The beeping alerted me that I was still well enough to be alive which seemed almost as tragic as my childhood. There in the chair beside me sat my sweet granddaughter with her red hair in a curly mess because she simply could care less. I loved that about her. She was so outspoken and such a darling even though she had every right not to be.
I smiled weekly at her only to watch her look up from one of her many books. Carelessly she tossed it to the side and shut the television off. This was the time that she would ask about my childhood just like any other time except now I would tell her the truth. It was the least she deserved.
“Grandma?” she asked. The tireless in her voice struck me as odd because I knew all too well what that meant. My lovely daughter and her putrid waste of space that she called a husband had been up fighting throughout the night. “Will you tell me about it?”
I swallowed before dragging myself up the stiff bed into a better position. My strength was failing rapidly causing me to collapse once I was in my position. And then I spoke, “Life was hard. My father . . . he wasn’t the model father and to be frank, he was abusive. Mother had rarely ever given it any attention and preferred to stay at work than be at home. Occasionally it’d be so bad that the next day I couldn’t attend school because it hurt too bad to move. I think that all of my teachers understood.”
Silently, Olivia sat back in her chair and pulled her knees up to her chest. It was highly doubtful that her mother, Daisy, had said anything to her. Maybe a word of caution would have been helpful before I started . . .
“He also degraded me quite often . . . calling me fat and worthless or telling me that I’d never get anywhere in the world. It hurt and what I did to compensate with the pain hurt even worse. I became anorexic, started to inflict pain on myself, and joined every club that my school offered me just so that I didn’t ever have to go home. Your uncles helped me get better, told me what I really was, and made me believe it. Your uncle Dave went through everything I had in ten fold because your grandpa had been harder on him because he was a boy. My younger brothers, Rich and Jackson, never had to go through that. I’d taken the heat for them each time and eventually when I got out of having to stay in a dorm my first year, I let them come live with me. I grew up fast . . . too fast,” I said quietly, staring at the white wall. I saw it all. Everything was horrid and came back like flashes, making me squeeze my frail hands into fists.
“Why was he like that?” Olivia asked. I smiled softly and offered my hand out. She took it carefully as if I was going to break if she took it like she would have any other person’s hand.
“Olivia, darling, some people are just mean and there isn’t anything we can do but either take it or fight back,” I said while looking at her. She offered up a weak smile, understanding what I was saying.
There wasn’t a thing really wrong with Olivia. She was strong and independent, where words failed her, actions didn’t. There was something about her that made me wish that I could have been like her. I wished I wouldn’t have been so weak to show my dad who I really was and what I was capable of.
“I finished college and wrote a book within those years and got it published. It was named New York Time’s bestseller and compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. I wrote about high school and how hard it was. You’ve read it multiple times,” I said and at that she smiled. It was enough for me to continue. “Then I realized how much I really loved performing. You know of my addiction to show tunes and such. I was on Broadway in a few shows, landing the lead in only three out of the seven performances that I auditioned for. Not once did my father ever contact me, and I was somewhat sad. I expected some sort of card or something talking about how well I did or a congratulations on any sort of achievement. It sort of hurt.”
“He died the year after I became a guidance counselor. Dave, Jackson, Rich, and I never went to the funeral. We didn’t feel like we should have. He never gave us anything good to remember in life except when he took one of us out for a car ride. He had a favorite child every time we turned around. Somehow Jackson had managed to be that kid most of the time,” I said.
A sigh brushed out Olivia’s lips like she knew exactly what I was talking about. In all truthfulness, she did. Baxter was just like him. I didn’t like to think that my sweet granddaughter would turn out like me. It was true that she wasn’t like me in my youth but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t react the same.
“So why did he do what he did?” she asked, squeezing my hand slightly.
I sighed, “He liked to say that he was mean so that way he could make our skins thicker. I think that was partly true but that he was just a tormented man. My grandma on his side wasn’t exactly the greatest person.”
Silence except for the wretched beeping that was starting to slow. I took that second to close my eyes and lay my head back. There was a pounding on my head that was driving me wild. It hurt and was slowly spreading to the rest of my body.
“Why did you become a guidance counselor?” she asked.
When I open my eyes, I saw her staring at me warily. Olivia had noticed the heart monitor gradually coming to the slow pace that meant the end.
“I became a guidance counselor to help those out that were like me, hurt, scared, abused, inflicting self-harm . . . they needed someone to talk to and I was that person,” I said. “There was one person that was really bad. Her parents went through a divorce after she had watched her brother die. Before all of that, she watched her best friend blow his brains out. There were more like her but never did they take it that hard.”
“I hadn’t told you but she visited me. It was nice to be able to converse with someone that had been the first person I confided in even though she was supposed to confide in me. You know the story. But, at the end of her visit, she gave me three little words ‘It went on.'”
We shared a knowing look. When I had been in better health, we shared tragic stories that we had found exceptionally interesting. Most of hers had come from books while mine had come from the children that had come and talked to me. She had found Kay’s to be as intriguing as I had. When Kay started to walk down the aisle of the school, waiting for her diploma, I had said ‘Life goes on.’ That had been Olivia’s favorite part of Kay’s story.
“How did you stay strong through all of that?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. It was here. The light meant death. It was so warm and inviting that it was impossible to want to stay where I was.
“I didn’t know I was strong. In the moments I was alone, I took a step back and thought over everything. You need people that you love and trust to help you through. Nobody can be strong on their own, my dear, no matter how hard they try.”
I stepped through the light, watching as the one who loved me more than she loved herself stare blankly at my deceased form. A tear slipped ever so subtly down her cheek and landed lightly on her dark jacket.
I had died in a hospital bed in a hospital room with my hand in my granddaughter’s. Nothing had ever been so peaceful and grand.