“I’m crazy. I don’t want to be crazy.” A solitary moment of sanity flashes across her face, and then nothing. She continues to babble onward, a brook that has seen too many hard winters. A woman to the right asks me if I’ll close the window, only open an inch. The bleak December weather creeps in. An old man in the corner starts to sing songs from the “Wizard of Oz”. I return to my visit, wishing we were in another room, something private, or that the walls were a paler shade of grey, anything but this.
My visits have become less frequent. Still these halls remain familiar, consistent under florescent lights, the odor of disinfectant dulling the senses. I found her in the last room at the end of the hall.
I take her hand in mine, surprised by the softness of her aged skin, and trace the deepened lines with my fingers. These hands were once hardened from years of house work. They were calloused and immune to scolding hot water and pot handles. They kneaded dough for egg bread every Easter, and stirred pots of rice pudding every Christmas. They buried a husband, raised a daughter, a niece and nephew, and a granddaughter. They never drove a car, or held a book, or turned on a TV. They popped Halcion pills in her mouth three times a day, a short term cure for insomnia. She took them with coffee.
She started to refuse learning anything new when she hit sixty-five. Ten years later she started to experience fits of rage accompanied by abnormal strength. She let her memories begin to slip, forgetting her daughter, calling me by my cousin’s name. She told me how her mother came to visit her regularly. Her mother died when I was six.
I hold her memories. I hand her an image of my grandfather in uniform, hoping she may recognize him. It’s a picture on metal, the edges wrapping around to hold a mirror. She gave it to me years ago. I broke it. His face is lost to her. She lifts it to her mouth and licks the broken glass.
“No, Rosa, don’t. Look here. Look at him. Don’t you remember Pop-pop? Just try.” I plead with the shell of the woman I once knew.
A nurse comes in to take away half eaten lunch trays. I can tell she’s trying to ignore the faces looking up at her.
“Is she your mother?” The nurse asks.
“Grandmother…” I swallow hard. The other residents are starting to stare at me. I reach for her hands again, but she pulls away.
“It’s ok to go,” I whisper, unable to look at her, “the baby is all grown up now, and he’s waiting for you.” I try to kiss her good-bye. Like a dear caught in headlights her eyes are wide. She can’t get far enough away from me.
I don’t want to remember this room. I don’t want it to hold the last memory of my grandmother. As I leave I’ll let it fade so by the time I reach my car I’ll forget why I came. The lines in my palms deepen from the truth. They will have to be enough for the both of us.