Hand Me Downs
My grandmother used to tell me stories.
I’d crawl into bed next to her, nestled in the waning smell of her perfumes, and curl up as she weaved stories of fanciful worlds and heroes that could only exist in my imagination.
I don’t remember the stories anymore; I only remember the joy of hearing them.
I looked forward to the nights I would spend at her little brick apartment. She had a blocky desktop computer whose pixelated green text would scroll down the screen as we wrote. The bright glare would flicker on the back of my eyelids, interwoven with visuals in my imagination. Sometimes, I would open my eyes to stare at the darkness of the ceiling and listen to her snore next to me. I always hoped her dreams were as amazing as her stories.
The printer took forever, its tracked paper often jamming as it spooled around the cogs. The ribbon would spit ink at the paper leaving splotchy trails that often marred the page. I liked to imagine that the runs and eddies were drips of sweat and tears, proof that we had poured everything we had into the story.
“What do you think of that?” she would ask me.
“Needs work. Try this,” I’d reply. Her fingers would flit across the beige keyboard, her stenographic skill perfectly pecking from the home row. No matter how well Mario taught typing or Mavis Beacon trained me, I always envied her ability to type so well.
“How about this?” she’d suggest.
“I like that, but it would be better if…” I’d offer. Always, she listened to my suggestions. Often she used them. Sometimes, she would tweak them. Occasionally, she taught me why I was wrong.
When the story was finished, she would print it out and set it on the table. We’d sit there are read it. She’d tip her glasses down near the tip of her nose and hunch over the sheet with her red pen, scratching as we read and talked. Soon, we’d be back at the computer, only revision in our eyes.
My grandmother died when I was fourteen. We had grown apart over the years, a combination of my immaturity, her waning health due to cancer, and the two years I spent away at boarding school. I didn’t know how to deal with her illness, so I hid in my room.
She had returned to grad school late in life, taking classes, bettering herself, working on her writing. I never told her how strongly she influenced me through that. I watched silently, admiring her, loving our stories.
And when she got sick and it finally started to sink in how sick she really was, I turned to the page. I began to write her stories. I began to finish her tales. Because that was the only way I knew how I could keep her alive and the same and never dying.
The old computer in her room, our works saved on floppy, was out-dated. Our data was lost but in my head. And I was the only person who could save it.
But I couldn’t remember the stories. I couldn’t remember what I was trying to finish. So I started writing stories that hadn’t been written. I would stare at the blank screen hoping the words would take form, wondering if my grandmother would whisper plots and ideas to me, seeking what we had before.
But her sickness and my lack of understanding made that impossible.
I would close my eyes and picture that green glow, imagine those spooling pages piling up. But the letters were just symbols, the words gibberish, and still my grandmother was dying. I would peck away, hoping that I could write exactly what we had written before if only I typed long enough. But what appeared was never as good. It lacked her touch, her voice.
The day my grandmother died, I felt the thud before the wail began.
I was sitting at my computer, playing Command & Conquer with a friend via modem. I was, as was typical, losing badly and starting to feel frustrated.
The thud shook the floor, a loud bang that reverberated down the hallway, beneath my door, and through the soles of my feet. I heard my mother scream a second later.
I carefully started my next move, slightly perturbed at the interruption. I sent a rush of units across the screen toward his base and then rose from my chair. I opened my door and walked across the landing. My grandmother lay in my mother’s arms tucked in the nook by the bathroom.
“Get your father,” she called through tear-stained cheeks. “Go,” she said, rocking back and forth cradling my grandmother’s limp body.
My dad was already on his way, having heard the commotion as well. He ran into the bedroom to call 911. I didn’t even need to leave the landing, the shock of the scene not really sinking in.
“Gotta go,” I pecked into the chat window, the game lost on so many levels. I signed off and walked back out to the hallway.
My parents hovered around my grandmother’s lifeless corpse, and as I stared at the off-kilter wig she wore to hide the cancer, I knew her words had left her.
My phone rang, my friend calling to see about the abrupt quit.
“Sorry, my grandmother just died.”
“Seriously?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I told him, the trite single tear falling down my face. I couldn’t help but think she could’ve written it better. “I gotta go.”
I didn’t hear the sirens. I didn’t see the paramedics. I didn’t watch as her physical self was declared dead and carted off.
Instead, I sat in my room, the cursor blinking slowly on the screen, wondering when I would be ready to write all the stories my grandmother still had to tell, the ones I could only hope to tell as well without her.