Vessels: Michelle

Continued from Tuesday, November 16 post.

New Year’s morning I woke alone in my dorm room at Vermont College. The light through the open window on the facing wall was winter gray, a sad light that would have seeped into me even if my grandma weren’t dying. I hadn’t slept well. Or maybe I had, a series of short naps strung between the radiator’s cough and the pane glass windows rattling in their frames. The air was so dry I could hardly swallow. I thought of my grandma’s mouth without teeth, how her cheeks and lips softened and sunk each night as her dentures soaked in their blue plastic case. I pictured her chest the same way, as though her lungs held up her ribs and now that one was missing, her chest must be half-collapsed. I wanted fresh air, but not so much of it. The cold hurt. My stomach growled.

I missed breakfast in the dining hall and walked down the icy hill from campus into town in my hiking boots, the only warm shoes I owned. I was careful not to slip on the ice patches. I hated wearing so much clothing and yet I felt protected in my long underwear, two pairs of wool socks, turtleneck, wool sweater, fleece, ski jacket, and SmartWool hat. I’ve never believed that humans were meant to live in such conditions, under so many layers of clothes, in a climate that fights so hard against us.

The streets were deserted. Only one restaurant was open, and it was more than I wanted to—or could—pay. The sky seemed too bright, burning my eyes as it reflected off the snow. I bought an energy bar and fruit drink from Rite-Aid, the only store open that morning, and began my ascent to campus for an eleven o’clock lecture. Stephanie, one of the few other women of color in the program, must have recognized my blue ski jacket, my walk, and stopped to offer me a ride.

“How’s your grandma?”

“The respirator has through the weekend to work. Then we’ll decide…” I didn’t finish my sentence. I spoke with the same detachment I might have used to describe my drugstore breakfast or the lecture I would attend. It was only Thursday, less than halfway through the residency. My essay collection on death and ghosts would be critiqued in two days. I could leave then, be home by Saturday night and still have a full day before my grandma’s status changed.

“Michelle, we need to get you home.”

She was the first person to tell me, the only one. In my family we had yet to say the things we should say. But here and now truth came without our calling. I knew before my physician assistant cousin said, I wish I had good news for you, that my grandma would not survive the weekend. And because my grandma would die, I knew that my grandpa would slip from us just as he did when I was a child and the words we knew for depression and trauma were Grandpa’s sick. Grief would twist itself around his body as soon as the out of town cousins and tíos loaded up in their rental cars and drove back to Austin or Albuquerque or the airport in El Paso.

She was still alive when we reached the top of the hill. I walked to a lecture hall and sat on a metal folding chair. My teacher talked about pain. We are indignant when it visits us. We write from that place of why me, how could this happen, what did I do to deserve. In that lecture hall my teacher asked, Who are you to be spared?

Coming Tuesday, November 30: The Plan.


Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Beautiful entry. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gracias, Beatriz. Your stories inspire me.

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