I loved Dinner Time. Round, giving nurses would carry gray trays serenading the hallways with their joyful noises, “ Mr. Welstein, your dinner. Mrs. Reynolds, dinner is now served; you’ll need to put your glasses on if you plan on seeing the food tonight.” And there always was that one patient who confused the dinner bell with the bell of the second coming. Quickly, he would rise from the hospital bed knocking over pill bottles, the cardiac monitor, and a vase from his daughter in Peru. In a zealous frenzy, he would throw all the clothes out of the chest of drawers until he found his starched black suit. The only one he had. “Golly Gee, the Lord has come and I got to make me look presentable. The Lord won’t take no half-dressed man in his nightie with his backside hanging out.” And so, he would stand by the door, in his Sunday best, clicking his toes and waiting. When the nurse would come with the steaming tray of food and exclaim, “Mr. Diego Ramos, how fine you look, I didn’t know dinner was such an occasion.” Mr. Ramos would calmly say, “You should have said you was coming and I wouldn’t have gotten my old self all prettied up .”
It went like that every night, but never for my grandmother. For my grandmother there was no dinner time, only feeding tubes, and never a caroling nurse, only the nurses with tired gray eyes came to see her. She was such a mess of tubes that I was always afraid if I closed my eyes I would lose her soft smile to the tubes surrounding her. I was eleven, and every day I would practice keeping my eyes open in front of the school mirror. “You know I heard if you splash your eyes with water, they’ll stay open longer,” Jeanette said.. She knew these things because her father was in “the medical field” and she would take his books and read them when he was sleeping. So I would splash my eyes till I was soaking wet. “Let this work, Oh please, God, Jeanette can’t be wrong. Her father is in the medical field, means.” My grandmother couldn’t talk after her tracheotomy. She talked through a letter board. With one hand she would point to each letter making a sentence and, with the other wrinkled hand, she would make a fist and turn her granddaughter into a warrior. The last time I saw her, she held the letter board between her shaking fingers and slowly pointed to each letter. “What, grandma? I can’t understand.” And so she started again. “What? I love you? Is that what you want to say?” She simply nodded. “I love you too, grandma”
My grandmother did not need to get “prettied up.” She would be okay even with her “backside hanging out” because she had real love. I believe you can still say “I love you” even if you can’t speak.
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