The weekend may not be over, but I wanted to do a weekend in review earlier and talk about something that I think I can safely say affects us all: cancer. This weekend, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life was in Toronto and my form of donation is always a luminary that I dedicate to my grandma and my uncle and this year was no different. Unfortunately both my grandma and my uncle lost their battles to cancer and next weekend will be the official 15 year mark of my grandma’s passing.
Writing, whether it be a blog post, a poem or a short story, has always been my form of therapy so today I want to share a short non-fiction piece I wrote a few years ago.
I still remember the touch of your hand against my back, gently pushing me forward. I remember the feel of the warm summer breeze hitting my face and turning my bleach blonde hair into a messy mop. I remember the jagged chain digging into the palms of my hands as I swung higher and higher.
“Kruszynko,” you said to me, my little breadcrumb, “are you ready to go home?”
“No grandma, push me higher. I can almost touch the clouds. I can almost touch the angels.”
Your black wavy hair glimmered in the sunlight as we strolled through the park and back to the apartment on Jameson Ave. You wore a black dress covered in white flowers. It was your favourite, and mine too.
I remember you filling a plastic blue bowl with nuts and leaving it out on the balcony for the squirrels. You knew they would come, and they always did.
I remember us walking through High Park. You always kept a bag of nuts with you. You would place them in the palm of your hand and kneel down and wait. Tiny chipmunks, hiding in the trees and bushes, would come running. They all ate from your hand, Grandma.
You weren’t here year round. You used to travel back to Poland and visit every few months. You were always back for Christmas. We would walk through the same park near Jameson Ave. until my cheeks turned red and felt like a thousand needles were poking at them. You wore a black coat and a white beret that only covered half your hair. The other half would get covered in specks of snow, leaving your black hair polka dotted until we finally went inside and the snow melted away.
I still remember the night Daddy screamed at Mommy, “get out of my house, you bitch!” I remember Mommy hitting his grey hairy chest with a rolled up newspaper. I remember crying when Mommy said we couldn’t live with Daddy anymore.
You called me from Poland and said, “kruszynsko, everything will be okay.”
“Grandma, will you come live with us now?”
“No, kruszynko, I’m sick. I can’t travel now. The doctors are giving me medicine and I need to stay here. But I love you very much.”
I still remember visiting you for Christmas. I was 10 years old and it was the last time I would see you. You gave me your small pillow, the one you always travelled with. The same one I would hold in my arms every night when you told me the story of Cinderella and her Prince. “Kruszynko, I want you to have this pillow. It’s yours now. It’ll protect you when I’m not here.”
I still remember looking through your apartment for other presents you could be hiding. I looked through all the cupboards and all the closets until I found a big black box. In it was your hair, your beautiful, black, wavy hair.
You came in and saw me looking at it.
“Grandma, why is your hair in a box?”
“The medicine the doctors gave me made all my hair fall out, kruszynko.” You never said it would grow back.
I sat on your lap and you held me tight. Your body felt different. I could feel your shoulder bones digging into me. I touched the black and blue scarf tied around your head and we both cried.
I remember sitting at the Christmas table that year. Christmas was different. Auntie, Uncle, and mommy all cried when they wished you a Merry Christmas. You smiled and said everything would be okay and that we would all see each other next year for Christmas too. That would never happen.
I still remember Mommy’s birthday the following summer when I woke up in cold sweats to the sound of her screams. I remember finding her on the kitchen floor with cereal and a shattered bowl lying at her feet. Her face was wet with tears. I knew you were gone.
I still remember that long plane ride to Poland when I looked through all the clouds for an angel that might look like you. I looked everywhere for you, Grandma, but you weren’t there. Were you still at home waiting for me? Were we going to take a walk through the park like we used to? Were you going to push me on the swing so I could touch the angels?
I couldn’t sleep in your bed that night. I slept on the couch and dreamt of nothing but sadness and awoke in a pool of my urine. I looked for you in your bedroom, but you weren’t there.
Mommy said she was going to see your body and say goodbye. I wanted to see you too. I wanted to see your smile. I wanted to see you in your black dress with the flowers. “You’re too young, you can’t see Grandma like this,” Mommy said. Like what? What was wrong with you, Grandma?
I still remember the blur of people dressed in black standing around a gaping hole in the earth. I remember Grandpa’s name on the tombstone, above yours. I remember them lowering the wooden box holding your body into the ground. Were you wearing your black dress with the white flowers? Were you wearing your black wavy hair? Were you smiling like you always did?
I remember wanting to fall into that hole with you. I tried to run to you Grandma, but Mommy held me back. I stood there and cried until the collar of my black dress was soaked. I cried until my eyes felt big and puffy. I cried until I had no more tears. I cried until I felt too tired to cry anymore.
I still remember the black blur of people telling me I’ve grown up, telling me I’m smart and pretty. I didn’t want to listen to them, Grandma; I just wanted to see you again. I waited for you at your apartment. I looked for you in your white dress with the black flowers. You never came.
I wish I were there; holding your hand when the doctor found the tumor, telling you it was going to be okay. I wish I were there; wiping your tears when the doctors cut off your breast. I wish I were there when the doctor told you it was too late and the cancer had spread, infecting your bones with disease. I wish I were there when you took your last breath. I wish I had told you I loved you one last time.
Now, 13 years later, every time I swing, I still reach for the clouds, this time; the angel I’m looking for is you. I wonder if you see me from way up there. If you see that I have your wavy hair. Or your eyes that droop on the sides, but never enough to make me look sad. Or that I still hold your little pillow when I sleep. Or that I have a black and white cat who always reminds me of your favourite flower dress.
It’s 13 years later, but I can still hear your voice whispering, “kruszynko, everything will be okay,” and I know it will.