No Second Chances
I've been watching the people across the street for about a year now. We wave at each other every once in a while, not really much more than seeing a familiar face without a name. There were a couple of times when the granddaughters would kindly bring over either a plastic grocery bag full of sweet potatoes or a sliced half of a watermelon. I always knew the Grandmother was ill because of her smokers cough that echoed across the street from her frequented front porch perch. Day or night, sun, wind or rain, Grandma could be found smoking and reading on the front porch. With filter stained fingers she caressed each page like it were the only source of food for her starving yet insatiable mind. All the times I had ever seen her out there she was completely absorbed in her reading, to the point where you just know if you said something it would probably startle her, or, at the very least, rip her conscience from one existence to another like a quantum leap experience. For a long time I assumed she was practicing some sort of Bible devotional just for the fact that she appeared to be in a state of meditative stillness and I respected that she had found a place of peace and solitude. I also guessed that the seemingly constant stream of people coming and going from the little house were most likely the members of their church community, visiting or wanting to help out. Then, after quite a few months of what became the norm of the neighborhood, there was an incident that brought most of us out of our cozy confines for concern of a child. A wandering child, hardly clothed and confused about where he should be pointing when asked where he lived. After calling the police, the boy pointed to an open window at a house across the street and the police handled the rest. In the process of neighbors dispersing, I asked the Grandfather how his wife was doing, explaining I hadn't seen her out reading in a few days. He told me that she had been taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was still being assessed as to its severity but he seemed hopeful. I asked him if she was in fact reading the Bible when she was out there. You can't imagine my surprise when he told me, "No, she just reads everything she can", and then, without any prompting, he apologized for all the family and friends taking up all the street parking. I assured him my concern was not with the cars.
A few days later, I did notice a sharp increase in the cars parked around the neighborhood. That same day, in the early afternoon I looked across the street and was shocked to see Grandma sitting in her usual place with lots of people around her. The family and friends whom were taking up all the street parking were gathered around her with smiles and lightheartedness, exuding their gratitude for her presence. Children were playing while adults were visiting and laughing, much like a joyous family reunion, or maybe a celebration of life. I remember thinking to myself as I watched her bask in the glow of their happiness, I can only imagine how much love she must feel right at this moment. Only four or five days had passed and the scene had become much different. Most of the same people were once again gathered, but there were no smiles or lighthearted laughter to be found. The people just kept pouring into the little house and eventually some would come out, hands filled with tissues for tears and seeking the comfort of a hug. A sadness was hanging over the house like an impenetrable fog where everyone was somehow lost in their own level of painful loss. I wondered if Grandma was really still in there and saying her goodbyes or if she had already passed and this was the customary familial gathering. This went on for about three days. The medical supply van has been by to pick up the hospital bed now and Grandpa hasn't been out on the porch much at all. When he does come out, and I happen to see him, he's sitting in Grandmas place lost in the loneliest look I've ever seen. The family coming by has lessened over the last few days but as one would expect, there seems to be someone there with Grandpa all the time. I'm starting to see a pattern of their supporting shifts and I have to wonder if Grandpa feels loved or suffocated, or maybe a lot of both. I never took the time to get to know whom or what Grandma was all about. She will always be remembered by me so vastly different than by her family and friends. My assumptions of everything from her interests, to possibly having to fend off a hardcore Bible thumper, or both of us just not wanting to be bothered kept me from feeling anything regarding her passing, reducing it to a mere observation. Did I dodge a bullet? Or perhaps I missed an opportunity to enrich my life in ways that create but ultimately far outweigh the pain of loss. Grandma is gone now, leaving a gaping hole of emptiness on her front porch perch. I find myself looking across the street every now and then, half expecting to see her but she isn't there, just occasional glimpses of Grandpa and his painful struggle to accept a loss that I can't even begin to understand.
Copyright © Jeannie Amos | Year Posted 2017
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