My mind won’t allow me to remember a time when she could think. I’m not talking about extensive thinking used to figure out math equations or to analyze essays. It’s the kind of thinking that a person develops throughout childhood. The kind where you learn how to count and your little mind is overjoyed with the fact that you can make it all the way to ten. This is what my great- grandmother lost with old age. Her memories floated away and were unattainable. It was as if her memories sat on a high shelf. She would try to reach them, but couldn’t. As she grew older she just gave up trying and let her memories fly away.
A single window was her only view of the life outside her house. It was as if her life was on pause, and the world’s movie continued to play without her. She would sit and stare at the beautiful array of colors before her, and slowly let everything fall away. It was as if her mind had been erased, and started creating a new picture that only made sense to her. I saw her mind transform conversation into babbling, clarity into confusion, and family into strangers. I was renamed “that girl” long before I understood her situation. By then, it was too late. I learned to accept my role as the mysterious blonde girl who walked through her front door on occasion and greeted her with the same greeting each time.
“Hi, Great Grandma. I’ve missed you so much.”
She would always be sitting in the living room in her brown chair, and I would hug her bony frame.
“Oh, hello,” she would answer.
She couldn’t understand as to why this stranger hugged her. Unaware that this stranger was once a baby girl she held in her arms, a one-year-old who needed help blowing out her candles on her birthday cake, a little six-year-old who helped her care for her garden, an eight-year-old who would help make dinner with her and get the honor of ringing the dinner bell. I blamed myself for not understanding, for not visiting enough to remember hearing her say my real name. I wanted to hear those three words, “I love you.” I wanted her to know that I was Parker Hunstiger, her oldest great-granddaughter who refused to accept that her great-grandmother wasn’t able to remember anything.
My denial of the situation worked for awhile, but then I resorted to pretending. I was like a child playing make-believe, engrossed in a reality that wasn’t meant to be. I would go around her house and find ancient relics saved from her childhood and take them home with me as a souvenir. They represented the great-grandmother she used to be. These souvenirs rest on a shelf in my room collecting dust as if they were wearing away along with their unknown memories. People would ask me why I had these items, and I would say, “My great-grandmother gave them to me.”
Now, I don’t even bother performing that charade. Many times I’ve contemplated about taking these items down and storing them in a box. They would be replaced by forensic trophies, and tennis medals, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I guess it’s the only piece I have of her that represents her true self. The idea of not knowing what she was really like daunts me. That’s part of why I keep her keepsakes on my shelves. The mysteries they hold haven’t been unlocked, but one day I want to find the key and unlock them.
The key was never found, and before I could ask her where it was, it was too late. It’s not like she’d actually know the answers to my questions, but any hint of some sort of solution would’ve been suffice. The souvenirs officially became collected junk on May 25. I found myself looking down at her body as she lay in her casket. I’ve never seen her more beautiful. Her pale face, freshly washed and scrubbed clean of oil and dirt. Her eyes shut, looking as if she was in a peaceful sleep. Seeing my great-grandmother in this state gave me a sense of closure. My eyes scanned the rest of her body, and then looked back up at her face. Her mouth was glued shut, permanently set in a straight line. At this point I realized that she was forever silent. There would be no more babbling, or nonsense, just silence. This thought gave me an uncomfortable feeling that wouldn’t leave my body. I would miss listening to my great-grandmother talk about nothing for hours. I would miss the mental game of trying to figure out what she could possibly be talking about. She was gone.
The funeral service led to a small gathering at my great-grandmother’s farm house, where I was supposed to celebrate the memories my family and I shared with my great-grandmother.
I couldn’t celebrate memories that were not mine. Others shared long forgotten memories of her that made everyone smile but me. I didn’t have memories like that. I had memories that were kept locked away due to the fact that they were too painful to recall. I realized that I had to take my memories and force them to become happy ones for myself and for my great-grandmother.
I wanted time to myself and left the party. I wandered into the house and found myself in the living room. The old brown chair that my great-grandmother would plant herself in looked vacant without her bony frame sinking into its cushions. I sat down in it to fill the empty space and looked out the window.
I watched the world go by through the glass for hours, unable to tear my eyes away. I let my thoughts float away into some unknown place where all thoughts are held. I was frozen. My life was on pause, while the world’s movie continued to play in front of me as I gazed out the window.