At one point I heard her laughing, jumping on the bed. There were long periods of silence interspersed with murmured discussion between her and her dad. My superman vision looked right through the wall and captured Bella trying on enormous gaudy clip on earrings, obscenely colorful scarves, and testing my husband's knowledge of my family tree while pointing at old black and white photographs. At one point, a loud bump on the thin apartment wall made my grandmother start. "She's in your room. She thinks there's treasure in there." Grandma gave me a bemused smile. "Remember your room in the old house? I used to love your room -- all of your jewelry boxes and trays -- I would spread their contents over the unused twin bed with the white coverlet and just inhale the mystery. I thought there was treasure in there."
She smiled at me, this time with a twinkle in her eye. "There was!"
My grandmother is ailing. She's 89, and lives by herself in an "independent" retirement community, and will need in-home care or moved to a facility with full time care in the near future. Her artificial limbs no longer provide the support she needs to traverse her wee apartment, and her mind is starting to fray around the edges in ways that make us all nervous. Would she have eaten had we not shown up and reminded her that today, Saturday by the way, she would not be receiving food from the service but would have to heat up something in the fridge? My heart broke, clutching memories, made no less bearable when she offered up the (only) table. I demurred saying I didn't have the space, but agreed to take the complicated, dust and junk covered sewing machine.
When she moved from the big 18th century home into the teeny one-bedroom place, I was unable to afford (monetarily or time-wise) to leave my graduate program and go help pack. Although some lovely depression glass was saved just for me, I missed out on the Fiestaware and a few other goodies that got allocated to cousins and (horrors!) the auction block. So the standing joke for the last decade has been to "put a sticky on it!" with your name if you'd like to be bequeathed the cuckoo clock or the roll top desk. Lest you think we're all macabre in front of her, this was her idea and she plays along with us, often with great humor. "Oh, so think that dish is ugly?" (Runs off for the sticky notes.)
I doubt she'd even know what a sticky was anymore, and somehow joking about the future demise of her and avoidance of probate is too close for humor. Tonight out of nowhere, Bella asked me to reaffirm that people don't come back after they die, and then started crying because "I don't want to be an old 100 year old lady. I want to be with my friends!" I tried to explain she could still have friends at 100, and for a few seconds there was a humorous narrative about her and her two best pre-school friends living together as centenarians ("Old people play cards?"). But the slippery slope bombed into an uncomfortable discussion about not wanting to age at all and dying at four.
"Oh Please don't," said as much to the sky and the other and myself as to her.
"Do people who are zero die?"
"Yes, Maddy was Zero."
"I miss Maddy," she said, her voice rising and a fresh well of tears coming.
It's all a bit too fresh this winter.
I also realized during these interludes that if I were to have another child (stop laughing), I would (hypothetically) be an elderly grandma from the get go. I'm not sure what mystery would lie in my bedroom save for miscellaneous bottles of pills.