I cannot understand her from where I sit, no matter how close I sit. My knees are up to my chin, I watch her strength and conviction as one would watch the grace of snow.

 

            Her hands mix into a cake, she says when I met your grandfather he told me "I am going to make you my wife," ha! Well you know I didn't believe it at the time but he did, he really did!

 

            The first time that she had started a story like this to me was five years after he passed away. I remember the choice I had no courage to make. He was breathing harder than ever and the priest and doctor came and my aunt came and my two uncles were burning toward him, and my mother was getting in the car and my father turned to me: do you want to go?

 

            He was in that big war! she explains, and he wrote to me, and told me he loved me. And before he went he took me on all these dates, and my mother said don't you go out with that Keegan boy, his family is all trouble, but I didn't listen to her Ryan because we were all poor back then and nobody was different from nobody.

 

            Briefly, during my high school years, I had lived with her for a few months before she moved with me into my parents' house. She kept her simple apartment, removed from the home where she raised her family, in the best shape she could. There were porcelain cats and Marys, an old television and piles of television guides. My grandfather, Bud, had left her here and she was happy to have me there.

 

            And he comes back from the war and I remember when I was there, do you know that famous kiss? That was all staged. It had to be. I was so scared when the ship pulled in and there's so many people on it I didn't know he was there. And then I see him! Oh he was so handsome! And it wasn't a day later, it really wasn't, that he gave me this ring, and I told him my mother is going to kill you! But she loved him too, it was funny, it's funny how things work out.

 

            At four years old I wait for the turns of the washer machine as she loads it every day with whites and pinks and sweaters towels and shorts into it, and you know how basements can be dark with loud washers and dryers, but I am there with her. And now the washer is filled with hot water and it smells good, and now it is going hard, and now she gives me a piece of chocolate. 

 

            And they called him Popeye you know, when he was young he was built so strange, he was almost all skin and bones but he had these big Irish muscles. And when he became a sailor it really stuck that name, and he did construction work and he was.  so handsome.

 

            At three years old I lie on her bed as her hands lie across my back. I remain still while fighting sleep. Her hands are moving over little muscles, her hands of aged warmth. It is two in the afternoon and my thoughts go: candy, sweet potatoes, my two best friends, grandmom.

 

            Her husband was downstairs, struggling as he turned, trying to find comfort. He would get up, move to the bathroom, lay back down. She went down to him, crossed her hands again.

 

            My grandmother would say it is an irony, to have given your life to four children, your wife, to be a sailor in World War II, to walk on steel beams to build Philadelphia, to be her Popeye, and then to develop multiple sclerosis. It is a stupid irony.

 

            Early into the disease his discomfort was apparent. He was like a giant. He moved slowly, lingering in doorways. Later it was the lack of struggle that worried into my grandmother. He would not take, she would say, even a cold mashed potato.

 

            At eleven years I am just a pall-bearer. I am walking toward the hearse, I feel only my fingers, cold, slightly painful, the weight of him. I watch my grandmother as her sons weep. I watch as she bores into the coffin, her face bare, clean, patient. 

 

             At twenty years I take coffee after dinner with her. Marlon Brando is on the television. Then she does what I learned when the commercials come on, which is to mute. Ryan, do you think you are going to get married one day? (I don't know, I say.) Well you should, you're a very handsome man (I say, I have good genes in me, because of grandpop). Oh he was so handsome! He was such a good husband, you make a good man like him. He was so hard headed! He wouldn't listen to anybody, he got in me some of that. Before he went, Ryan, one of the nurses said you shouldn't give Bud cigarettes anymore, and I says to her well what else is he going to do these days! She was so pushy about it that I said, you know what! I am going to take care of my husband now, I don't expect you back. And that was a year before he passed.

 

            When she was speaking of even the simplest items, there was always an intangible fire. It had never occurred to me to consider a reason for this other than what she simply was. Yet here she is and she seems to be channeling it. She leans in and she's got it in her, she has it at the edges of her frame.

 

            And you know, when Bud was getting near the end, he never spoke for weeks. And it was two days, just two before he went, and I was near him with coffee and he pulls, he pulls with his hand. And I can tell he just wants to talk so, I get real close. And I say what is it Bud. He says, I love you. I always always loved you.

 

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