Sitting by his bed, his respirator like a song of life. I found a beat with every group of noises, found a note in any lasting hum. His respirator seemed oddly slow for the life it was holding onto. I tried to breathe as slow, in and out, such long breaths. I wondered if he could ever breathe this well in real life, when he was alive. When he could make faces, play guitar, shuffle along in his slippers. I wondered if he heard the rhythmic tempo of his respirator, his life support machine keeping him in perfect time. I found the tempo soothing, as if being rocked to sleep in a warm train. I fought to stay awake.
My father’s hospital room faded away and I saw my grandparents house at night-time; all the stars in the heavens so beautiful. I look up and wonder if they are even real. They sparkle like diamonds on this cloudless night. I look back at the house and there are lights in the windows. I realize it’s Christmas. Slowly I walk up the steps to the house. I stop and look down, my feet remembering, so many years ago, that there are steps hidden here, like a time capsule of memories. My grandfather hasn’t had his stroke yet. I look at the two lions, the regal cement guardians. It seems just yesterday my brother and I were riding them like wild horses. They’re slowly chipping away now, layers of paint and cement giving way under rain and snow.
I continue up the steps, pass the flagpole, the trees, and walk to the bay window of the dining room. Christmas lights all around the window, a frame for the memory I may see inside. My grandmothers china cabinets, her Christmas cactus. I can smell the fireplace in the crisp winter air around me. I walk to the side of the house and try the front door. The door opened easily and soon I was in the house, standing on the brown shag carpeting. I was immediately surrounded by the smells of my childhood: baking, tea, a wood burning stove, my grandfather’s pipes.
I could hear voices coming from somewhere in the house. They seemed frantic, panicked.
The voices were coming from the basement.
I ran to the basement door, pushed it open and ran downstairs. The musky smell, mixed with firewood and bark, filled my nose and I felt swept up. Suddenly I could barely stay upright I was so dizzy. When I neared the bottom of the stairs I wasn’t in my grandparents house anymore but was walking barefoot on linoleum, cold linoleum, to the yelling voices. I realized I was in someone else’s house. I looked into the kitchen and saw my father as a child. His face was still as if it were a picture. He was crying, his face red and he was standing with his arms at his sides, his hands clenched in fists, quiet anger filling his body. His father was standing at the other end of the room, yelling, but I couldn’t hear him. His voice had been turned off, muted. His face was red with anger, his eyes wide and demonic, his hair messy. I didn’t recognize this man standing in front of me, this man I’d called Grampa. I walked closer to him, to see what it was my father had seen everyday. He was yelling, still muted, still red faced. He was shuffling his feet and flexing his hand open and closed, open and closed, as if trying to recover from hitting something. I looked back at my father, just a child, and saw he was bleeding from a cut on his cheekbone, the skin puffy, dotted white and red. There’s a bump underneath his cut. I make a tsk sound, saddened, and my father, this child, looks at me, catches my eye, and looks back at his father. I can hear my grandfather now, his voice scaring me so much I jump.
I stare at my grandfather, this horrific, unknown, insane person, as he yells at his child, asking who he’s looking at and if he really thinks she can save him.
I can feel the butterflies in my stomach are leaving the only way they know how. After throwing up I see it’s blood and look back at my grandfather, just as he’s about to punch my father.
“NO!” I yell, lunging for his fist. He stops, as if in a movie, paused, and looks me in the eye. “How could you?” I ask. He blinks, his only sign of acknowledgment and movement. I ask again. “How could you? He was so little. How could you hurt your own child? You killed him inside. You killed him!”
I’m yelling at my father’s tormentor, watching as tears stream down his paused face, his eyes still looking at me, softer now, the grandfather I know. I turn around, looking for a bloody child standing fiercely against the barrage of fists that he knew was coming, and he’s still there, still looking at me. I can feel hot tears streaming down my face for the pain my father endured.
“It’s okay,” I hear this tiny boy tell me.
I shake my head, hard, unable to speak for the lump in my throat.
“It’s ok” he says, again.
I try shaking my head again and finally get out a “No.” I kneel in front of him, grabbing his shoulders tightly. Finally I find my voice. “No, it’s not! You have to fight back. Fight against this!”
“I can’t,” he says. “I’m too little.”
I can hear, behind me, the monster rushing towards us. “You have to! You have to!” I plead over and over.
I’m consumed by darkness and I feel my father’s shoulders disappearing. I try grabbing for them, to save him, protect him, but he’s gone. I kneel there, no longer crying, wondering what happened to that boy, when I feel someone’s hand in my own. Warm, big, stronger than mine. I look down and see it is my father’s hand, battered from his accident.
I had woken up from my horrible dream and wondered how it was that our hands were interlaced, holding onto each other so tightly.