The start of the new semester. Excitement for new beginnings in the air, everyone talking about classes and seeing friends that were missed over the long winter break. To be frank, it’s been a rough start for me. I caught a cold at the end of the holiday that clung to me with brittle hands. It caused me to miss the first day of classes. I slept the day away in a hazy fog, having not felt like I’d gotten a good night’s sleep in way too many days. Finally, I started feeling like I could breathe again.
Then, less than a week into school, I got the call. And if you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know what call I mean. THE call. The call that said my grandfather was in the hospital, used words like stroke and saying goodbyes, sent my heart racing and my eyes overflowing. The outcome didn’t look good but the doctors had to run some more tests to be sure about his condition. It was the waiting game. When my mom passed a few years ago, she’d gone into a coma, so I knew all about the waiting game. Waiting to see if your worst fears will become reality. When you are in this limbo state, nothing seems real. But you have to continue with your life as if you are not on the verge of the abyss of grief.
I was aware of a wildfire raging in my hometown. Texting my friends about the evacuation zones and containment levels. The photographs coming out sent me into anxiety-riddled flashbacks to the complex fire of 2011 that I lived through. Ignoring the images of gray clouds that take over the entire sky and how I can hear the sirens echoing in my head even from over a hundred miles away. I was aware of the whole world pulsing around me while being fully aware that all the things I was experiencing were not part of my feedback loop. I had not caused them nor did my decisions have any effect on them.
After a very long day of both school and work, including an eight A.M. class, the phone ringing pulled me from the embrace of sleep at two in the morning. My older brother was on the other side of the line, trying to communicate facts to my sleep-addled brain.
“His heart has already stopped four times.”
I blinked away the tiredness. This wasn’t a dream. This was a nightmare in real life.
“Okay, I’m on my way.” I stumbled out of bed, buying an energy drink from the vending machine in my dorm hall. I drove the four hours to the other side of Houston where I sat by my grandfather’s bed, his hand in mine. It’s hard to see the people you love in this state. A ventilator moving his chest up and down, the beep of the heart monitor, nurses coming in and telling he how fast his condition has declined. I tell him “I love you”, he can’t answer me but I know he knows.
Growing up there had been so few people that I’d felt like genuinely cared about me without condition. But my grandfather had always loved me. I had never questioned my place in his life. He never made me feel less than I was. He taught me to be proud of my Mexican heritage, even when the color of my skin didn’t reflect it. He told me stories of Vietnam and the clouds of agent orange and how scared he’d been fighting for a country that was not kind to him. He showed me what real love looks like; he’d been married to my grandmother for over fifty years, and until the most recent years, he would take her dancing on a regular basis. He made me feel loved when I was in my hard-to-love teenage years.
It was nine in the morning when the doctor came to talk to us. Explaining that his outcome in life didn’t look good, even if he recovered. I held my grandmother’s hand, so she’d know that she wasn’t alone in this.
By one in the afternoon he was gone.