My grandmother travels though time. I'm not certain when she started.
It might have been the lack of interaction. Maybe she started to travel while no
one was around because, in my own experience, I find that lonely people dwell on
the past. History magnifies, enhances, enlarges and eventually becomes tangible.
That quiet space in our heads fill with those problems or joys and some people
simply retreat into something happier or simpler.
It's strange to see this happen to someone. When my grandfather died, I watched
this play out repeatedly with my grandmother, in our conversations. I overheard
it at the funeral home.
I watched her slowly stray backwards through time: a day, a week, a year, a
decade. I saw her disposition, her expression became distant, the conversation
would leave her, our voices would fade and other voices - from some far memory -
There were vivid moments when she was simply not there.
At the funeral she asked out of nowhere, "Where did all of these pretty flowers
come from?" indicating the funeral sprays and potted plants, roses and
carnations draped with "grandfather" and "father" and "brother". Her most
surprising statement was: "Look at all of the people here, someone should go
back there and wake up Pappa because he's going to miss it all." No one wanted
to explain to her how misplaced the comments were. She would see our faces and
the frozen smiles and concerned looks. She would then realize why there were
flowers. She knew her husband would never awaken.
She would forget her grief for a while and then it would rush back on her. It
was always unexpected, it was always new and it was always painfully fresh and
raw. She learned about his death over and over and over and over and...
The night of my grandfather's calling we sat around the dining room table at her
home - the same we have used for twenty or more years - and someone said my
"Jared?" she perked up as she passed the table. She looked at me, not knowing
me. "We have a Jared, too."
Everyone looked at me for some kind of reaction, some kind of something. "I
know." I said. "I'm that Jared."
She looked at everyone and the years collapsed onto her, again she was in the
present, again she was here and now. "You sure have changed." She said nervously
and went on into the kitchen to get a drink - shocked, dismayed... temporary.
Everyone laughed - their hearts were breaking.
Thursday, the day of the funeral, my father, brother and I were talking in the
kitchen and she came in to get a glass of water. We smiled and hugged her as she
entered our midst. We asked her how she was feeling and if she needed anything.
She said simply that she was doing ok considering that she'd remembered
something: "The funeral was today, wasn't it?" she said.
"Yes." My father said, getting emotional again. He strained to understand where
she was. How she could forget that earlier that day we attended the funeral of
her husband of 63 years?
She leaned forward and asked, "Did I act OK?" worried that she had made some
horrible mistake or faux pas.
"You were fine." We said.
As we talked, she became more coherent. She remembered again what happened and
it meant the man she loved was gone.
My grandfather had spent the last years of his life exclusively caring for her,
cooking, cleaning... she existed in that place and slowly faded into shadow. She
often called him 'That Man who lived with her'. The man she loved was much
younger. In her confusion, she took to sleeping in a separate bedroom because
"her parents would be angry if they found them sleeping in the same bed". She
kept forgetting that her father died in 1969 and her mother died in 1977 - I was
nine, I remember it distinctly.
My grandfather continued in his stride and persevered in that faded, historical
existence. He loved her and simply cared for her and would not send her away. He
would wait for those moments of clarity when he would stop being 'That Man' and
become who he was - "There you are, TJ," As she realized who he was. "I see you
now. I love you".
Eventually his life just ended. His shadow fell long, away from her; she never
realized he was going until he was gone.
As the sun faded on her day, the present dulled and the past became real. She
traveled in time and left him waiting. She relived her youth, existed in that
painless time. She was forgetting his death and living with the fear she would
lose everything else, even the memory of his life.
As we stood in the kitchen, she became clear. I could see a terrified, saddened
expression dawn on her face. "What will happen to me?" she asked in a quiet,
fearful voice choked with tears. "Where will I go?"
Strange, she's aware that she fades in and out... She forgets at times that her
life has long passed its zenith and the clouds are red and gold on her horizon.
She comes to her senses long enough to remain with us for moments, then she goes
tromping on her own, some fantasy that makes my grandfather alive and my parents
married. In that world I'm permanently ten or twelve and when she returns, I
grow old in front of her eyes. One instant I'm 12 and the next I'm 35.
I sat at her feet before the funeral and held her hand while she phased, past to
present. Sometimes she knew who I was; sometimes I was someone else. She was
fascinated by my ring and wasn't certain why I would have it. She touched my
hand and commented how warm I was.
She's so fragile that it's scary - her fingers so cold. I wanted to get a
picture of her hands but didn't want to explain why.
I was a time traveler too. The funeral and family transported the me, age
12, into the future of me at 35. I was in a place where the family of my youth
gathered, old and dying. I saw them as they were, people gathered to make sense
of the death and I tried to make sense of the gulf between us. I tried to look
across it and see something beyond a death, that past, this future and the
memory of who I became.
My immediate family imposed the gulf upon me when we moved away. Eventually I
chose to stay away because going home brought back memories of an innocence and
happiness that I willingly killed. Those places make me miss the person I was
then - in the fact that I was blissfully happy and stupid but I treat the years
before I was 13 as the misplaced dream of some other child. It might be that
I've become so cynical, as I've grown older, that I don't believe in that past
anymore. It is like my Southern Baptist and fundamentalist roots - a past I view
with disdain and regret. It was something I believed when didn't know any
My childhood was something that I had when I didn't know any better. It's dead,
it's my own son sacrificed on the altar of who I became.
I was a woefully inattentive son to my grieving father and family. I spent a lot
of time in another room as they grieved. While they hugged and exchanged
memories and comfort, I stood outside smoking or looking for another cup of
coffee. While they stood around my grandfather's casket, I stood far away,
hoping they wouldn't notice me in the corner or try to talk to me. I gave up
trying to be more than a distant memory to anyone - I don't know if I was
As I left my grandmother's home, I hugged her and kissed her cheek. "I love
you", I said.
She looked up at me and I realized I was just 'some man', some stranger holding
her in her living room. She said, "thank you," uncomfortably to the stranger. I
could see her wanting to know me, to understand what connection I might have to
I smiled and moved away but she held onto me. I wasn't sure if I stepped into
some past moment or if iI was in the present. Was this some reunion, some conversation or some moment that
took place years before I was born? I fell into that past with her and didn't
know who I was.
I wasn't certain if there was something in my face that told her who I was or if
I came into her existence at that instant. I wasn't sure -at that point- who was
worse off. Who was in the present?
I don't know if I'd rather forget my past or have my past forget me. I may
"No...wait." She paused and touched my face - she looked at me again and
understood who I was. She pulled me - 'that Jared'- back to her from some future and kissed me.
She held me, her delicate, frail arms encircled me - some strength left in her
that did not let me go.
There you are...I see you. We're here together, right here and now in this moment - and she said, "I love you."