February 7, 2010


My grandfather is timeless. He is living one overlong day, never ending. He cannot remember what it is he has forgotten. Most days this means that he does not realize he should be sad, or frightened. Some days it means that he wanders around, anxious, as if he has forgotten something important—that there was something he needed to do but he just can’t think of it. He asks what day it is, not realizing that days of the week hold no real meaning anymore. We write the schedule on little scraps of paper, and pin them to the fridge. Trying to help, we think we should throw away the pages of schedules from days we have already lived, inadvertently erasing the past. He suddenly can’t figure out what I am doing here, or when I got here, or what month it is. Strange that he has forgotten so much, but remembers so much. He knows who I am, and the first time he rode in an airplane (age 9-12, working the service station, a plane landed in the field across the way. The pilot asked, Do you know where Agnes Colvin lives? Granddaddy said, Yes, and the pilot said, Get in.) He knows my sister is dead, and that I am his only living grandchild. He remembers the floor of his first job, and walking the stairs to get to it, not realizing elevators existed. He remembers being stationed on the beach in Florida, in a hotel, near the end of WWII. He knows the name of my grandmother’s other boyfriend, Norman, and remembers crying over it the same day he and she were named the co-valedictorians of their high school class. He remembers the workers telling him that this house wasn’t no house, mister, this was a cathedral. He can’t remember what he had for lunch, or what happened yesterday, or that I live here, and have for six months. It is different than when my great aunt, his sister, began to forget. By the end, when I last visited Margaret, she remembered the people but not their faces. She could attach no name to my face, and thought I was everyone she had ever known, all at once. I think, sometimes, that if I were him, I would write everything down, but then I must remember that he doesn’t remember that he should—that every moment of every day is a moment he will inevitably forget as soon as it is past. He is unmoored, and we can only try to anchor him in moments. It makes me resent the world for changing all around him; how dare it, when he cannot keep up? I wish that we could stop with him, and in some ways we have. We are three people, 85, 84, and 23, and improbably, maybe, we have made a family. We shared blood all these years but until we all found ourselves here, together, we did not know how well we knew each other. Sometimes they say things that I know that I have said before, thousands of miles away, and wonder if I was born with these words in my mouth. And I can't help but wonder, looking at my grandfather, if this too is in my blood.

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