In the clearing stands a boxer, And a fighter by his trade And he carries the reminders Of ev'ry glove that laid him down And cut him till he cried out In his anger and his shame, "I am leaving, I am leaving." But the fighter still remains -Paul Simon I Am Leaving, I Am Leaving Grandaddy's not dead yet, but I cried on the way home from my visit with him today. Mom and her sisters have been going over there for months, ever since Grandmother got sick with pneumonia. She died in the hospital on Thanksgiving day, just moments before we all sat down to dinner. Grandaddy didn't want to go to the hospital to see her. He hasn't been much of anywhere in months, scarcely even out to the back yard. When Mom told him Grandmother was gone, he cried and cried — strange since they hardly ever talked to each other, moving about the same house like ghosts. At the news of his wife's death, Grandaddy declared in his slow, measured way, “I guess I won't be around much longer.” Then, he attended to practical matters, asking if we should clean out Grandmother's office. In My Fear and My Shame I only recently started going to visit him regularly. When Mom and my aunts asked for help in caring for my grandparents, I didn't want to do it. I was busy with kids, volunteer work, and writing, but also, I was afraid. It seemed unnatural to care for my grandparents like they were children — Have you taken your pills? Take just a few more bites of your lunch. But at the age of 38, I knew if I didn't, I'd regret it. So Grandaddy and I talk, I fix him breakfast, make sure he takes his pills and insulin. I check his legs, which look worse and worse with sores and swelling. I wash the dishes and clean up mounds of empty artificial sweetener packets. I sweep the floor, so Mom won't have to do it in the evening. It makes her feel better to know it's clean over there. He Carries the Reminders When I sit by Grandaddy as he eats, if I'm quiet, he will tell me things. He was an only child. Every child ought to have a sibling. He was in World War II as a radio operator. He went to Japan but missed most of the action. He was glad to come home and never felt the need to travel after that. He met my grandmother and married her sixty-three years ago in 1950, just a year before my mom, their first child, was born. He gets a pension from AT&T. He worked there for years, starting back when it was Bell Telephone and was enticed into early retirement in his fifties. Grandaddy's always been interested in the Bermuda Triangle. I read some of his books on it once. He mentions episodes of planes disappearing off the coast of Florida, even though we're talking about golf. A Fighter By Her Trade My grandfather is a loner. He is a quiet man who often took a back seat to the limelight my grandmother commanded. From women's rights to protesting the Vietnam War, she fought. She'd argue about politics just as easily as about the price of lettuce. She was, in many forms, a fighter. If you want to talk to Grandaddy, you sit down next to him and wait. If no one interrupts, he'll probably tell you something. There are long, pleasant silences. Grandaddy told me the other day, “I guess I'm not real bright,” but that's just because he doesn't talk all day like Grandmother and the rest of us. Cut Him Til He Cried Out I don't know my grandfather as well as some. But he seems sad. Grandaddy says he's lived too long. But I see — even at eighty-nine, with diabetes, swollen legs and a hint of dementia — a spark. When he talks to me, he knows who I am. He doesn't ask small-talk questions, but he likes to chat if the subject matter suits him. I have realized I see his sadness and his introverted ways in myself. I feel his depression in me. And so I cried for the life he may have lived differently and for the imbalance of chemicals in his body that disallows his happiness. I cried for fear of what I will become as I age. And I cried for the loss of anchor I feel with all but one of my grandparents gone. Grandaddy always smiles at me quietly and thanks me genuinely when I leave. His loneliness is palpable. Maybe that loneliness gets us all in the end. He says, “I'm eighty-nine years old. I'll be ninety on my birthday if I make it that long.” Still Remains I don't know why he's still here. Maybe visits from his family are enough. Or maybe he simply doesn't have the energy to be anything else. He doesn't believe in an afterlife; perhaps life in any form is preferable to none. Or maybe even at eight-nine years old with his wife gone, heart problems, breathing trouble, rotting legs, and mental health issues — he still has hope against reason things will get better. Maybe I got that from him, too — a little hope and trust and a serious dose of perseverance. And maybe, even though we don't protest the loudest, we are quiet fighters in our own rights.
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