stood outside of her room and took a deep breath before going in. I never knew how she was feeling or what she was going to say. Sometimes it was easier just to go with it, but on that day I didn’t really feel like it.
“Hello, Grandma,” I said, peeking around the corner at her cautiously before stepping all the way into her room to see her. “How are you today?”
“You know, I hear God walking through the trees. I feel his breath in the breeze. I hear Him calling out to me through the angel’s gentle melodies.”
“No Grandma, it’s not God. It’s just me.” I walked over to her and kissed her on her forehead.
“How nice of you to visit me today. I must be living right.”
“I visit you every day.” I pulled the blinds open to let some sunshine into the darkness of the room. “Grandma, you’re gonna outlive us all.”
“No baby,” she said, half chuckling through a groggy, raspy voice, “I’m listening to the angels now. You know what they’re singing?”
“What they singing?” I said, sitting in the chair next to her bed and looking down at the cars in the parking lot.
“They singing, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!” She half roared and half coughed while trying to talk at the same time. She pulled at the tube around her nose. “Can’t someone take these things out?”
“No, Grandma,” I reached to hold her hand, “you know what happened the last time you tried to pull at it.”
“That’s all they do ‘round here. Medicate ‘cha.” She moved it over, reaching for the water cup on the table next to her. She turned her head to look out the window. “What’s it doing out there?”
“It’s a nice day. Not too hot. Not too cold.”
“Well,” She pulled the covers over her feet sticking out from underneath them, “won’t be long now! Soon and very soon-”
I interrupted her. “Why you got to talk like that?”
“Honey, I’m not trying to make you sad. I never want to see you cry.”
“Grandma, we’ve been through this for months now. You’re fine.”
“If I’m fine, why am I here?”
“You know why you’re here.” I pushed her long silvery bangs out of her eyes. “You won’t leave those cigarettes alone.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with a little smoke.”
“It is when the doctor tells you that you need to stop smoking.”
“Doctors don’t know everything.”
“Well, that’s why you’re in here then. Your body is telling you something and you won’t listen.”
“You know, I cried a river,” Grandma said, putting her water cup down on the tray. “My tears formed the Nile and every time I cried, it made my Master smile.”
“Grandma, you were never a slave.”
“Then you don’t know what slavery is, honey. Look ‘round this room. I’m a slave.”
I wanted to change the subject. “What else do you want me to talk about?”
“I don’t know. You’re doing all the talking.”
“What happened to me when I was in the garden?”
“Here we go with that thing again. How many times have we talked about this?” she huffed. “I find it hard to believe you don’t know.” Grandma looked over the top of her glasses. “Most time people know what scares them.”
“I guess it was his voice?”
“What was it about his voice that scared you?” She settled back in her bed.
“It was so thick and deep like thunder and lightning all in one,” I said, folding and rubbing my arms as if I’d gone out on a cold breezy day without a jacket. “It echoed all through me.”
“Most people don’t get afraid of a deep voice speaking to them.”
“It was the tone in his voice. I just knew that tone and the way he called my name.” I looked up and stared off into the distance. “It was like he already knew what I’d done. I could already hear the disappointment. I heard it in his voice. It wasn’t like he was calling me to see where I was. He was calling me because he already knew what I had done and he was going to confront me about it.”
“So what did you do?”
“I hid. I wasn’t thinking about that moment. I was thinking about forever.”
“What do you mean?” Grandma said, trying to pull herself up to see over her glasses.
“My father has a forever memory. You know he’s like a tornado when he’s mad. He always said there are two things he’d never do. Never forget and…”
Grandma repeated the last part of the sentence with me. “Never forgive.” We looked at each other and laughed.
“He didn’t mean that for his little girl.”
“He meant that for everyone,” I said, exhaling long and hard. “I knew this was going to be something he would never forget. I knew he would never forgive me. So I hid.”
“So, what did he do after you heard him calling you?”
“I don’t know. It just seemed like the color drained from every rose, every flower, and every blade of grass. Everything suddenly drained to black and white. I just closed my eyes and folded up like a little roll-up bug. I folded up as tightly as I could. I wanted to be alone and I hoped he would just go away.”
“No, he just kept calling my name. I heard his heavy footsteps all around me. I could hear his shoes sinking in the ground right next to me but I couldn’t speak. I’ll never forget how I felt.” I played with the ring on my finger.
“Why? Why didn’t you speak up?”
“I wanted to. I wanted to reach up and grab his coat and say, here I am Daddy. But my throat closed up before I could speak. I knew he wouldn’t be happy to see me. I can still see the look of disappointment on his face.”
“Did he ever stop calling you?” Grandma asked.
“He is always calling me.”
“Why don’t you answer him?” she said, in a calm quiet voice. “How are you going to resolve it and move past it if you don’t talk about it? You can’t just ignore it and act like it’s not there.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I know my son. He wouldn’t have blamed you.”
“I know my father-”
“I know he’s not perfect.” Grandma said, abruptly.
“He ain’t never been perfect.”
“There aren’t perfect people.” She coughed.
“You don’t have to be perfect to forgive someone.”
“How do you know he hasn’t already forgiven you? You said the next thing you remember was waking up in your bed. You don’t even know how you got there.”
“I guess I never will.”
Grandma coughed again. “Close those blinds for me, will you honey?” I walked over to the window and struggled to close the blinds. It was easier to open them than it was to close them.
“You’re beautiful, blessed, and bold but this is where the healing begins.” She continued, “This is where all sadness and sorrow ends. You were always in his plan. He made you soulful and free. That’s how he raised you to be.”
“Grandma, you always think things are so simple.”
“And you always make things harder than they have to be. You never even gave him the opportunity to be angry or be forgiving.” She closed her eyes. “You need to stop hiding.”
“When you hide, trouble can’t find you,” I said, and turned back around to look at her.
She’s sleep already. “Grandma, I can tell you’re tired,” I said, and touched her arm. “Grandma, I should probably go.”
Grandma didn’t say anything.
“Did you hear me Grandma?”
Grandma didn’t respond.
“Grandma? Grandma? Grandma?” I called her but she wouldn’t answer.
“Oh, my God!” I jumped up and shook her shoulders. “Grandma, oh my God!”
“Honey, don’t you know this is a hospital?” Grandma said, softly. “You shouldn’t be making all that noise ‘round us sick people.”
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Photo credit: Jean Philippe Delberghe
Aretha Abrams lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and three children.