before the lights go out

My grandma’s memory is slowly failing. My aunts and the doctors say she just doesn’t try to remember anything. “She’s just not interested,” my mother repeats, with a mixture of frustration, scorn, and, I think, though she hides it well, sadness. A typical conversation with my grandma has you answering the same question at least three times. She still asks me where I’m studying. It’s coming to 3 years since I first left.

She poked her head into my room just now, as she often does, asking me when I was leaving. “Saturday night,” I told her. I’d told her just 10 minutes before, at the dining table. “Sunday ah?” she asks. “No, Saturday night,” I say. She asks when I will next be back. The honest answer is that I don’t know, but to save myself the trouble of having to explain, I tell her, “Maybe July,” knowing that she will only register the latter word.

I try not to share in my mother’s frustrations, try to be patient, understanding that it must be difficult for my grandma, and knowing, also, that I may one day find myself in a similar position. Sometimes, though, I am less than patient. Tonight was not one of my prouder nights.

As she was repeating herself, I found myself thinking that it didn’t matter what answer I gave because it wouldn’t matter. But then, I saw this look in her eyes, as she calculated, “So it will only be half a year [before you next come back].” In that look was raw, honest emotion, unguarded and unhidden by strong words or the lack of vulnerable ones. Suddenly, I realized that maybe my leaving affected her, too. I don’t think I have ever been too proud to think that my leaving leaves her miserable, nor too ignorant to presume that my leaving leaves no mark. Yet, there was something about that look in her eyes and the tone of her voice…

Fear. She tries to hide it. Would never admit it. This family is not an easy one to express these emotions to. Especially not for her. Between the fights and arguments, the rough exchange of words between my mother and her mother, the less-than-savoury accidents that take place in the bathroom that I have to share with her…it’s easy to overlook the fact that she is, still, a human being like the rest of us. Even though they say she is uninterested, she must still harbour hopes and fears, must have some accomplishments she smiles upon, some dreams that got lost along the way… Her heart must still beat for more than just blood and oxygen. Even if she herself doesn’t acknowledge it.

So, once again, the question falls on me: How will I respond? Awareness demands action. Will I continue to feign ignorance? Allow myself to believe that there’s nothing I can do except pray? Fly off into a world she does not know and leave her behind, in more ways than the physical?

A new year, a new beginning. I think about slates being wiped clean, strikes accumulated being erased, mistakes made being made as though they were no more… It’s almost as though certain things are being rewound. But time is swiftly moving forward…

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