Wednesday, February 4, 2009

With Arms Too Short: a short story

Staring out the tinted car window, I remember a time when everything seemed so easy. Sleepovers and baking cookies, getting anything I wanted no matter the circumstance. I wish things could go back to the way they used to be, when the hardest decision I ever had to make was which kind of ice cream I wanted: cookie dough or mint chocolate chip. Now I am forced to make decisions that concern more than just my taste buds.

Kevin mentions that we are almost home and both my body and mind jump at the sound of someone else’s voice. The car turns onto my road, pulls up in front of my house, and I make my way inside as my eyes fill up with tears. What if she dies, I think. What if I never get to see her again? Crying uncontrollably, I force myself up the stairs and into my mother’s bedroom.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, concerned.

I try to speak, but the words are drowned out underneath my tears.

“Sarah, what’s wrong?” My mom begins to lose her patience.

“I hate seeing her like that, Mom,” I manage between sobs. “I hate it. I was so mean to her before and now… I just want to go to a yard sale with her or play bingo with her.”

My mom looks at me with knowing eyes as she puts down the sock whose pair she can not find. She says nothing.

“Now that I want to do something with her, I can’t. And I feel so bad because she’s never going to come home.”

“I know. But you’d hate it even more if she did come home and something bad happened to her.” My mom tries to make me feel better, but nothing helps.

“I know, Mom, but I hate the fact that she’s so sad. I try to do anything to make her smile, but most of the time she just stares. And I hate it when I have to go home and leave her there alone, but the longer I stay, the more upset I get. I just feel so helpless.” I bury my face in my hands, creating a small pond in my palms. My mom crawls over to the bed and holds me until I wipe my eyes.

“It’s going to be okay,” she says.

I do not believe her, but I finally pull myself together. I pick up the pieces once again and head to my room. Lying in bed, I try to fight the tears. The harder I fight, the harder I cry. I wish she could be here to make me feel better, but it is not about me anymore. I know I should be the one making her feel a little bit more comfortable, but all I keep on thinking about is how lonely I am.
It has been a week since I saw my grandmother. After school, Kevin picks me up and we make our weekly, forty-five minute journey to see her.

“What’s the matter?” Kevin asks.

Startled, I meet his gaze, “What? Nothing.”

“I know something’s bothering you.”

“I’m fine, okay?” I continue to focus on the world around me, passing by the window too quickly, as life usually does.

Kevin pulls into the parking lot and we walk up to the building where my grandmother currently lives. We enter through two sets of automatic doors, passing nurses and residents until we reach the second floor. By now, most of the staff knows Kevin and me by name.

“Hey guys,” a nurse calls out from behind the desk. “I didn’t see you earlier so I wasn’t sure if you were coming. But it’s Thursday, I knew you’d be here.”

I smile back and continue down the hall until I reach room 121. My grandmother is lying in the bed closest to the window. I wonder if she feels like a prisoner when she looks out at the world. Her body is motionless, except for the occasional rise and fall of her chest when she breathes. A faint wheezing sound can be heard: her oxygen machine. God, I can’t wait to go home.

I sit down on the air vent and Kevin flops down on the chair next to me as we wait for her to notice us. She finally looks up, taking a moment to find our faces: black and white photos lost somewhere in her memory. Finally, she recognizes who we are.

She looks the same. Her perm has faded and her short, salt and pepper hair lies flat against her aged forehead. She hates when her hair is straight. Me, I wish she could have passed that gene on to me. Her whole body seems to sag and, like usual, there’s a not-so-pleasant odor about her bed.

“Sarah, put my bed up a little bit,” she says.

I slowly get up and press the button at the end of her bed. I stand there in silence, waiting for the head of the bed to rise.

“That’s good.”

I sit back down as I begin my routine conversation.

“What’d ya have for dinner tonight?”

She coughs a long time before finally answering. “I think it was fish. And coffee.”

Silently we all stare at the TV as Kevin flips through endless channels of commercials.

“How was school?” she asks me.

“It was okay.”

More silence.

“You like your job, Kevin?”

“Yeah,” he says with a sigh.

Both Kevin and myself, it seems, have programmed these answers. We know what questions she’s going to ask in what order.

“How’s your car runnin’?”


“How was school, Sarah?”

“It was fine, Gram. You look tired. Do you want us to go?”

“No, you don’t have to go.”

I stare at her for a while, remembering. The time we made funnel cake that looked like a blob. When we were making cake and I dropped the ingredients on the floor, a raw egg on her white sneaker. The Easter egg hunts, where she would tell me where the “good eggs” were—the ones with money in them—before my brother could find them. Christmases together and how, every year, I was the one who had to deal with putting her artificial tree together. I never thought I’d miss hearing her nag that one branch was out of place.

After 15 minutes of silence and fighting a battle with myself over whether I should leave, I decide to go.

“Alright, Grandma, we’re gonna get going,” I tell her.

She looks up with the saddest eyes. “Okay, put my bed down.”

Before I put her bed down, I give her a kiss on the cheek. “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” she offers.

I put her bed down on my way out. “Goodnight, Gram. See you next week.”

“See ya.”

Kevin says goodbye, takes my hand, and we walk out the door, leaving her behind one more time.

I remember when I was younger and I used to hug my grandmother before I went to bed. My arms never fit all the way around her waist, but I would try so hard to stretch them out. Before I knew it, though, they were long enough. However, I never really noticed because I never tried to hug her much after that.

When I see my grandmother now, all I want is for her to hug me. I want her to stand up and wrap her arms around me. I want her to take care of me like she used to. I want to be small again, with arms too short to reach around her waist.

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