Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Real Love Looks Like

Memoir for my creative writing final exam.~

If I’d thought it through, I might have spent more time sitting in my granny’s hospital room with my mom and the rest of the family instead of running through the stairwells, playing hide-and-go-seek with my cousins. I was ten years old. I knew better.

Bud, Darla, Tammy, Sandy, Rita, Kathy, Cinda, Jerry Wayne—everybody but the Utah branch of the family was there, including cousins and family friends and aunts that I’d never met. I don’t remember how many days she was there, but I do remember everyone being upset that a couple of days before, she’d been fine. She’d just been there for something routine and simple, but had gotten sick in the hospital. Adults murmured about neglectful nurses, who would take care of Papa, and who hadn’t come yet.

My mom cried and cried, and eventually made herself sick from it. I felt like I should do something to help her, but what was I supposed to do? Rub her forehead and tell her it was going to be okay like she did for me when I was sick? She had good reason to be sad. Her momma was dying. There wasn’t anything I could do for her. When I found out all the other kids my age were sitting in the lounge, I didn’t think twice about staying in the room with my granny hooked up to a bunch of machines and tubes, my sick momma sleeping on the floor, and every other empty white hospital floor tile being filled with a teary, mournful adult.

Sarah, Brandon, and I could’ve helped anyone walking in the front doors find whatever wing they were looking for in that hospital by the second day. We played around in the elevator, skipped down every hallway, and played hide and seek on the fourth floor when we got kicked out of the stairwell. We watched nurses bring newborns into the nursery, drank from the bottom of the paper cone cups we got at water machines, hurdled over bushes in the courtyard, and played “the white tiles are lava” so we had to hop from pink square to pink square all the way down the fifth floor hallway. We had an absolute blast. I’d heard of people being scared of hospitals, but at that time, I honestly couldn’t understand why. There were endless possibilities of fun for a three kids with lots of time on their hands. But then Courtney scolded her little brother.

Courtney was only four years my senior, but she was at least a foot taller, and the epitome of everything I wanted to be. She played the flute, was on the volleyball team, and nobody could ever find her when we played hide-and-go-seek at Granny and Papa’s house. She actually played with us for a little while, but after lunch, she stayed in Granny’s hospital room. Several hours later, when I saw her in the lounge, I invited her to come play with us again, but she declined. She was frowning something fierce, so I didn’t press it, and I ran off to find Sarah.

Before I was actually gone, however, I heard Brandon ask her why she wouldn’t play. Brandon and Sarah were a year older than I was, and Brandon and Courtney were brother and sister. Maybe that’s why Courtney got onto him, but didn’t say anything to me. I remember exactly what she said to him, because as soon as the words left her mouth, I felt the most debilitating sense of shame I had ever encountered.

“Don’t you understand?” she hissed at him. I peeked back around the corner to see her towering over him, her long curtain of light brown hair obscuring her face from me, but not from Brandon. He didn’t seem too concerned with what she was saying, but then, Brandon never really listened to Courtney back then.  How many little brothers do? “Ni is dying, and you three are running around like a bunch of little kids. That’s not respectful.”

I knew the words weren’t meant directly for me, and had Courtney talked to me about it, she would’ve been a lot nicer to me than she had been to her brother, but I knew she was right. My granny was dying, and I was laughing and running through the halls.

When I shuffled into her hospital room to sit next to my mom, now claiming a spot on the window sill, the sad smiles and back-pats I got from a couple of cousins were probably meant to console my sorrow for my granny, evident by the tears running silently down my cheeks. I didn’t want her to die, of course. I was sad about that, but what was really eating at me was that I didn’t have the decency to sit there patiently, and just be with her in her last days. Guilt was what had an iron grip on my stomach.

It wasn’t until later, as I watched them bring my papa in and situate him in a chair that turned into a bed next to Granny that I really felt the mourning I should’ve been feeling the whole time. He cried, and muttered “Oni” as he held her hand as best as he could with his weakened ones. He’d been paralyzed for six years, and his loving wife had been taking care of him all that time, but then she was the one that was dying.

“Ni… I love you,” Papa whispered, and as I watched a tear fall helplessly from his blue eyes, I suddenly understood what real sadness looked—and felt—like.

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