I rub my eyes and hardly notice kicking a slipper in the hallway. The linoleum floor is surprisingly chilly. A faint light seeps onto it from under the bathroom door. It holds my attention in the darkness. Again, I hear a haunting whisper just under the rumble of a running toilet. I knock on the door and there’s no response. “Are ya awright in there?” I crack the door open and peek inside. “GRANPA! OH SHIT! Ya okay?” His right hand grasps the toilet handle as his body is wrapped around the bowl. He growls weakly as I untangle him and carry him to bed.
I race into the living room to find painkillers and something for nausea. Tablets tumble onto the coffee table. I reference a spreadsheet of times, dates, symptoms, and remedies. A nurse should be doing this, not an inexperienced, stressed-out, scared family member. I throw nearly a dozen pills into my pocket, grab a pot from the kitchen, and a sports drink. I head back to the bedroom and see Grandpa hunched over on the edge of his bed. He’s shrouded in a tattered blue robe and wearing one slipper. “Granpa, ya gotta rest.” I put the spaghetti pot on the floor. “But, take these first. Should make ya feel better.”
“Get that shit ‘way from me. All da goddamn pills are what’s killin’ me.” I got nothing else. So, I just stare for a moment before I dump all the pills on the nightstand. “Sorry… I don’t mean ta snap at ya. Just feel awful, that’s all.”
“No worries.” I sit next to him. Heat radiates from the down comforter, flannel sheets, and electric blanket in the summer night. “Anythin’ I can do ta help ya sleep?” His shaky hand lightly clutches my knee.
“Imma gonna miss ya, Luke.” I nearly go blind as my eyes instantly tear up. “Ya’ve always been good ta me.”
“Granpa, it’s too soon fer that. Yer just havin’ a rough night with da medicine ‘nd all. Let’s just get ya ta bed, okay?”
“Nah, nah, nah. I’m dyin’ ‘nd I got some things I gotta tell ya before I can’t.” I grab his shabby red plaid slipper from the hall and put it on his foot. Then I wrap him up in an extra blanket as he’s covered in goosebumps. “Okay, sit down now. Ya know, I always wanted da best fer ya, right?”
“’Course I do.”
“Well, I don’t know what I’d do without ya. Yer granma died, then yer mom moved ‘way, ‘nd I was forced ta retire. Didn’t know what ta do with myself. Those were some rough times, lonely times. It wasn’t right she suffered like that. I sat in this house, by myself, just thinkin’ ‘bout it. Just years of bein’ torn up inside ‘til yer mom brought ya over.”
“’Member goin’ ta lunch in da ol’ brown car? Just packin’ sandwiches ‘nd talkin’ by da river. Yeah, I liked those. I’d ask ya ‘bout da stuff ya’d be doin’. Had a hard time when ya had all that trouble with da school. It wasn’t right. Wish I’d done somethin’ dif’rent ‘bout that.”
“’Nd yer dif’rent. Ya always have been. Don’t know why. Can’t put my finger on it. Fer some reason, ya’ve always been a target ‘nd I’ve tried ta protect ya. Maybe too much. Ya always had a freedom. Yer not interested in da same things others think are important. Just yer existence seems to undermine their point-of-view. Ya challenge people’s beliefs ‘nd opinions without knowin’ it. It makes ‘em attack ya outta fear. “Nd maybe that’s it.
“But, I failed ya, Luke. I let ya out inta da world without ya even knowin’ who ya are. Whatcha gonna do with yerself? Do ya know?”
“Uh…” I’m just thinking how late it is and that I have to work in the morning. “I dunno… Everythin’s up in da air right now. But, I’ll find a good job. Don’t worry ‘bout that.”
“Job? I ain’t worried ‘bout no job. I’m worried ‘bout you. Do ya know who ya are?” I yawn and see the clock reads 3am.
“I guess so.” I fold my hands together and play with my thumbs.
“Ya guess so.” He scratches his stubble and has a disheartening chuckle. “Well Luke, I can’t tell ya who ya are either. I can make some observations ‘nd try ta help ya find a path. But, that’s all. Yer lost right now. All ya seem ta do is work terrible jobs ‘nd watch TV.” His back becomes arched as he coughs uncontrollably. There’s an awful phlegm gargle right before he spits into the pot. “Ya need ta figure out what yer livin’ fer. If ya got nothin’ ta live fer, yer awready dead.” What am I going to say to that? I’m not going to debate the meaning of life with an old man dying of cancer.
I take a few pills off the nightstand and hand it to him. I’ll need really strong coffee before I head to work in a few hours. After a swig of the sports drink he says, “I’m ‘fraid I failed ya. Not leavin’ ya much when I’m gone. Nothin’s left really. But, most of all, I never helped ya find out who ya are. There’s always been somethin’ dif’rent ‘bout ya. Yer not fer this world. Maybe ‘cause of that I wasn’t da right person ta teach ya. I’m sorry.”
“Okay Granpa, nothin’ ta apologize fer.” I gently push his shoulders toward the pillow and get him ready to sleep. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
“I sure hope so.”