For Children

Emily Gaw

You

Fifth & Sixth Grade Prose Honorable Mention

Three years ago, we learned you had dementia. I was nine, nearly ten. They told me after dinner one night, brought the subject up simply, quietly so you wouldn’t hear. I didn’t think much of it then, and my mind moved on. You seemed the same as always to me that summer. Just how you should be. You taught me how to knit, one stitch at a time. Patient, as my frustration increased with each dropped stitch. I remember the heat, as we sat on the couch facing the TV. I remember the flowery scent of your shampoo. I remember how you looked at me, as though you understood me, as though you really cared. As though we shared something. That summer we did. That was your last real summer.

Winter came round, bringing the thrill of Christmas in Ireland. Your house was so lit up, the neighbors could barely sleep at night. Frost covered the green grass, and icicles hung in the eaves. The neighborhood dog came by the back door, asking for little scraps. I remember you used to go out the back when you thought nobody was watching and feed him. Then you’d pet him and he would roll over asking for a tummy rub. When you went in, he’d howl for you, and press his moist nose against the glass of the back door, cracking the frost. I used to think it was so funny to see the patterns his nose made, perfectly even, spiraling out across the ice.

You were different that winter. Separate from the rest of us. In your own world. I sometimes wished I could be there with you. To see what was so interesting in there. To see what was keeping you from us. Still, we danced that winter away. Round and round the kitchen, your old radio spinning old songs. You didn’t exactly know who I was, but you knew I was someone important, and you knew my name was Emily. I can still remember those days, when we danced old-fashioned-style under the fluorescent lights that shielded us from the dark outside. Kicking our legs up until we nearly died of laughter. Sometimes I wish I had more of those memories. Sometimes I wish I’d known what your fate was, so I could have prepared for it. But I didn’t. No one did, so no one prepared.

I wish there was some way I could have helped. But I was a child then, I didn’t understand what it meant, when your world fell down around your ears. I didn’t understand guilt. Because now, in some remote corner of my brain, I feel as though I could have prevented this. I feel as though I could have helped you, if I hadn’t been too selfish to notice.

First your eyes stopped smiling, then your mouth. The gaps in your memory widened, and with each day you got worse. Your personality changed, and I can remember times when you scolded me. I just stood there and took it but inside, something fell out of place. I didn’t tell anyone, but sometimes I felt like screaming. Screaming at you and at me and at the whole world besides. Just because I felt like it. Just because I needed to.

Now, you are calm. Indifferent as they change the sheets around you. our flowery shampoo is gone, along with your pride. You don’t notice when you are fed or washed. To me it seems as though you have expanded outside this world. Outside the empty shell of your mindless body. But you didn’t just leave it, you left me too, without one sorry, without one goodbye.

Christmas comes round. Your house is dark. Unwelcoming. The wind whistles down the chimney and the TV is silent. I remember when the kitchen was full of delicious smells and the heating was on full blast. I remember the soft lights of the Christmas tree, and the smell of pine that wafted through the house. I remember those days when you took me on your knee on the couch, and taught me how to knit. Those days when we danced around the kitchen, carefree, and happy. Those days that will never return.

You know, that neighborhood dog still stops by sometimes. I go out to feed him, but he doesn’t accept me the way he did you. Because you were special, because you were unique.

Sometimes I think I hear you, around the corner in the living room maybe, but when I go in, it’s all empty, and you are still down the hallway in your bed. Sometimes I think I can hear the distant whine of that scratchy radio we listened to, so long ago. Sometimes, I go down to your room to visit you and your hand is outstretched on the covers. Asking me why? Why you turned out this way. Because this wasn’t fair. Because nothing was fair.

Now, every once and a while I pull out my first piece of knitting—the one we did together—and just look at it. See every stitch I dropped. See every mountain we crossed. And you know what, Granny, I can see you in there. I can see your patience, I can feel your smile. I can remember you, before the dementia took you. And if I press it close to my face, I can smell that flowery shampoo that used to be you.