By: Brooke Butler
The darkness mocked me. It laughed, surrounding me from all sides; yet I couldn’t reach out to grasp it by the throat and silence it. I could not see where its body sulked, lying in hiding, waiting for attack through the thick layers of blackness my eyes could not navigate through. It gave out this heinous screech, then its malicious laughter filled the silent void. I heard my mom’s footsteps making the stairs creak ever so gently as she descended into the basement where I sat. I watched her obscure shadow follow her slow moving body as she carefully sat next to me, seemingly afraid of denting the black cushions. Maybe she was afraid of the dark. She sat upright and her spinal cord and neck seemed to lift most of the weight off of her torso and pull it up through her shoulders, as though she was holding in her breath.
The darkness finally spoke, “Poppy has cancer again.”
The words floated out of my mom’s mouth like cigarette smoke, and she broke down the moment she exhaled. I could tell she was trying to hold her tears back, the way she didn’t say much else, hoping she could swallow that smoke forever. It was for my sake. If only she knew how innocent and naive I was. Poppy, my grandfather, who had been diagnosed with cancer 20 years prior to that, who had battled the cancer that the doctor’s guaranteed would murder him, who hadn’t been feeling well that past month but was too selfless to let that burden bother anyone else- had cancer. I cried. I forced tears out, even though at that moment I felt nothing. I didn’t understand. She held in her tears, for my sake. I forced mine out for hers.
She told me, “Don’t cry, everything will be alright.”
And I did know, I really thought that I knew. At that age, at that stage of innocence, the word cancer didn’t evoke an emotion of worry. Cancer was as common to me in middle school as a cold- it had always seemed that way. It appeared to me like everybody had it, every friend in school had a relative that was living with it. They were living, surviving, present at family parties and in their lives. So why worry? It seemed as mundane as the color of their disappearing hair.
We are so innocent at that age. 14 years old and we think we’ve got the world all figured out. We talk back to our parents, we know better, we tell ourselves. It isn’t until we actually know better that we realize we never did. We don’t allow ourselves to believe that bad things can happen to us, at least those of us that have not been forced to realize it sooner. I guess I am lucky in that way, 14 and I still thought the world was on my side.
That same day I was staring up at a window coated in rain droplets, racing to the edge of the window, and then melting back into a puddle. The car on the way to the hospital was crowded with somber, uncertain thoughts. I was too young, too stupid to feel any pang of worry. I only felt anticipation. I’ve never been to a hospital. I knew they were bad places filled with tear stained adults sitting in uncomfortable chairs and restless bodies hanging on to suffering souls. But my grandpa would be okay. I was sure of it- the only suffering people I had ever seen were on TV, and I was old enough to know how reality is distorted for entertainment.
My mom and I walked into his hospital room. It was on one of the upper floors and when I looked down into the parking lot from his window, I could watch the people walking calmly into the main entrance. I had thought it was strange that they did not run in with panic stricken faces, tears running down their cheeks, staining their best suits and dresses like I had seen on TV. I stared at these people until my grandpa woke up. When I had seen him asleep I wanted to distract myself. I didn’t like how he looked in those hospital scrubs, he had never worn a dress before. I also hated the way the fluorescent lights put his sleeping body on display that there was no room for suspicion. They found every last curve underneath his cheeks, and his hips, and his bare legs. He couldn’t hide from the white light intruding on his every limb.
We waited patiently for him to wake up, and we were just about ready to leave when his old phone rang from his pocket and woke him up for us. I had thought nothing of it. Just a coincidence. He sat up slowly like the 59 year old grandfather I had always known him to be. He talked to me. It was so normal that I don’t even remember what it was that he said. I can’t even recall the last words I spoke to him when he could understand me and respond. My thoughts and stupid, stupid assumption that he was going to be okay was only confirmed by the normality of it all. He was in the hospital, but it was simply a formality. He was going to be just fine. I knew it.
I don’t know whether or not to thank my parents for shielding me from the pain and suffering the rest of them were going through. Life seemed fairly normal, nothing had changed. After that hospital visit, the world went on, the planet rotated, day turned to night. It wasn’t like I saw my grandparents everyday- so not seeing my grandpa while he was in the hospital for a few weeks was not all that different in the beginning.
After a while, however, it was very strange not going to Sunday dinner at their home. The clock ticked again and again and with each second the normal seemed to become less and less normal. That house, that home, was where I grew up. It is where my mom grew up. It is where all my memories of childhood and family derive and where I planned to make memories for my children as well. Not being there, not seeing my family encircling the long rectangular table, not smelling freshly baked biscuits permeate throughout the small cottage, this was what gave me a stomachache and made my heartbeat the slightest bit quicker. Was everything going to be okay? He had been diagnosed just a few weeks ago and I don’t think I was sure of it anymore.
But, before I allowed my mind and reality to get the best of me, before I lost that innocence and naivety, my mom told me that my Poppy was coming home. Thank God. I was working myself up for no reason. Just me, being dramatic again. However, she didn’t seem relieved. Not relieved in the way she must have been when he made it to her wedding day, 20 years ago, wearing white gloves and cancer wrapped around his hands. Holding his fingers tightly around hers as she walked down the aisle, she must have felt relief accompanied by the only father figure she knew. He handed her off to my dad, tears definitely escaping his eye as he watched. Happy for her, sad for the future. The future which he had no part of, the future which he built for her, dreamed for her-without him. So why was she not relieved this time, why was she not happy?
So, he came home- once he struggled through the front door and dragged the weight of the entire world from his fragile feet to the bedroom made up for him to live in. I was happy, I knew it mom. In reality, I knew nothing. I went to visit him, to see him recover and allow the almost normal to become normal again.
As I recall these events and my innocent thoughts regarding them, I almost think it was better, easier, for me to be optimistic. It was easier for me not to know that he was forced out of care, kicked out, because the bill to pay for his life was simply too high.
But, when I stepped into the room and saw him lying there, something was different. His eyes were shut, gently, his eyelids resting on his tired eyes. His arms were placed by his sides, almost touching his hips with his fingertips. He seemed peaceful.
Please tell me he’s just sleeping.
Categories: Lit Magazine