Saturday, April 02, 2005

catherine and memories

today is my best friend's birthday. happy 29th, joaquin! he's not thrilled about the new digits, but he wears them well. my, how time flies. joaquin never reads my blog, but instead forces me to just yap about via phone or in person in weekly updates. he doesn't get the whole blog thing at all. so i could say he's a piece of shit on here, and he'd never know it. but, of course, there's no need for that.

instead, i wanted to write a little something about my grandma, who passed away a year ago today.

my parents and i had taken the red-eye and arrived in the quad cities from chicago at about 11 a.m. my dad had visited my grandmother more than a handful of times from the time she went in for surgery in early september to be treated for cancer of the esophagus. but he was the last of his siblings to make it back in time to see her before she passed. i truly believe she was waiting for him - he was her firstborn and the only one who called her every week to check on her. he also visited her numerous times every year and had her come out to stay in portland - sometimes for month-long jaunts where we'd set her up in an apartment and furnish it for her. she loved my dad the best, i'm convinced, because he always treated her well. there was a time when she had seriously considered moving to portland permanently, and my parents had checked out several retirement facilities on her behalf, but in the end she was afraid to leave the town she'd lived in for nearly 50 years of her life.

when we pulled into the hospital parking lot and started circling up the ramp, and i noticed we passed a car with the license plate "GRM RPR" on it...i took that as a sign that this was it. i was going to witness my grandmother die, though i couldn't have guessed it'd happen right before my eyes. when we arrived in her room, the nurse explained that my grandma's oxygen level was still in the normal field. it was above 90. once it hit the 70s, they would get concerned. she had been in a coma for days after all the siblings agreed it was time to take her off life support. my grandmother only had about a third of her lung capacity due to years of smoking lady cigars. the fact that she even maintained an oxygen level in the 90s as long as she did was miracle enough. this was point two in my belief that she was sticking around long enough to hear my dad by her side.

we stayed with her for about twenty minutes, and then went downstairs for a quick bite to eat. we hadn't eaten since the night before in portland and even though hospital food is completely unappetizing, we needed a little something and felt secure that the nurse would alert us if anything was happening.

i was quite familiar with this hospital. in fact, the instant we entered the building, a flood of see her squirt memories washed over me. i had spent a lot of time here in the children's ward for surgeries during my youth. it's amazing how little had changed, essentially. we passed through a hallway where the same bronzed hands had been displayed artfully as i remembered twenty years earlier. and, of course, the place had that same medicine-y smell about it. the kind that stays with you long after you leave. the gift shop - a place i frequented during my stays - had been moved to a different area, but that was about it for change.

we'd been in the cafeteria for all of five minutes, when my dad got the call. the oxygen level had slipped down pass the 80s and into the 70s. we rushed back up to her room. it was like that moment you imagine a plane going down when you go through turbulence and think to yourself "this is it." intense. focused anticipation of what's to come. you're a thoroughbred with blinders on and all that matters is this moment in time. it's all you have left. i watched in wonder as each of my parents took one of grandma's hands and held it from either side of the bed. the 70s dipped to the 60s, then the 50s, and falling. i stood at the end of the bed and braced her tiny feet. i could feel how cold they were through the thin blanket that covered them. my grandmother's neighbor had left my grandma's wrist-length crystal rosary in a chair nearby. my mother asked for it to keep in my grandma's palm as she held her hand.