Major: Creative Writing English
Non-WMU Program Florence, Italy
The day I knew was coming finally came. It hit me like a sack of bricks square across the face, causing my jaw to ache and forcing a migraine upon my head. Things haven’t been the same ever since I got the news, and to add insult to injury, the man at fault for this misery can’t even remember my name.
He hasn’t always called me by my older brother’s name. My grandfather used to drive us around the secluded avenues along the coast of Lake Michigan with the top down on his favorite corvette. He would take me to the golf course, and we would laugh at ourselves for how atrocious our scores would come out to be. As I got older, but no better at golf, we would play to see who could get the highest score- rather than the lowest. He would come to my baseball games, giving me a confidence boost whenever I needed it; all it took was a glance through that fence. These were the moments when my grandfather did know my name and he did recognize my face; but his on-setting dementia ensured that these memories would be left in the past as just that: memories.
I will never forget the first time he called me by my brother’s name. This was three or four years back, when the symptoms were far less obvious to the naked eye. As he said it, his face made a compelling argument that he was, in fact, calling me by my proper name. The sternness and sincerity deep within his eyes portrayed a sweet innocence, taunting me and telling me he had no idea what he did wrong.
After several years of selfishly off-putting my grandfather’s slowly depleting health to avoid the pain and guilt it brought upon me, I sit here today, forced to deal with the emotions I put off for so long. Growing up through a divorce altered my conception of family and the entire ideology of it. As a naïve, young boy carrying a crumbled heart from the realization that my family wasn’t as perfect as I had once thought, it became easy for me to distance myself from others, especially away from my parents, who were beginning to set off and find their new, separate paths in life. And then away from my siblings, as we each coped in different ways. And, finally, away from my aging grandfather- who was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Today I received news from my emotionally distraught mother back in Kalamazoo. Upon reaching age 75, and to ensure this birthday would never be forgotten, my grandfather handed over his driver’s license, and vowed to never drive again. This would include his beloved convertible. My mom would soon be discussing -which, from my experiences as her son, really meant demanding- that both my grandparents be admitted into an assisted living facility. My heart grows heavy for my family. Although this is just one more step in the process of his treatment, I know exactly what these steps are leading up to.
I feel myself growing stronger here in Italy every single morning I wake up. The atmosphere is enchanting, the views are outrageous, and time passes at a completely different pace. There are few things I would ever consider exchanging for these four months I will have soon spent here, but I do know one without any hesitation. I would flip over this experience for just one more baseball game with my grandfather in the stands, chanting my name- the right name.
Thoughts circulate my head constantly; old memories and a nostalgic nausea surfaces every time I think about him. He exists in my dreams, and sometimes even in nightmares. All I am able to do is stay patient. In the meantime, this whole situation has led me down several interesting paths of thought. Death grips us all eventually, but sometimes, it seems like people are racing toward it. One thing my grandfather instilled into me when I was young was this. That’s literally what it was: the word “this.” Too often we are looking back on previous events that have already transpired, which are now just memories. Too often are we looking forward to things that have not, and might not, happen.
What “this” means, is now. This moment, this breath that melts through our body and this mindset we carry with us right now, all could be used to change our entire life. There’s a whole world out there to experience; what are we doing getting comfortable and settling down just to wait for the day we turn 65?
I will never regret hopping on this long awaited plane ride. Although my grandfather’s health took a downward spiral upon me coming here, and I am physically unable to be there for him or the rest of my family, I know he wouldn’t want me to be anywhere else. In this moment, Florence is where I need to be.
He will most likely call me the wrong name upon my arrival back home, and that is okay, because inside my head I possess an entire vault jammed with memories of him calling me the right name, moments when he was able to drive, and times when he changed my life forever. His smile is vivid inside my imagination; I see it as he drives me around the windy streets of Lake Michigan. This, is all I need.
Life is too short for regrets and grudges, so let’s make something out of the present- the gift resting in our own two hands. Let’s free ourselves from the burden of leading a life we never wanted to live. We all have an inner kid inside of us, and sometimes, we need to release it out to the rest of the world. Be spontaneous, laugh your ass off, do what you love and do it proudly, and always remember: life is a choice; it’s completely in your hands what you decide to do with it.
We, as humans, must live for this. I’ll be back soon, Grandpa, and you can call me by whatever name you prefer.