I remember my grandfather, may he rest in peace. I remember sitting on his lap and breathing in his cologne. I remember his laugh and the spark in his eyes. I remember that he gave me a second chance to start again, and I’ll never forget him. I’ll never forget that I wasn’t there when he needed me the most.
He used to like walking into town. The diner would rest on the curbside, snuggled up against Merrick Road. He would cross the road to grab the morning newspaper and then stand for a moment to watch traffic flow. He treasured the nice, crisp days in-between summer and winter, but occasionally, he would venture out on a soft gray, rainy day. Time would slip by so casually as he strolled down sidewalks with the newspaper tucked under one arm, and he would greet those that he passed by. And his feet marched up stone steps, leading him home.
My grandmother, may she rest in peace, always had food prepared for him. She passed away in 1997, the same year, where I came to live with him. My aunt made sure that the fridge was now well stocked, and after his morning walk, he would sit down with a bowl of oatmeal. He used to race us kids to see who could finish their oatmeal first, and we would win, a cute trick to make us finish our food. But now he sat by himself, trotting at a slow and steady pace, and with his beagle, Ben lying at his feet.
The television waited for him in the living room. Its rabbit ears tapped against the glass window, pointing to nowhere. Static roared like an angry lion, but two channels played without fuzz, the Spanish channel and animal network. Time wandered like trickled sunlight against the wall as he sat in his chair, watching and thinking. When he had enough, he turned off the set and walked back into the family room.
A large fish tank decorated the space between the family and living room. A school of fish moved back and forth, in tuned to their own wave. He would take a seat before them, watching their every graceful move and letting pieces of food fall from his hand and into the water. He found them relaxing, washing his anxiety away, and he would sit for hours on end in peace.
My aunt came over after work. She found him either sitting before the fish or lying down across his bed. She asked him how he felt, if he took his medication, and sometimes, their soft conversation would break into argument. He told her not to worry, but she was already concerned. He told her that he was fine, but she knew different. The doctor was clear to the point, and the time for around the clock care was approaching. But he didn’t want to hear about it. It would be the same conversation the next day and the day after, and he would end those ongoing debates with, “I’m fine.” But she knew different, so did I.
We didn’t always get along after I moved in. I used to stay up late watching Horror movies. Screams woke him out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night, and he scolded me for watching such deranged things. He shook his head and returned to bed, cursing under his breath, and I sat quietly, waited a few minutes, and then resumed the movie but on a lower volume.
I’m guilty of burning through toilet paper. A roll used to last him a week. Well, until I moved in. He would be lucky, if one roll made it through the day. It drove him crazy, and when he complained to my mother, her cheeks burned with embarrassment. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, who kept the paper rolling.
He kept a kosher home. My parents never did. Meat and dairy dishes did not register with me, but I was allowed to eat non-kosher food as long as it was on a paper plate and with plastic utensils. I just made the mistake of bringing ham into the house, and the slice of ham went flying out the door. Luckily, I did not follow.
During the summer of 98′, I craved having a nose ring. I wanted my eyebrows pierced too, but I knew that would not go over well. Neither did having a fake nose ring, which nearly resulted in having my bags packed, but my mother talked my grandfather out of sending me away. Actually being away from my parents drew us closer, and I was not ready to go back home. My grandfather gave me one last chance.
I remember my grandfather. He was a good man. When he laughed, we laughed. When I had blonde moments like telling the man on the other end of the phone, who asked for the home owner that he had the wrong number, it was priceless, and I had him in stitches, wiping his tears aside. He was firm in his beliefs, and we disagreed. But he was only looking out for me, keeping me in line.
I remember when I was leaving his home. I was transferring from community college to SUNY Oneonta. I did not spend my last night with him. Instead, I spent it with college friends, friends that I still have today. My cousin followed me outside into that cold, dark night. She was angry. She knew how much he wanted me to stay there with him, but he wouldn’t say it. If I didn’t realize that, then it was my mistake, and I should have listened. I should have stayed, but I didn’t. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now. And things afterward were never the same.
We nearly lost him after I left. When I saw him in the hospital, I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he did. But he couldn’t go home after that. Instead, he moved into my cousin’s house up in Connecticut, receiving around the clock care. He got a second chance and lived long enough to see his great grandchildren, and I visited when my parents did. But I could see the anger and hurt in his eyes, but I can’t undo the mistakes that I have done. In the end, it didn’t matter. He still loved me, and I will always love him.