Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Some Place Out of Sight

I see the old mezzuzah, black with tarnish on the entry door. I hear a radio playing quietly, classical music from the back bedroom. I see hazy light coming in the dusty living room windows. I remember when I was afraid to go near those windows because I thought I'd fall outside; they were so clean, it was impossible to tell if they were open or closed. I remember the plastic runners on the white carpet. I see the carpet is already grey, a long grey snake leading from the kitchen to the dining room. I see the out line of the old breakfront and the two sofas. I smell medicine, and unwashed body, rubbing alcohol wafting toward me. I wonder how a place once so full of life could be so full of dying.
I quietly close the front door. I hang up my coat in the hall closet and cause a harp string pinging of metal hangers.
The nurse careens around the corner into the entry hall and gasps.
'You scared me to death,' says the nurse. 'No one said you were coming.'
I shrug. This is still my house. She's still my grandmother. And you work for me, for her, for us, for the family.
'Is my grandmother awake?'
'No. She mostly sleeps now.'
I follow her down the hall and enter, the nurse in front of me, adjusting the IV, pulling on the sheet. Dust motes swirl in the air on the sunbeam from the window.
'Could you get me a glass of water, please?'
She huffs. 'I'm sorry but I only do nursing duties for the patient.'
'Then could you just leave the room?'
Her nostrils flare, and she frowns. She picks up a glass vial, morphine, drops it in her pocket. She points her chin up at me, and leaves.
I close the door and look at my bubbe.
The hospital bed looks so alien in the room. Everything in the room looks out of place: the folding chair and the floor lamp, the IV bag and pump and it's pole, the card table with the trays of cotton balls, wipes, syringes and a red and yellow sharps box, BIO-HAZARD bold on all its faces.
My eyes are burning and my throat feels dry and tight. It is hard to believe that this was once my room and on the other side of the door is my old apartment, the place I shared with my mother and sister all those years. I could have been anywhere.
Except at the window sill, my initials are still there, gouged in the wood and there are the teeth marks my sister and I had made, side by side, just to see if the wood could take the imprint of our teeth. Two semi-circles of marks, were we ever that small?
And my grandmother, Bubbe Esther, larger than life, kind and warm, smiling, patient, tucking me in and kissing me good night, powdery smelling and comforting. How could she be so reduced? 
 I turn to her and kiss her and pat her hands now, laying heavily on the white sheet at her side. Her hands are thin and white and cool, almost cold, and dry. They look withered, and there is a grey sticky mark from adhesive tape, crisscrossing the backs. Scabs and deep purple flowers of bruises from IV needles blossom there and on her wrist.  Papery and translucent, I rub her hand in mine and trace up her arm to the crude bluish black scrawl of numbers that she always kept hidden under her modest long sleeves. Out of modesty and never out of shame, because what did she have to be ashamed of, that they took her to that place? What did she do wrong?  She loves her G-d then and now, even if she is hardly ever awake anymore to say the Shema. It's all from G-d, I can hear her saying. Everything happens for a reason, and a reasonable person doesn't have to know why all the time. Some things you have to accept because that's what it is, she tells me in her impeccable Bubbe logic. 
 But it wasn't fair! I remember protesting and crying when I came home and told her that we learned about the Shoah in school. Wasn't it horrible what the Nazis did, how could they do that and she said she knew because she was there and they did it to her. My mom, shouting at her not to fill up my head with her horror stories, that I was too young and wouldn't be able to sleep for a week, and my mom was right, except that I haven't been able to sleep ever since then. It's always there before me, the awfulness of it, the dead and dying and the number on her arm and I want to scream, It's not fair, everyday of my life. My good, kind Bubbe, to do something that horrible to her. And now I ask myself what did G-d have in mind when He gave her such an awful disease? Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable. Untreatable. Painful. Wasn't giving someone an number on their arm enough for one person for one life? Hadn't she paid her dues? Shouldn't she deserve an easy end?
I feel my tears dripping off my chin and bile surging in my throat.
Couldn't someone have taken her home? Didn't someone have the room?
No money for a hospice. My uncles and my aunt thought this was the best solution.
So she's parked here, in this empty apartment, that no one has lived in for over two years.  Some place safe, cheap and secure.
Some place out of sight.
Tears splatter on the sheet, and onto her arm.
I squeeze her hand.
It's not fair, I whisper.

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