By John Lee Pendall
It was the middle of the night in my kitchen when my grandma asked me, “Where’s my seat?” “What seat?” “On this plane,” she replied.
I was walking around, talking to an old friend on the phone. My cat must’ve startled her annoying little dog somehow because she barked (the dog, not my cat). A few seconds later, I heard the familiar sound of my grandmother’s cane coming down the hall.
It sounds like a clock to me. Tick. Tick. Tick. Each step she takes is another moment gone.
She stepped into the kitchen, her face at rest but her mind far from home. She thought she was on a plane, and she was wondering where all the other passengers were. Still on the phone, and without skipping a beat, I said, “Right this way, ma’am. I’ll show you to your seat.”
“Where are all the other people?” she asked, worried.
“It’s a small flight, ma’am. Don’t worry, I”m here.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good.” I brought her back to her bedroom. She sat down in her bed and I asked her, “Can I interest you in some water or perhaps an ice cream sandwich?”
“Oh, I guess ice cream sounds good.” So I went to the fridge, grabbed one (cookies and cream), unwrapped it and delivered it to her. Her TV caught my attention. There was a docudrama on about a plane crash. It all made sense, in the only way that nonsense can: according with circumstances. She was in the movie, in an in-between state. Sort of like sleepwalking but with most of your faculties intact.
My friend was silent on the line during the episode. When I thought she was capable of being alone, I said to him, “Well, that’s not great.” “What happened?” “My grandma thought we were on an airplane.”
If you haven’t speculated by now, then I”m proud of you. My grandma has Alzheimer’s. Her mother had it too. I hope it skips my mom.
I’m staying with my grandma because her previous caretaker (her son) is going to jail in a few months. Also, the landlord kicked him and his wife out for being too loud. I decided to stay with her because, well I was in a position to do so. Educated, unemployed, and without a family of my own, there was no reason for me to say no. Little did I know I was walking into a garbage dump, complete with various strange insects and a mice colony (I’ve caught 21 mice so far in live traps. I release them in farm fields).
I have early mornings and early nights to myself.
The rest of the day is dedicated to providing her meals, taking care of her hygiene, handing out meds, and trying to keep her mind occupied. We play Checkers (which she doesn’t like all that much), Go Fish, Crazy Eights and Connect 4 (which she loves). Most of the time, I’m not even sure if she knows who I am, but she did call me John the other day. But John is my casual name; Johnathon is my family name.
Strangely, it didn’t sound strange—her calling me John. Maybe because she’s kind of a stranger to me now. I’m out of her mind; my childhood, watching TBS at midnight while sitting by her bed, my mid-twenties when we used to go out to eat once a week. Our yesterday which was very much like today. Gone.
It’s been a challenge being here; one I dove into without much forethought. It’s also been enlightening in some ways. But, either way, I don’t have much time to think about it. The only nagging contemplation that seeps through throughout the day is a persistent call to falling in love with someone. Life is livable with love. It lightens the load, and gives us something else to see and feel beyond this mundane decay.
As weak as I am, I need someone to bring to life the parts of me that I like. I need someone to remind that there’s something… more. Because there are only ice cream sandwiches and invisible airplanes here. More than anything—and this was true before I got here—I need a woman who makes me laugh. I don’t laugh much these days. She (a nod to a woman I once loved) made me laugh. Since she left, well, giggles have been in short supply. That was over a year ago.
I should probably resort to my Buddhist dogma to make sense of everything, but that feels like a cop out at this point.
I should’ve seen Buddhism’s redflags from the get-go, since they’re not all that hard to find: Siddhartha ran. He ran away. He found an escape hatch. Now, 2,500 years later, people are still running away. I could too. I could run without moving a step. But to me, that’s not the Way. Don’t ask me what the Way is—because I don’t have a clue—but I know what it isn’t, and it isn’t high-tailing it out of one’s family like a parent going, “Out for some smokes.”
John Lennon wrote, “Face it—whatever It is.” For me, “It” is madness.
The slow slip of my grandmother into total oblivion and my efforts to keep her healthy, comfortable, and entertained as she goes. “It” is pretending like I’m in an airplane so that I can get her back to bed, and lying to her about what meds she’s taking. “What’s this?” “That one’s for your blood pressure, and that one’s for you cholesterol.”
It is a moment of joy while playing with my cat Zoe, or while listening to music beneath the full moon. It’s those faint echoes of myself that I sometimes have the time to answer back.
It’s longing and loneliness, amplified by the responsibilities I’ve taken and my close proximity to other people (We live in the city, whereas I was a country bumpkin for 20 years). Right now, it’s you, Dear Reader. The faceless someone occupying your own universe with its own challenges. I hope you find some peace. And I hope you only forget the dismal parts of life. I hope you never have a mild psychotic episode at 11pm, and—if you do you—I hope it involve sex with your favorite celebrity.
More than anything, I hope It is love for you; I hope It’s someone who cares, someone who’s with you now, holding your hand as the seasons pass in the night.
Editor: Dana Gornall