I am visiting my grandfather at the nursing home.
All night, I must swallow my rage. I swallow my rage at the nurses who are rude to me, at the broken healthcare system. I swallow my rage at him.
I bite my tongue when a nurse asks if I’m just going to leave my grandfather unattended at the table. “No,” I say. “I’m looking for June,” the nurse who attends him. “I want to put him to bed.” How dare you accuse me of negligence?
A scream rises in me like a ghost tearing through my entrails. Why is common courtesy so difficult? I observe others’ selfishness and feel the crunch of bone under my fingers. Unfair. Unfair. A growl under my skin.
“You fucking piece of shit.”
My words said aloud–but it isn’t me. It’s him. My grandfather regards me, unrecognizing, furious.
“Take me out of esta cárcel,” he demands. This prison. So that’s where he thinks he is.
“No es una cárcel,” I argue. Semantics, I think. It is a cárcel in everything but name, for both of us.
It didn’t help that the police showed up when my grandmother called 911. Four armed men took my hundred-pound grandfather to the hospital. I contained my shock when they called me.
“Does he have a firearm in the house?” They asked. “He’s threatening to shoot your grandmother with a pistol.” A firearm? He hadn’t used a firearm since the fifties.
“No,” I replied. “What he has is dementia.”
I regard my grandfather, my mind slowly returning to the nursing home. This is the same man who’d clapped delightedly when I sang Nat King Cole for him on his ninetieth birthday–the same man who’d once declared his love for my grandmother a hundred times a day. How did we get here?
–but no. That’s rewriting history, I scold myself. Dementia let the demons loose, but it didn’t create them. Anger had simmered long before that, deep inside him. Deep inside me.
So I swallow mine a little deeper. I am gentle with him. “Te quiero mucho,” I insist, though he doesn’t believe me.
His nurse tricks him into taking his medication. Slowly the episode fades, and he’s drifting. I watch him fall asleep.
I think of my grandfather’s brain hollowing out in his skull–plaques and neurofibrillary tangles forming like friendship bracelets, pulling him further and further from himself. I think of the man he used to be.
He’s calling me muñeca, doll. He’s singing Nat King Cole. He’s throwing a pink toy for our little white dog.
He’s cursing out his brother. He’s raging at the world.
My mind is a snow globe full of memories. Don’t sanitize, I think. You need to remember him fully. I notice my anger lifting as I start the trek toward home.
Micro Life Interview
Tell us what sparked this piece
I took care of my grandfather during the most explosive stages of his dementia. I’m still reckoning with that. Reckoning means writing, hence this piece.
What do you like about the flash form?
I like flash’s immediacy. It’s a cross-section of experience to sink into.
What’s something great you’ve read (or learned) lately?
Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women is brilliant. It’s about an enslaved woman on a Jamaican plantation reckoning with the power and hardship sex brings her, and about the revolt brewing around her. I could gush about it for hours. Go read it.
Yael Veitz is a New York-based writer. Her works, which have appeared in Coffin Bell and Castabout, among others, reflect her geographically-diverse background, her work in mental health, and, occasionally, her love for her cats. Her debut poetry chapbook, ‘Wilder Centuries’ will be published in 2022 by Fifth Wheel Press.
Photography by Jonathan Knepper