The day grandma died, grandpa started to talk nonsense. He held me tight during the funeral service as if my hand was vital to his existence, as if I kept him grounded. He said the world would soon end and, at first, I didn’t pay much attention. When he turned my way and repeated his words, I got scared for a while for I hadn’t read the news yet. So we rushed home and turned the TV on; they talked about bombings in some distant parts of the world and they even mentioned climate change, yet nothing marking imminent danger.
I reassured grandpa that the world was probably coming to an end sooner or later, but that was not something to be concerned about at the moment. He sat on the chair, pondering for a while, and smiled at me like I was the one who’d saved the world from ending, like he was grateful to me for keeping him safe. Mom said that maybe it was his world ending. His own personal universe collapsed when he lost his partner in life, which made him sad and sadness can sometimes make people lose their grip on reality. Doctor said that it might be the onset of dementia, triggered by the loss of a loved one, and that made more sense. That was a scientific explanation, a disease with a proper name, unlike mom’s assumptions.
She made me promise that she’d go first, he told me later the same day. She kept her promise, I told him. She claimed she wouldn’t stand the pain of losing me, grandpa continued, not paying attention to me. I thought she talked nonsense, only she didn’t. Then a familiar tune came on the radio. It was “Rock me Amadeus.” Grandpa started crying and said the song made him sad because he was dead.
I told him Mozart had been dead for hundreds of years, only it was Falco he was referring to. Well, they both died young, I said but grandpa insisted it was Falco who made him sadder, because he knew him when he was alive and people close to us make us sadder when they’re gone. He claimed that’s normal which made me sad too. What made me even sadder was I realized his point later on, when I got home and thought of grandma. What seemed obvious to grandpa wasn’t always obvious to me and I had to analyze everything to come to the same conclusions that others considered obvious in the first place.
That was the last time he mentioned grandma at all, like he erased her from his memory. He can’t live without her, so he’s created a world where she never existed, mom said. Then he started vanishing from his own story. I can see the terror in his eyes, the overwhelming emotion of disappearing from his own narrative, which he expresses as anger, for fear and anger are similar emotions. And I stand there ahead of him, serving as his mirror, in which he sees the future and he calms down most of the time.
I wasn’t prepared the first time it happened. I thought he was kidding me, that he was doing it on purpose to annoy me. Mom said I shouldn’t take it personally, for it’s the disease that makes him forgetful. It’s me grandpa, I told him and he looked at me perplexed. Yes, it’s you, he said, and I felt relived he recognized me. In hindsight, though, I believe he only pretended to know me. Deep down he felt a connection with me and didn’t want to disappoint me. What I think is that grandpa took his revenge in advance. He forgot about us before we had a chance to forget him.
Each time I take my hand away to have a sip of coffee or even scratch my nose, he starts crying like a baby demanding a hug or attention. Babies get better with time but grandpa will only get worse. He mumbles incomprehensible words. I nod as if I understand and mention something irrelevant, like what a beautiful day it is and he nods, like that was the subject in the first place.
Every now and then, he calls her name and I see his eyes wandering the room. Memories may have been erased, yet she appears again and again, a cameo appearance, a face in the crowd, a stranger in his dreams, demanding the lead role, for humans cannot handle oblivion. Oblivion is even scarier than death.
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