Lilygreen

United States

Ridiculously self- pressured, hopelessly (and unsuccessfully) in love for three years, and scared to write the things that matter. And that’s me on a good day . Good luck.

Message from Writer

“Here’s some advice- stay alive.” Haymitch Abernathy
“I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if ... But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”- Marilyn Monroe
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”- Coco Chanel

The Darkness After a Rainbow

January 29, 2021

FREE WRITING

1


    I never look outside after it rains. Because there might be a single ray of sunshine, a chance that I could see something there that could stir up old memories. I cannot look at rainbows anymore. I used to love them when I was a kid, because my name was a part of the natural world, literally everything that lies above us. I felt like a part of astronomy, something so magical and untouchable that gravitated so high up there, all I wanted to do was jump. If I could, I would have jumped and touch my namesake and everything in it, without ever coming back down.  I loved rain, sunshine, clouds, and rainbows. They were all a part of me, something special and unique that only I could truly understand. 

    So I asked questions and learnt everything I could about them. My mom and dad were helpful, my science teacher supportive, but my most vocal and trustworthy source of knowledge was my grandfather. He was always so quiet, I barely remembered him saying anything at our weekly family dinners. I was lucky to hear him ask for the rice, or another napkin. I never felt that bond that I shared with my grandmother, that feeling of acceptance and love. Until I asked him about rainbows.
I expected his usual grunt, or the gruff “Why don’t you go ask your grandmother?,” but he surprised me. He began to explain what a rainbow looked like from an airplane. 

    I never thought about it before, but this was the first conversation I had ever had with him that lasted more than five minutes without verging into a period of awkward silence, broken only by the occasional snort or cough. But he loved rainbows as much as I did, and, to my second grade self, he seemed to know everything. Every day I saw him, we talked about rainbows. He told me about how they were formed, when he first saw one, and even common myths about those great kaleidoscopic patterns in the sky. And from those rainbows, other similarities began to emerge. He loved my singing voice and he himself had a beautiful, tremulous baritone. Together we sang his favorite song, Amazing Grace, and later mine, America the Beautiful.  

    Days passed, then weeks, months, and finally years. I still saw him everyday, but now I did not want to spend my time next to a cantankerous old man every single afternoon. I wanted to stay after school with my friends and play freeze tag, hopscotch, infection… any and every childish, playground- centered game under the sun. My mom had to force me to leave the playground, often threatening to make me quit ice skating if I didn’t. So when I did visit my grandparents, I was sulky and rude,  moaning about how I wanted to go play with my friends.

Meanwhile, my grandfather was getting older. I didn’t notice it at firs, but soon he had to take a break on the rare occasions when we sang together to take heart medication and a new machine made its way into the living room. It was a red box with a heart on it. I often saw my grandmother looking at it, almost in fear. Other changes came soon after, such as a second banister in the steep stairs that led to the upstairs bedroom, and a new type of tub, one that was a walk- in rather than a standing shower. 

    But the most noticeable change was that my grandfather went from barely talking, just a couple sentences a day, to nothing. All I could hear was him wheezing as he climbed down the stairs, his nodded or shaken head as answers. We could not talk about rainbows anymore. We couldn’t sing together, either. So I sang to him, the same song over and over. Amazing Grace rang through that house, the words were cemented into the walls as much as the photographs of my mother, uncle, and aunt, my grandmother’s children were. 

    But as always, life went on, and I did everything that I normally did, leaving that musty house where my grandfather was, keeping it deep in a pocket at the back of my mind. I still knew so little about him, but it was difficult to have a conversation with a person who couldn’t talk. School was a liberation from that feeling of uselessness, of being unable to do anything to help someone I loved. I asked my mom to pick me up, rather than my grandparents to escape the misery. I used the excuse that I had homework, or a school project because education was always the most important thing in our family, trumping even familial connection.

    I think I always knew it would happen… maybe that’s why I stayed away. I heard the news when I was pulled out of school for the first time ever. I knew, before my parents arrived even before my teacher asked me to go to the office. The entire day felt wrong somehow. It turned out he had fallen down the stairs and was in the hospital. That’s when my grandmother installed a double handrail in the stairway. 

I visited him in the hospital, after I was picked up from school. My mom drove like a hellion, the car was twisting and turning so much, I thought we would crash. We made it to the hospital and asked the receptionist for his room number, but she took so long trying to find it. My mom kept tapping her foot and my grandmother left. She was so afraid of hospitals, having had health problems of her own before. I was terrified too. I wanted to leave, it smelt like rubber gloves and pain and misery. The entire hospital seemed so threatening. I thought that it wanted to swallow me up and never let me leave, just like it did to all the other sick people who didn’t come home. It was an irrational fear, dreading a building, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted all of it to disappear. From the ugly curtains to the hard, orange plastic chairs in the waiting room, I wanted it to vanish in a puff of smoke, taking with it all of the people who were suffering and the healthy people who were doing nothing about it.

    When the receptionist finally gave us his room number, I speed walked down the hall. People called out to me to stop, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I walked past dollies and cleaners in bright blue scrubs, almost tripping more than one of them. But it didn’t matter to me in the slightest. All that mattered was reaching my grandpa as soon as I could. But when I reached his room, I could not go inside. I peeked through the window and saw a frail looking man in a pale blue dress under some sheets. It didn’t look like my grandpa. My solid, steady teddy bear of a grandpa, someone who used to sit outside with me when my grandmother was cleaning, showing me cloud shapes. I couldn’t match the two images in my head, one of a strong man, one who had fought as a soldier in the Vietnam War and woke up every morning at 6:00 am, sharp. This man looked like he had already given up.

    My mother walked in first and talked with him for a while, perched at the foot of his bed. She beckoned for me to come inside, but I shook my head. I did not want to see an empty person, someone who looked like my grandfather. People like that were homeless, on the side of the road or hooked up to life support machines. I did not know people like that.

    But my mom came back out of the room and grabbed my arm. I told her I didn’t want to go in, again and again, but she wouldn’t let me leave. Not until I spent five minutes with him. She told me it was just an accident, that he would be able to go home in a couple of days, but I should see him, just in case. I didn’t know what “just in case” meant, not in this situation. It sounded like Yahtzee to me, like when my dad rolled the dice one last time, “just in case.” Just in case always sounded like the end of something to me. One last throw of the dice, for the slim chance that something might come of it. 

    So I thought that this could be the end, despite the positive remarks I heard from others. When I came into the room, my grandpa smiled at me, but all I could see was the big machine he was hooked up to, his arms covered in suction cups where they were taking his heartbeat. I looked at the machine, it’s lines were pulsing up and down. It seemed so easy for those lines to just stop moving. I sat by my grandpa’s bed, and because he couldn’t talk and I didn’t know what to say, we sat there in silence.

    My mom finally came back in and she told me to talk about my day. So I did. I told him everything I was doing in school, all we were learning in choir, anything I could think of. It all ended in a couple minutes, so I just kept babbling on about anything I could think of, like the weather, my new favorite color… basically anything to stop the shuddersome silence form returning. I talked until my throat was hoarse, but I was afraid to drink from my grandfather’s cup, as I thought death might be contagious. Finally, when I had nothing left to say, I sang. First I did the song we had memorized, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” then “America the Beautiful” and Christmas songs, when I couldn’t think of anything else. 

    When I couldn’t choke out another note, I noticed that my grandfather was asleep. He had been clutching my hand while I sang, a liver spotted wrinkly hand with bones I had never seen before. His veins were blue and pale and stood out in the harsh light of the hospital room. But most worrying was the fact that his grip had been so light I had not even noticed his hand in mine. I softly sang him “Amazing Grace,” and I swore I saw him shift when I let go of his hand. I kissed his cheek (at my mother’s insistence) and we left. 

He was gone five days later.

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