I always knew this day would come. From the day we sold her house and moved her into her room, a care home with bright yellow branding, and orange curtains everywhere, making the light look warm even on a cold day. Today, day X, the day where everything may come to a close after 9 decades, felt so dangerously close. When I sat next to my grandmother’s bed, mourning the closeness we lost years ago in the blink of an eye, she looked at my face, not noticing that I had recently just cut a fringe to get over a persona I no longer was. She used to look at my hands and express how much she despised my decision to paint my nails every day in jet black, instead of rosy pink like hers. She used to make comments about every single detail of my appearance, from the rings to my cat winged eyeliner, to my doc martens- something was always wrong, something always mirrored the person she never wanted me to become.
But today was different. I straightened my fringe this morning to cover up half of my face, I wore the most goth-like dress I could get my hands on and put on dark tights despite the sun tickling my skin. Post-graduation life is depressing, and today, my clothes are as dark as my thoughts. I know she does not understand the way I communicate with clothes, but still, maybe this is the deepest message I have subconsciously communicated to her.
Her blue eyes, darker than mine, nobody from afar could guess that we have similar blood running through our veins, looked around the room, searching. She looked at me, hopeful yet naïve, asking for her husband who died nearly a decade ago. My anxiety kicked in, how in all honesty, do you tell your grandmother, that her husband, the only person she has ever been with, is not here to hold her hand through all this? I might feel too much, and maybe it’s not as deep for her, but how in this world am I supposed to tell her the ugly truths about her life that her old mind has seemingly forgotten now?
When I humbly tried to tell her that her husband, my grandfather, is no longer with us, I saw her lip trembling, almost like the one of a little child, when they lost their mother in the depths of the local playground, but she is made of steel, not allowing herself to shed a tear for the truth. The only sentence coming out of her was “why did nobody tell me that?”, and all I wanted to say was, “why did nobody prepare me for this moment, why did nobody tell me how painful it is to see someone slowly but surely forget the moments that brand marked their life?”, but I didn’t.
I got my first call for grief when I lost my mother, aged only 14 years old. While others were innocently getting their first kisses in cars, I was busy swallowing the grief my young brain felt so scared of. I can talk about my mother’s illness without changing my facial expression as if I’d tell some random anecdote from my life, but catch me in public, hearing her favourite song, and nearly breaking down as if I had just gotten the message of her passing. Grief is a strange emotion, it’s so deeply rooted, and it has its own uncontrollable nature, which comes and goes in waves, just like the ocean.
Now, eight years later, when I finally started to face my grief, the second call for it knocks on the door, louder than ever. It’s almost as apparent as a very bright ray of sun, blinding away all other emotions my heart has ever felt.
There she lies, 90 years old, more years than my mother could have ever seen, more days than anyone could ever dream of, unable to process the news that isn’t exactly news. Break the truth to her, I think, maybe then, she’ll remember more of her life that so weirdly seemed to slip through her fingers. I say, “I think” and “I guess” a lot, because the older I get, the less I feel like I know. I thought I was a genius, swallowing everyone up with my words and thoughts, but now I am just twenty-three, sitting by her bed, being so painfully kicked out of my fantasy. I want to hold her hand, say that I am sorry, for all these years we couldn’t be close, cause I am deep down so scared of love and attachment that I cannot let it happen, but instead I just break the truth of how her alcoholic son, the uncle I have never met, died to her. Using the word “alcoholic” usually made her react strangely, since all her life, or at least the time we’ve known each other, she avoided using this label. Using the term meant acknowledging the truth, and that’s what she could never do. Until this very day, she keeps telling people that her alcoholic son died of an “accident”, not his addiction. “He died of his addiction, he poisoned himself slowly but surely”, I say. She looked into my eye, as deeply as she never did before, saying “I thought so”. How come is everything she kept so tightly under wraps no surprise to her now? Does age mean that we come to terms with our mistakes, earthquakes, regrets and unacknowledged truths?
I feel so stuck in a film reel I never asked to be part of, it feels like I am the actor who forgot his parts, and fear is reigning over the craft. Seeing her memory vanish, suddenly feels like a part of my own self vanishes too. She no longer feels like someone I knew, her mind is leaving her body, letting the outer shell float around the room like a ghost in the hallway.
When I close my eyes, I still feel it all. The sound of the old wood in her house, the cracks on the floor, the sticky air filled with heat, the sugar-coated strawberries she gave me to snack in the summer. The sound of her laugh, which I hadn’t heard in months- it all vanished, and all that’s surfacing is her own grief for the fall of the castle of her own dynasty.
It’s strange to admit that the last time she remembered everything came without a warning, just like the last kiss before a sudden breakup. You never know when it happens, and maybe that’s the terrifying part of it all.
There is so much I want to tell her, all the stories from uni, all the rankings of the boys I’ve kissed, or the countless times I’ve cried in the back of a taxi, regretting that I am so painfully more introverted than extroverted. I want to tell her how cold the Winter in Montreal feels like, how weirdly liberating it is to walk through northern rain, and how the Toronto sun brightens up even the most depressed and anxious of my days.
But how do you tell someone who can’t even remember her husband’s death stories about a world she has forgotten even exists? Change is what made us drift apart all these years ago and instead of trying to find one another, we continually swam into other directions of the ocean. We never told one another how much we loved each other, we were busy getting caught up in our own lives, her protecting her sacred reputation from the village’s voices, me being the rebel with cherry black lipstick nobody wanted me to be.
I used to be so excited for birthdays, to age another year older, another year wiser. Looking at her now, I feel so terrified of ageing, as if it’s an invisible demon in the room. I want to run back home, grab the cherry black lipstick and bleach my curly hair to hold onto what used to be. This lipstick shade, all the plateau heels and band t-shirts, a visual collection of a person she despised in me, the complete antithesis to the little girl she used to love so much.
I want to show her every piece I have written, show her every picture I have taken and all the art I have made in between. Maybe, I want to give her something to be proud of, but in the end, I am only 23, knowing less and less every day.