It started with little things. My grandmother would forget words. Having a conversation with her was like filling in a crossword puzzle:
“I’m looking for my…for my… that thing you use to start a…a car.”
No one seemed to think much of it at the time. People get old. People forget things. We didn’t want to name what she had. We didn’t want to give it words.
When she got bitten by a snake, she told my grandfather that a bug had bit her. It wasn’t until the next morning, when her hand was swollen like ripe fruit, that my grandfather knew to take her to the hospital. My aunt asked her what color it was, how it moved when it slithered away. That’s how they knew to give her the right anti-venom.
Words began to lose meaning. My grandmother showed my sister the pictures on her wall. Each one was labeled with a name. She would forget my name sometimes, but she still knew who I was. At least then she did. The last time I visited her, she asked where I was living. “Boston,” I said. She asked me again ten minutes later. I told her again, knowing that it didn’t mean anything to her. It was a name of a place she couldn’t fathom anymore. But she nodded, playing along. She smiled, but her eyes weren’t smiling.
When my grandmother speaks, it’s a jumble of words, like the contents of a torn-up newspaper. Her voice is quiet, so you have to listen carefully. At least that’s what my sister tells me. I haven’t seen my grandmother in two years, except for the occasional photos that my aunt sends me. I wish she wouldn’t send them, because I don’t recognize the woman in those pictures.
For me, the definition of “grandmother” is a woman who taught me how to buy stamps, who gave me extra candy on Halloween, who made me Polaroid vacation albums, who told me that she prayed everyday that she would live to see my children. I want to thank her for the bracelet she gave me, the one she wore on her wedding day, the one that she gave me the last time she recognized me. I want to tell her that I’m sorry for all the years I went to her house as a kid and watched TV in silence. When I see her in a few months, though, I won’t say any of this. I’ll sit next to her, trying not to notice how thin she is. I’ll say “hi”, hoping maybe she’ll respond with the same, hoping that she’ll say anything, hoping that silence won’t be the last conversation that I’ll ever have with her.