Thursday, January 27, 2005

The woman who lived in the trailer next door was named Mrs. Hubbard, and her mother, who lived with her, was just called Grandma. I spent a lot of time over there as a kid, because Mrs. Hubbard's children were grown and so they liked to have me around the house. Grandma was little more than a wisp, her raspy old lady voice hardly used and sounding like dry fingers on sandpaper when she did speak. Mrs. Hubbard was still working but Grandma was disintegrating rapidly and needed assistance. They hired a day nurse to care for her but there was a small slice of time between when the nurse left and her daughter came home that Grandma would be by herself, and they asked me to stop in three afternoons a week after school to keep her company. I was nine.

I've never told anyone this story. There are a lot of those, stories I've never told you, because I prefer to stick to the ones that have been aired out and sanitized. I might tell you that I don't have any secrets, but I'm always lying.

On my fourth afternoon there, a Monday, I was kneeling by their ottoman working on a project for my Gifted class--a moonscape made out of Styrofoam. I was a tiny child, all curly brown hair and big purple glasses, and I would have been of no use physically if she really needed any help. Focused, I barely noticed a little noise made in the direction of Grandma's chair, but I looked up and her face was stricken, drawn, and she was cradling her arm. At that moment she looked like a monster and I was too terrified to go anywhere near her. I ran to the telephone and called 911, because I knew that she needed help, but then I rocketed out of her house and over to my own. My mother caught me, all knees and runny nose, and we went and stood next door while the ambulance came. Grandma had had a heart attack, and I sobbed while I watched her grey face go past on a stretcher.

I was then and am still now ashamed of that day, of the fact that when she needed someone the most I wouldn't go and hold her hand.

No comments: