I remember when I, a proud seven year old, gripped my grandfather’s back as he, on his motor cycle, mercilessly raced through the streets of his retirement community at the high speed of fifteen miles per hour. It thrilled me, frightened my mother, and irritated my father. Soon after, my mother banned me from participating in such an exciting endeavor, but she can’t ban me from reliving the memory. Ten years have passed since then.
I seem to recall a blustery day when a group of eight year olds, donning white cotton ball dresses and miniature suits marched side by side to taste, for the first time, the body and blood of Christ. Excited, I had spent the morning bouncing around the house, spinning in circles, naively relishing the idea that after a year of hard work I would be rewarded with a true membership in the Catholic Church. Yet, when I walked up the aisle for the first time, right hand over left in begging position, I discovered the blood of Christ tasted bitter, and the body, like cardboard. Disappointment etched in my features, I solemnly sulked back to my seat. Following mass, we exited to the front yard of the church for pictures.
“I’m so proud of you, munchkin!” Pepé greeted me.
“Oh it’s nothing, Pep,” I mumbled, smiling.
“But it is! You ate the cardboard! I spit that out when I was your age…”
“You did not!”
“Did too, so see, you should be proud. You swallowed what I couldn’t.”
I reached over and attempted to wrap my hands around his bulbous waste, surrounding him in a hug. Nine years have passed since then.
I sprawled on his couch, watching a movie as he shaved his non-existent stubble in the bathroom. Carrying the razor as he walked, he meandered back into the bright room and stared at the television, perplexed. On the screen, two teenagers engaged in less than scandalous activity in the back of a car- kissing, if you would- while the drive-in movie hummed in the background.
“Now, Sarah,” he started, shaking the razor at the television. “I don’t wanna hear anything about you doing anything with anyone. You hear me? Don’t get a boyfriend until you’re twenty. No, thirty. Don’t end up like that person on the screen.”
“Okay, Pep,” I smirked, rolling my eyes at his comments. Four years have passed since then.
“Now Sarah,” he paraded into the room, “You know that if you ever need me, I’ll always be there for you. If your friend’s drinkin’, you can call me up and I’ll come get you. If a boy’s mean, you let me know, I’ll take care of that. You need money? I can give you some too. I’m always here for you, Sarah.”
“I know, Pep, I know,” I smiled sadly. He had already told me that speech, thirty minutes before. One year has passed since then.
I leaned against the stairwell, eyes red, voice choked, hiding. My hand loosely gripped my phone as I stared at it in disbelief. Beyond the door of the stairwell, I heard voices, people laughing, people smiling, people unaware. Class would start soon, but I couldn’t let them see me that way, defeated, alone, upset. It wasn’t that they would tease, or make fun of me, but that I couldn’t stand the pity, the pats on the back, the “I’m so sorry”s that make it harder and harder to forget my reality. He had Alzheimer’s. Eight months have passed since then.
He lives at home with my family and me berating all of us with repeated questions, extended stories, and alternate realities. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the past, of our past, of how he used to be before an unfamiliar entity stole my grandfather, before he changed. The saying goes that we all experience childhood not once, but twice, and while we all look back at early adolescence with fond memories, I would never want to return there, to a time of innocence and confusion. My grandfather gets to experience childhood once more, but not the joys of discovering the world, not the intense comforting of his mother, and not the thrill of growing up. He only loses himself, something that took him eighty five years to acquire. I still love him dearly, my Pepé, even though he tells us all his crazy theories- the most recent one being that Romney planned the Libyan ambassador’s assassination- and is no longer the man I grew up around. But, he’ll be with us until he’s completely lost himself, until his conscious is no longer recognizable. Because we love him.
That is now.