I spent the past week in Arizona, visiting my aging grandparents in their retirement community. As I think back on my trip, my mind is flooded with pictures of red rock, abandoned Spanish missions, rotary club meetings, and cacti. Among these mundane objects and experiences, one in particular has been itching at the back of my brain, and I think it’s about time I let it out.
My grandfather looked over the regulars of the tiny cafe, of which he was one. There was a retired couple in the corner eating their salads, the man on oxygen who was attempting to eat some soup as his nurse sat across from him yelling into her flip phone, and the group of ladies playing cards in the corner while they bragged about their grandchildren. After taking this cast of characters in his eyes came to rest on me.
He met my eyes in heavy silence. It was a silence that was in reality less than a second or two in length, but it felt like it was going to preface an important moment.
After the endless millisecond pause he shifted his gaze to the left of my head, his eyes growing cloudy and his voice resigned as he sighed,
“You know the more time you spend around all of these people,”
He gestured to the patronage of the cafe, who were much too preoccupied in their own affairs to pay us any mind,
“The smaller your world becomes.”
He absentmindedly scooped up his fork, twiddling I️t between his fingers as he watched my grandma emerge from the single stall bathroom in the back.
“You see people using walkers and wheelchairs in walmart or you see someone rolling around a cart of oxygen..”
He paused to gesture towards our friend with the oxygen, who’s nurse had disappeared somewhere during our conversation.
“You these see people shrinking into themselves…talking more about their grandchildren and what susie next door did at last week’s potluck than their interests, their experiences and aspirations…and you think…
That’s never gonna be me!”
He paused to glance once more at my grandmother who had stopped to compliment the outfit of one of the card playing women.
Amid the tinkling laughter floating our way from the corner he sighed once more and his expression settled into a humorless smile as he continued.
“And yet, here I️ am…the most exciting part of my year is the five days that my granddaughter is in town. I️ have a pacemaker, I️ can barely drive to the grocery store and have to eat gluten free bread to ‘soothe my joints’…And that, is why the taco salad is my favorite thing to eat here.”
He finished nonchalantly as the laughter faded and my glowing grandmother slid into the seat next to me with a smile.
“Oh The taco salad is excellent!” She grinned, nudging my shoulder as we settled back into our usual conversational routine.
Asking about college
Commenting on the weather
Who’s funerals are coming up.
What the best brand of fat free yogurt is
All the while I wilted just a little,
Telling myself that,
That’s never gonna be me!