The Grimy Fingers of Time

An Essay by Mia from Butte County

We gathered in the living room. The August weather still insisted on being warm. It was bearable, unlike the excruciating summers, but it wasn’t the most ideal. Your skin became sticky after a bit in the sun’s warm rays and left you feeling in need of a cold shower or quick swim in the creek. My mother sat next to me, my middle brother next to her. My oldest brother and father were seated in comfortable chairs across from us. Those chairs were worn, but that’s what made them so wonderful. So many people I love have sat in those chairs. I feel like I’m sitting on history every time I get the pleasure of sitting on them.

My mother didn’t waste time to explain. “So Pa’s still in the hospital. We thought he would be home by now, but the doctors need him to stay there.” Pa is what we called my Grandpa. My oldest brother, Mason, couldn’t say “Grandpa” when he was young, but his little lips could muster “Pa.” So that’s what he was. He was Pa.

My mother looked all of us in the eye. She always did have such a beautiful gaze. It was strong and determined, but it was clothed in sweet kindness and empathy. “He’s sick.” Her bluebell eyes started to cloud as she choked out her words. “And”¦ he’s not going to get better.”

My mother had dropped the bomb. Though that phrase seems inappropriate to associate with this certain news, it is the only way I can attempt to describe it. It felt like a bomb. Because I felt nothing. It’s not that I felt the same after she told us, I felt different. It’s just, I felt nothing. Nothing at all. And then, I felt the blast. My heart crumbled, and my vision was severed. I couldn’t see because all I saw were tears. And I saw him. I saw him telling us stories, far past a bedtime my mother would have deemed acceptable, stories he made up as he went. Tales of sasquatches in the forest with families and drama more endearing than Friends. Asking us questions about the names for his characters or what they should have for dinner. Sometimes he fell asleep and so we would shake him, willing him to finish the story. Or at least the chapter. I saw him snorkeling in the lake, with his circle waist life jacket and my brothers grabbing on and being dragged alongside him as they all searched for something other than little minnows and crawdads. I saw him covering my eyes with his strong, gentle hands and dropping a pink and purple unicorn pillow pet on my lap, the day I stayed home sick from school at their house. I didn’t see him calling me Lisa (my mom’s name) and I didn’t see how my Grandma wouldn’t tell him when it was her birthday or their anniversary, because she knew it would make him feel bad for forgetting. Because even when he was sick with Alzheimer’s, he was still the most patient and generous person I have ever met. In those moments, after the bomb, all I saw was the times I chose to remember him by.

I was reminded of a prevalent truth in those moments after the bomb. That there are two types of pain. Physical pain, like broken bones and scraped knees. That kind of pain is easiest to see, or at the very least detect. It can be patched and mended, and with a little rest and faith in your body, you can be out playing again quickly. And then there is a deeper rooting kind of hurt. The bruises that aren’t black and blue, the kinds of affliction that can be concealed to the untamed eyes of passing civilians on the street. This is the kind of pain that is only in your head and heart, but it can make you feel physically sick depending on the depth of the wounds. It’s the kind of pain that hides when your friends are around, but as soon as your bedroom door closes, it tears your heart right down the middle and then jams its thick, grimy fingers right into the center of the gash and pushes deeper than you thought they could. It hurt more than I thought it would. Because I knew it was gonna happen, eventually. Maybe not the way it did, or as soon, but I knew that one day I would face those grimy fingers. Is it too naive to say that I expected a scraped knee but in turn, my leg was severed?

After she told us the news, we went to the hospital. As we were leaving our house, I looked up at my brother’s teary eyes. I didn’t remember if I had ever even seen him cry before. We looked at each other for a few moments. Then I hugged him, and he hugged me. I felt his tears embed themselves into my tank top. We cried. We cried for Pa, and we cried for time. The lack of time. The overwhelming force of time. Time is the death of us.

He died later that day. I got to see him before he went. His labored breathing, his warm hands. I held his hand.

We went home for dinner after a few hours in his room. Just as we got home, my mom got a call. My uncle, Grandma, and mom rushed to the hospital. He waited for my Grandma, his wife, the love of his life, to be in the room before he decided it was time.

I knew it would happen eventually. That’s how life works. It’s the cycle of life. But that doesn’t make it any less sad. It doesn’t make the grimy fingers go away. You can not prepare for them. We all must face them eventually, we all must face time.