My grandmother is now in a nursing home. I was hit (roughly an hour-and-a-half into 2005) by a terrifying and unsettling premonition, realizing that she may or may not be around for 2006, that she may not be around for today, but she’s here. I went to visit her yesterday and she was sharper than she’d been in months. She remembered where I go to university and that I’m working at the campus newspaper this coming year. I think it was the greatest gift I could have gotten, even if it’s only temporary.
Today is my twentieth birthday.
I forgot to have my health card renewed. I start another year of undergraduate study in two days and I haven’t bought notebooks yet.
I was, for some reason, recently reminded of the first time anything of mine had been printed in an honest-to-goodness newspaper. I was seven-and-a-half. The newspaper published (and may well still publish) a page “for children by children” on Sundays. As the second grade was winding down, our teacher told us we were going to write one or two sentences about why our fathers were awesome and she was going to send them to the newspaper.
I don’t think any of us honestly believed our writeups would end up published. Three of ours did. In retrospect, mine was a little bit out there compared to most of the others:
“My dad is great because he plays Nintendo with me and turns the computer on for me. He loves me and is the best dad in the whole world.”
I still mean every word of that, even though I can turn computers on myself (and almost certainly could then, as well, though something so technologically advanced as a 486 required rules for a seven-year-old). I can only wonder whether or not the section editors were amused and whether or not it only ended up in the paper because it was so unlike the other submissions.
When I was a child, 20 always seemed like the age. It was eons away. My family brought that 486 home on my seventh birthday. I spent so much time on it that I became known as the school's resident computer expert – at the age of seven. I didn’t think I’d be ushering in my third decade curled up on my bed with a laptop, but somehow I don’t think that would have surprised the seven-year-old me. I don’t think many things about now would have surprised the seven-year-old me.
I live with my parents. I’m half-finished a degree. I have two jobs. I have never had a boyfriend, have been kissed by one person and am unabashedly in love with a man to whom my existence may be irrelevant. I have never been on a date. I spent most of my high school prom sitting idly at my table and yelling "They’re all gonna laugh at you!" at the annoying kids.
And maybe nothing about the way things are at this very moment would surprise me as I was in 1992, in 1995, in 1998, except for the way things turned out with my grandmother.
We had plans for the future. Technology was going to have advanced dramatically by the twenty-first century (as everyone rather intelligently expected it to in the early 90s. Oh, hindsight). I told her I’d have one of those newfangled flying cars (cherry red) and we’d go on leisurely drives all the time. I’m 20, no car, no driver’s license, no learner’s permit. She’d always talked about being afraid of going into a nursing home. I used to promise her that she wouldn’t because I never thought she’d need to.
She is generally doing better after breaking her hip last month. She was moved to a long-term care facility from the hospital a few weeks ago and was not at all happy once she found out about it. She wishes she could see, she says; she wishes she could see and walk. More than anything, she wants to go home. There is a waiting list for a better nursing home and a rather unsettling awareness that spots only open up when other people die.
Even the hospital was a more cheerful environment than where she lives now. The hallways are lined with residents who have no family, who’ve been forgotten, who are so fargone that it breaks anyone’s heart. She can’t see these things but she hears enough to know that she doesn’t want to be there. My mother took her for a walk around the grounds last week and she begged her to help her escape.
I hugged my grandmother yesterday. She’s in a wheelchair, she’s frail. She’s lost so much weight and when I touch her shoulders I first think there is some kind of metallic piece on them. I quickly realize it is bone. She is tiny and frail but still has strength in her hands when she holds yours. I hugged her and she pulled me into her shoulder and for a minute it felt like she was the strong one and I was a little girl and all was right with the universe.
I’m 20 now and those days are long gone, but we're going to be okay, her and I.
"You're such a lady now," she told me yesterday after being reminded of my impending twentieth birthday.
Maybe, but only because you showed me how to be one.