Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Shape of Things, Part IV

When Jim started speaking to me again, it was as if nothing had ever happened between us, as if I had never even thought to tell him that I thought he was wrong about that girl. This became our song and dance. He would say or do something to someone else that I thought was wrong and for some I reason couldn’t keep my mouth shut. (I never once stood up for myself though.) He would get mad and yell at me, throwing everything from the “you-don’t-really-love-me” arguments to the all out insults about my “unlovable” personality and particularly the shape of my body.

Pop wasn’t getting any better. I tried to spend more time with him when Jim was at work or occupying his time with the new twins. Whatever medicines Pop was on had the unfortunate side effect of making him lose some of his memory, specifically, of who people were. I had to start off every visit with him by introducing myself; a truly odd feeling, introducing yourself to your own grandfather. And even after I told him who I was, it was nearly impossible to have a conversation with him.

“Who are you?” he would ask.

“I’m Shanna, your granddaughter” I would say.

“You’re a nice girl” was always the reply.

Then it happened, the fight to end all fights between me and Jim. I thought he was treating someone else unfairly (as usual) but this time it dealt with Amber, so she was in on it too. It was two against one. I was the one.

“I’ve had it with you Shanna! You’re so mean-spirited and ignorant that I can barely stand to even be around you!”

“Yeah!” said Amber, always the articulate one.

Whenever I couldn’t stand to be around Jim or any of the cult group anymore, and didn’t want to go home for fear my mother would try to make me eat something, I went to the hospital to see Pop. I walked into his room, fully expecting to have to introduce myself to him yet again, but when I stepped up to his bed, he looked up at me with eyes that knew me! He wasn’t back to his old self again, but he knew who I was!

“Hey Baby” he said in his now customary weak voice.

“Hiya” I said softly, with tears forming in my eyes.

“Hey, what’s wrong, honey? Why the water works?”

“Oh, I just had a fight with Jim and I think we’re breaking up.”

“Good. I never liked him anyway!”

I laughed. Pop could always size a man by the strength of his handshake. He said Jim’s was “wimpy.”

“Baby” he started looking me up and down. “You are getting too skinny too fast. I may be on more drugs then I care to count, but I can still see that you are unhappy and unhealthy. And believe me, I know unhealthy!” He chuckled a little at his own bad joke.

“Oh Pop” was all I could manage to say.

“Now listen Baby, you are a beautiful person. You have an inner strength that will get you through anything life throws at you. Remember that. You have me, you have your grandmother, and you have your mom and dad who all love you very much and know that you will do the right thing.”

By this time I was crying so hard I couldn’t even see him anymore. I blinked away the tears and looked at my Pop. This weak man was no longer the young Marine Sergeant who went behind enemy lines in Korea to save civilians, no longer the man who spent hours every weekend perfecting his golf swing but never playing in a single event; he didn’t even have that sparkle in his eye that I came to rely on. But he knew me. He knew me better than Jim ever could or would. I will never know how and why he came out of his drug-induced stupor to say those words to me or why those words had such an impact on me. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe it was because I so desperately needed him right then, or maybe it was divine.

“Thanks Pop. I love you,” was all I could say.

Pop died two months later, the night before we were going to bring him home. I think Grandma knew that it was going to happen, that he wouldn’t ever be home again. I was sad that I had lost my friend, but happy that he was out of pain. The funeral was announced in the paper and people from all over came to pay their respects. I didn’t know that so many people knew my grandfather and frankly I found the crowd a little annoying, but I was happy they were there for my grandmother’s sake. She seemed pleased.

We went to the cemetery where Pop received a military funeral with the folded American flag, trumpet and everything. I didn’t know they did that for veterans. Afterward we all went back to my grandparent’s house and talked. One of the best things about my family is that even in the worst of times we can find something to laugh about. My uncle started telling the story of Pop catching him and my father in the barn with a pack of cigarettes and making them smoke the whole pack right then and there. Both boys got sick and neither ever touched a cigarette again.

The next day I gathered up the courage I didn’t know I had until then, courage Pop would have been proud of, and broke it off with Jim. He acted surprised. We talked for over an hour in his study (Yes, he had a study) and parted on as good of terms as I thought were possible.

“I don’t mean this is to be hurtful, but if I never see you again, I’ll be just fine” were the last words I ever said to him.

He nodded. I went and ate five pancakes.

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