Nana

It was a Saturday. I hopped in an SUV with a few of my cousins to drive to the Alzheimer’s home where my grandmother was staying. I took a seat on the third row in the very back of the vehicle. I wore a seatbelt.

On the drive there we saw pillars of clouds forming. There was a tornado warning at that time, but as we turned onto the highway we left the pillar of clouds behind us. The sun came out. It was hot. The Alzheimer’s home was one among several bright buildings painted in crayon colors.

Her building consisted of a communal dining area, a living room, and a sunroom — with bedrooms off every angle for the residents. A nurse let us in through the back door and we walked into the communal dining area. Nana was sitting with her back to us. Her white hair fading off the back of her neck. Her head down shoveling her fork around her plate. I was the first to walk up behind her and hug her. Her eyes immediately recognized me and she smiled.

My cousins came around me — we pulled up chairs to her table while she ate. Nana was strapped into her wheelchair with a seatbelt that she fidgeted with, wondering what it was mostly, all the time. She asked us if we were hungry and offered to cook us a meal. She told us our destinies. She ran off topic. She held my hand. Another woman at the table began to choke on her food and threw up on herself. My cousin called a nurse over. They took the food away, “Nana did a real good job eating today,” they said. I put my hand on Nana’s thigh.

I felt her bones. She conformed to the wheelchair from years of sitting in it. There was cake on the side of her lip. I got up and retrieved a paper towel and cleaned her up. She told me my destiny. I needed to use the restroom. I went to her bedroom at the back of the home. I flipped through pages of notebooks in her room — lists of the names of her family written in blue pen, some names repeated. The letters had been traced over again and again. Bible verses and single alphabet figures traced over and over again. My grandfather’s name, “Jim, Jim, Jim,” traced over and over again. I was holding her lifeline, her fight, in my hand.

I remembered her standing at the kitchen sink handing me dishes to dry with a towel. I remembered her sitting on the sofa – I curled into her lap fitting my tiny fingers underneath her polished, manicured nails. I remembered her words to me, “God has big plans for you. And don’t you ever doubt it. You are special. You are chosen. And whenever you need him, you just call out—he will be there.”

I picked some dead flowers out of a bouquet on a bookshelf in the room and added water to the ones remaining. I cleaned her bathroom sink. I rejoined the group. She was tired. I rolled her back into her bedroom.  The cousins followed. She became surprised to see us and excited again. We were preparing to leave. She no longer wanted to be in her bedroom. She pulled herself out of her bedroom and across the communal living room — in her wheelchair heel, toe, heel, toe.

My cousins prepared to leave. I ran back into her room to get her a Kleenex. I came back out and bent down to hug her. Her eyes were gleaming. She was excited to cook for us that evening. She told me to pick a few things up from the store. She told me my destiny. I kissed her.

I put my forehead to hers and she held my cheeks in her hand. A fire came into her eyes and she said, “Go get ’em.”

And I knew she wasn’t talking about the groceries. I knew she wasn’t talking about the others. I knew she was referencing my future. She knew, like she has always known, what I am often unsure of—that I have a future and I am active in it. I walked away and she began to scoot — heel, toe, heel, toe.

I joined my cousins. We went out the back door. I hopped in the back seat of the SUV and put on my seatbelt. The clouds began to pillar as we returned home. My phone buzzed with a tornado warning.

That was the last time I saw her. I don’t cry because I am sad for her (it was her time to go). I cry for another selfish reason — I feel sorry for myself, that I have to continue on without her in this world. She carries an enormous legacy, a somewhat intimidating intimacy with God, a mantle she has passed onto us. Onto me. And I don’t want to journey on without her guidance and her prayers, but I will. With enormous mercy and grace, and riding the waves of the millions of prayers she has whispered over the world — I’ll get ’em.

 

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