A young man faces the bitter task of saying farewell to a loved one
Bill drove up to the parking space at the Victoria City living center, a liberal description of a rest home. He stared at the dingy, brown building for a moment, gathering his courage.
"She doesn't remember me, your father, or anyone else," his mother had told him during various conversations over the phone. "But she is always asking for you. You need to go see her."
"It would be a good thing to come and see your grandmother, son," his dad often said on his turn. "She doesn't have much time left."
"Don't you think I want to see her?" Bill silently protested his parents unspoken accusation.
He knew they thought him ungrateful because he hadn't visited his ailing grandmother. They didn't understand. The truth was that he was afraid. He couldn't bear to see the warm, generous woman he had known as a child reduced to a shadow, destroyed by Alzheimer's, that dreaded disease that drained the life out of its victims.
Roberta Simpson was a strong, vibrant woman in his youth. He remembered her standing over a boiling pot, cooking that spaghetti dish he loved so much. She was more than a great cook, however. She had been a warm,compassionate woman who always had room in her heart for a bumbling, awkward little boy. He never felt unwelcome in her home, whether he behaved perfectly or broke her favorite china.
Bill smiled at those memories of his youth as he walked past the reception area heading towards his grandmother's room. His smile faltered at the sight of a frail, wrinkled woman attached to a breathing machine. The image of his grandmother in that position appeared, unwanted in his mind. Fear returned to him, a hated voice whispering in his ear that it was too late, she was already gone.
"No," Bill spoke under his breath, denying that voice. "It is not too late."
After several minutes wrestling with his fear, Bill continued on until he reached room 231, his grandmother's room.
Hesitantly he knocked on the door. There was no response. He knocked again, a little louder.
"Grandmother?" he spoke quietly.
Foosteps sounded from the other side and the door opened. Roberta stood at the doorway staring at the young brown-haired, blue-eyed man with no recognition for a split second. Then her brown eyes lit up and she opened her frail, vein-exposed arms.
"Bob!" She exclaimed, "It is so good to see you."
Bill hugged her, inwardly cringing because she had called him by his younger brother's name. Roberta hugged him back, looking into his eyes.
"You have grown so tall and handsome," she said, beaming up at him.
"I knew you would," she continued, as he guided her stumbling steps into her room. He helped her take a seat and sat on a chair right beside her.
"I remember you as a little boy, how everyone liked you." she beamed at him.
Bill winced, realizing she still thought he was his brother. Bob had been the popular one when they were children. All the kids wanted to play with him. He remembered the games they played with all the kids tagging behind Bob as they ran through the neighborhood. He remembered, himself, running behind, forgotten even by his own friends.
"Grandma," he spoke firmly putting away those memories. "I am not Bob, I am Bill."
"And little Suz," she continued not hearing him, "You were such a cute couple."
Bill lowered his head as her words brought pain to his heart. He had had a crush on Suzy
Thomerson when they were both eleven. However, she adored his older brother, and the two dated for several years while Bill sat on the sidelines observing them through their courtship and eventual marriage.
Sighing, Bill knelt down grabbing Roberta's hand gently. "Grandma." he repeated. "I am not Bob, I am Bill."
His grandmother looked at him, a dull recognition in her eyes.
"How dare you break my vase! You are going to get such a whipping!" she shouted.
Bill stared at her, stunned, realizing she was reliving that time he had broken her vase when he was seven.
Back then she had held him in her lap comforting him, showing the frightened boy that she wasn't angry with him, that she knew it was an accident. Now as Bill looked into her flaring eyes, he recoiled in fear that she was going to hit him. Her hand even moved up to slap him.
Before she hit him, she stopped her motion, bowed her head for a moment and then looked up.
"Bill?" she whispered staring at him as if truly seeing him for the first time.
"Grandma." he whispered hoping she had made her way back from the fog in her mind.
"Bill," she whispered near tears. "I am so glad you came. I am a very sick woman."
"No," Bill said holding her hand.
"Don't lie to me" she said and smiled sternly.
"I won't." Bill knelt down and kissed her hand. She gently stroked his hair as he knelt.
"You are such a good boy," she whispered. "Please forgive me for anything I said."
"I forgive you," Bill said, tears falling down his face.
She held him close for a few precious moments. Then...
"You are such a handome boy, Bob" Roberta said.
Bill looked up at that familiar glazed expression on her face.
"I remember you and Suzie. How cute a couple you looked."
Bill sat down in the chair opposite her and talked with her for more than an hour. They discussed several things. She called him every name in his family, and then some, but she never called him by his real name again.
When he was ready to leave, Bill knelt beside his grandma, holding her hand.
"You are such a good boy, Bob," she said, beaming down at him.
Bill smiled sadly and kissed Roberta's hand in farewell. He left her room with his head held high despite his heavy heart.
"It is never too late," he whispered to his fear. It made no reply, that day.
Bill never saw his grandmother alive again. She passed away a few months after his visit. His dad called with the sad news. Bill sat quietly, his phone to his ear, as his dad continued on describing how she passed. Her senility had grown to the point where she had forsaken the present to live in the past.
"It was a good thing you visted her, son." his dad said reluctantly, kind words difficult for him as usual.
"I know," Bill whispered, his eyes full of tears.
After his dad had hung up, Bill walked outside to stare at the star-filled sky.
Unwanted pictures came to his mind, his grandmother dying screaming at everyone around her, lost in her own mind. His fear whispered in his ear telling him that he was too late, the short time he saw her wasn't enough.
"No." Bill said, confidently rejecting that hateful voice. "She remembered me long enough, I will remember her as the woman she was, not the woman I saw at the nursing home."
The voice fell silent realizing it had lost this battle.
Bill stared into the sky as a shooting star flashed across leaving its trail through the heavens.
"Good bye, grandmother," he whispered, his voice faltering throught the tears. "I know you loved me. I wanted to tell you once more that that I love you and I will never forget you."
Bill stood outside for a long time, picturing the details of his grandmother's life, preserving in his mind the woman she was. Then he turned and re-entered his home.