, made his eyes wobble. So after that I started, I don’t know, being Darla.
How was school, he’d ask. I’d shrug sip my own beer because why should Gramps have all the fun? He’d go on about Mrs. Thompson, Home Economics, wonder if Mr. Gerald was still a pest. Of course I didn’t know these people, but why correct him? When I did he’d just sink back into himself or gaze out the window, to the past, to snowstorms that happened years ago. About his Buick that by now was probably sitting in a junkyard, picked apart by tools and rust.
So yeah, school was great. Then he’d ask about my grades, whether I’d done the dishes, marvel over how much I’d grown. He never asked why my hair was blue or why I’d put all those holes in my ear. He never once asked about the pinkish scars on my arms. He would simply turn to me, eyes brightening like the morning sun, and call me Darla.
My mother’s name.
I’d smile and he’d sit back, talk politics (president Reagan), work, weather, the vent he needed to fix in the kitchen, bring down the screens from the attic. How the garden was coming in so well. I’d nod and wonder what he saw out the window besides the trash littering the sidewalks, the slumped over above ground pool at our neighbor’s house.
I told him Mr. Gerald was on my case. Mrs. Thompson always after me to do the dishes, get a job. He got a kick out of that, and then he asked about that boy Tony I’d been seeing. Gramps had a bad feeling about that one.
That one. My father. Well, the best thing about chatting with Gramps was how there were no awkward pauses. I pulled my knees to my chest and told him Tony was great. Just a great boy. Not the kind of boy who would get someone pregnant and ditch someone. Not the kind of guy who would never once reach out to his daughter despite her numerous letters and phone calls. Not even come to my mother’s funeral. Not give much of a shit then now or ever.
Grandpa shook his head, went back to the window, to the garden growing in his mind. I wiped my eyes and fell apart. He gazed out the window.
The tomatoes were really going to do well this year.