FoundlingReview

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When the cottonwoods bloom and the warm summer air whips the little fuzz balls around, it's like it's flurrying in July. The white snow dances through the air seemingly immune to the brutality of the sun. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I often stand outside in the middle of my little postage stamp of claimed earth and let the cooked summer air heat me up like a giant blow dryer, while the scorching, dog day snow storm overtakes me with outstretched arms and a smile wide enough to taste the summer snow. As the soft flakes tickle my face and nose and while my eyelids blink rapidly, fending off the floating white intruders, my happiness remains even though it's become spiked with sadness. This is my last season, the final pages of my life.


I could tell you that I'm dying but old people like me don't die. We just kind of fade away, our layers slowly blown off like a tumble weed in a slow steady breeze. Each microscopic seed representing a sister, a friend, a husband, or even a child that the wind carries off into nothingness, the earth swallowing each of their lives into a void, turning them into just a memory in your head, one that, only if you're lucky, will stay there a while.


I wish I could tell you I'm grateful to be so mentally healthy, that I count my blessings every day that I’m not lying in a nursing home bed with a soiled diaper and a drooling chin, but sometimes I envy that blankness. I had often found myself intrigued at the zombie-like stare my friend used to give me when I'd go visit her. I'd watch those miracle medications putting her diseased memory in a permanent pause, keeping her from that sobering stench of piss, shit and regurgitated Ensure. I figured that if the magical stuff circling her veins could numb her mind to where the diarrhea in her diaper felt like a soothing heat pad and the living hell in which she was rotting felt like a weekend beer buzz in Maui, it might not be all that bad. Ignorance is bliss, after all.


But instead, I just sit at home with a mind as sharp as a razor but with a body as old as my nemesis, gravity. Yet, all I seem to do is play his game, rocking back and forth in my rickety old rocker, addicted to earth’s lethal force, allowing it to continue to brittle my bones and shrink my muscles. I spend most of my days there, watching the sun's reflection light up my entire life. Yellow beams illuminate the glass of the cheap picture frames that litter my walls and clutter my end tables, containing in them loved ones that are so beautifully frozen in time that over the years, they have become a bit of a tease. They are trapped in their two dimensional world preventing them from ever holding me again, or kissing me or touching me, or telling me how much they love me. Their happy moment in time is just a reminder of another layer of my soul removed. It doesn't mean I don't try, though. Sometimes my loneliness overtakes me and I grab a picture from off the wall and hold it tightly against my chest, crying and hoping for them to give me the comfort they used to but I never feel anything but sharp wooden corners and the cool, tear covered glass of their flat prison.


I sometimes wonder if I'm being punished, if I did something wrong. I shouldn't have lived this long. I avoided vegetables my entire life and the only exercise I ever got was walking around the house in a nicotine filled panic trying to find my lighter. They all lied to me. They told me this stuff would kill me; that it would put me in an early grave, but they were wrong. One by one, they all left me. My parents have been gone so long I've forgotten the sound of their voices. And my sisters, they were picked off one by one in a two year time frame. My husbands - all of three of them - are also gone. A combined married life of over sixty years and I never once got a divorce. I was always faithful, but despite this, all of them found a way to leave me using the ultimate exit strategy. And my friends, they're all long gone. Even my enemies, the people that I loved to hate, the one's that angered me to no end but gave life that much needed drama, are also gone, every one.


Then, one day my longevity stopped being annoying and became just a cruel gift. My child, the little baby boy that I had raised and loved, kept growing up, until one day he just started growing old. He got older and older and then, his heart just gave out. Parents shouldn't bury their children but I did and the worst part about it was that his death wasn't a surprise; it wasn't a tragedy to anyone but me. People who die in their seventies are not tragedies, but are rather just a part of life; mother nature's "out with the old, in with the new" philosophy. A part of me died that day, but I wish all of me would have.


I hated God for a long time after that. I stopped going to church and even read a satanic cult book once just to piss him off.  But that was a long time ago, and now, I think we're okay. We talk from time to time. Well, I talk and he listens, or at least I think he does, and it helps. Sometimes, when the air in the house gets chilly and my old, aching muscles cringe at the thought of walking across the room to get a blanket, the sun breaks free from the clouds and comes through my spotty, dirty window and radiates me, warming me to the bone and wrapping me in a heated cocoon that feels like a thousand protective hugs, easing me into a deep slumber. I know it's Him. I know its God putting his arms around me and letting me know its okay and that he still loves me.


I’m not entirely alone. I do have a grandson. I don't know him very well and he doesn't know me that much either but it’s not because we don’t love each other, it's just that he is so very young and it's hard to talk to a thirty year old when you've reached triple digits.


I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and he came down to celebrate with me. It was just him and me in this old museum of a house, feeding the walls with more noise than it has heard in months. He told me that birthday candles only come in packs of twenty and the store only had three packs left so he just decorated the cheap vanilla cake with all of them. As he lit the candles and turned the cake into a mini bon fire, he sang me happy birthday out of tune, and I smiled and laughed at him. He looked so much like my son that it was like going back in time.


He pushed forward a poorly wrapped present. It was flat and obviously another old picture frame. But when he said, "Happy Birthday, Granny" with such a proud look, it piqued my interest. I open it up and see a beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed baby boy in the nice, high quality picture frame. "It's your great grandson" he says, grinning from ear to ear like a proud father. "Yeah, you’re a great grandmother, now!" he says, confirming. I look at the picture again, at that smiling baby face and begin to cry with joy. "That's so great!" I say to him as we embrace and he hugs me gently as if my bones were made of Styrofoam. "Do you want me to hang it up with the others?" he asks. "No, No! I'll just hold onto to this one. This picture is different!" I say, wrapping my arms around it like it was a block of gold.


He looks out the window and notices the cottonwoods blooming. He tells me it's snowing and invites me outside. He helps me up and walks my ancient body out on the porch. We watch the cottonwood seeds litter the sky and tickle our skin and I watch him smiling, enjoying it as much as I do. "Your father and I used to come out here and do the same thing," I say to him. He responds, "I know". He then asks me if next summer I would consider moving out of state and close to him. He tells me he would put me in a nice home where I could meet lots of new friends and I would be close to him and my great grandson. I tell him, "Maybe", and he doesn't push the issue.


The truth is, I'm too old to meet new friends, too old to start over and I won't be here next summer anyway, this I know. One thing I've learned is that life, in a way, can be over even when you're still breathing. It's like you enter death's waiting room where life slows to a crawl. I don't know why my entire life, up until this point has moved so fast and then suddenly hit the brakes. Maybe the Almighty sometimes puts life in slow motion towards the end so you can soak it up more. So that, on days like this, you can really take time to enjoy it.


I don't know what lies on the other side, but I know that I'll never be here again. Maybe, every time a cottonwood seed tickles my nose and makes me smile, God is telling me to enjoy it. When the hot summer wind whips the fuzz balls around me, I believe it's Him reminding me to embrace life and relish this beautiful waiting room He has created for me. And maybe, He's letting me know that, even in the winter of my life, I can still enjoy a summer snow.




Wendy is a published author in both fiction and non-fiction, and her stories have appeared in literary magazines in the US and 
the UK.

 



My inspiration for this story came about when my grandmother once told me, "Sometimes life is over even when you're still breathing". There was something about that little phrase that always seemed so special, almost poetic. And the way she said it just seemed so sad to me because, when she said it, she wasn't sad. She just used this plain Jane, generic tone as she gazed out the window. I never truly understood what she meant until recently. My grandmother passed away last spring. She was such a special lady and had such impact on so many people's lives that I found myself angry there were less than twelve people at her funeral. That's when my father looked up at me and said, "Sweetheart, she was the last one."

 






 





  


Copyright 2009