"Now remember," my grandpa instructed. " She won't look quite the same."
"I know," I answered, not bothering to hide the annoyance in my tone. I know that dying people don't look that great when they're, well, dying. I took a deep breath and walked across the street to my neighbor's house. I wanted to just go in and see her and leave, to get this over with as quickly as I could. Debby and Amy were in the living room with my grandma. Emily, Amy's 2-year old, was asleep on her chest. There was some chatter coming from the down the hall. I would have to wait. I hate waiting.
I took my spot on the couch next to grandma and made small talk with our neighbors. I'm not even sure what we talked about but, finally, thirty minutes later, the nurse came out saying that we could go in now. Grandma jumped up as quickly as she could with her bad back and arthritic feet and I followed. "Now remember, she won't look quite the same," grandpa's words echoed in my head. But nothing, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
She laid in her bed, unmoving, the only sign of life being her chest rising and fall with shallow breaths and her big, blue eyes blinking every now and then. I knew that it would have been difficult for her to smile, to speak, but I thought that she would still have her nice perm. That she would be sitting upright in one of her sweaters. Instead her gray hair was slicked back, looking as though it hadn't been touched in days, and a pink satin gown covered her. She hated pink. She didn't even like satin too much. And yet there she was, dressed in a pink satin gown, as she looked to see who had entered her room now.
Grandma took the chair beside her and started talking. A conversation that, obviously, ended within 20 seconds. You try carrying on a conversation when you have throat cancer. But she did try, my neighbor, that is. Her words were softer than usual, and occasionally slurred. It didn't help that the oxygen machine was making all its clicks and whirs at all-too-frequent intervals. It took a minute for me to gain control of the tears (stupid things were falling without my permission) and I was fine...as long as I remained about a foot away from her. That didn't last long either. She looked at me and started talking, my cue to bend over and act as though I heard everything she said. I did catch a few words here and there and finally figured out that she was complimenting my hair and that she had always liked the styles. Now those salty drops were back again. Damn it. Grandma handed me a tissue, which only made it worse.
Then it was quiet for a few minutes, grandma and I at loss at what to say and our neighbor unable to talk. I managed to tell her that I was doing well in school and that I managed to get straight B's this semester (not completely a lie, but not entirely the truth). Her mouth twitched at what might have been an attempt to smile. Or an attempt to say something. But which it was, I wasn't really sure. She looked at me most of the time, not that I was able to really meet her gaze. I knew that if I did, even though I was outside my one foot bubble, that it would be too much for me to handle. I'd rather her see me looking down then looking at her with red eyes. She wished me a Merry Christmas and to tell Gail the same. I nodded, not trusting my voice to remain steady.
It was quiet again, except for the annoying machine. I shouldn't call it annoying. It was the only thing that was keeping her alive. And really the only thing that told me that she was, in fact, still alive. Eventually grandma and I left the room. I'd made sure the tears were gone before I faced Amy and Debby, but any sort of tough girl act I had was gone when I entered the living room. Debby gave me a hug, telling me all the things that you hear in sad movies when someone passes away, or is about to pass away, words I didn't think that I would have to hear for at least a few more years. We said goodbye to the girls and went back across the street, me serving as grandma's second cane.
I knew that people get old, that everyone dies eventually, and that a lot of times the death is sudden. And yet I couldn't wrap my mind around it. She had been healthy all this time, more agile than most women at her age. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she was diagnosed with cancer and was suspected go very soon. "It's not fair!" was all I could think.
And we all come, tumbling down
No matter how strong
We all return to the ground
Another day gone, a day closer to fate
And soon we find it's a little bit too late.