Kristi West and I go way back. We attended college together, sang in the choir, performed in Madrigals, etc. Kristi was my very first fan (on my Facebook “novelist” page) and she made sure to get a whole bunch of people to “like” me. Kristi and her family live in
Misery er…Missouri. Kristi can be found at her blog.
Kaitlin knocked on the door of her grandfather’s apartment. No answer. Knocked again. And no answer. She used her key and opened the door.
The apartment was empty. No table, no chairs, no grandpa. Empty.
Except for a white legal envelope. The words “My Family” written in his shaky hand. She tore it open. It was a letter with messy, squiggly letters turned into words, turned into thoughts, turned into a letter.
I am sick. You’ve known that, haven’t you? Even though I never got around to telling you. You must have known. All the shaking, spilling my coffee, slurred words. No, I wasn’t drunk. Haven’t had a drop of liquor since 1981. When Kaitie was born. Seeing my first grandchild made me want to live.
I don’t want to live anymore.
I’m tired. I’m sick and tired of shaking and my body always hurts so bad. And, you don’t know this, but I keep falling. Hit my head the other day. It scared me so much and I didn’t know who to call for help. And, lately, it’s been hard for me to remember things. I forget to eat dinner and I’m losing things. Lost my glasses two weeks ago and still haven’t found them.
And that’s why I’m saying good-bye. I never wanted any of you to have to take care of me. And I think I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of living on my own. Not many 87 year olds still have their own apartment. But now I need help. And, so, it’s time for me to leave. I know this might confuse you and it will make you sad. And it’s not good that I can’t say it to your faces and hug you all. I wish I could do that, but I’d lose my nerve to do what I have to do.
By the time you read this, I’ll be on an airplane to Switzerland. Heck, I might even be there now. Maybe this whole thing is done and over and you’ve already gotten a phone call. Who knows?
I made an appointment a few months ago. It’s so strange, isn’t it, that I could make an appointment to die? I’ll have someone to help me get through the airport. He’ll fly all the way to Switzerland with me. He’ll take me to the apartment where a doctor will meet us. I’ll get hooked up to a machine and push a button and it will be over. The most pain I’ll feel is the IV they put into my vein. Then it will be over.
I’m sorry. I just don’t want to burden you. And I don’t want to lay in a bed and fall apart piece by piece. Someday, when you’re old, you’ll understand. Please don’t be angry. I’m doing this out of love for you all.
If I write too much more, I’ll lose my nerve.
I sold everything. It didn’t get me much money. But what cash I got is getting me on the plane. I’ll come back to you in a bag of ashes. Please have them sprinkled over Lake Huron. Just make sure it isn’t a windy day. Please laugh. Remember how I loved to laugh.
All my love and kisses and hugs to each of you,
Kaitlin dropped the letter and ran out the door, not bothering to lock it. She drove her car as fast as it would go to the airport, hoping that she would see him, find him before he left. She had no idea when he’d left. Sometime between her visit two days earlier and that moment. She prayed that she wasn’t too late. The tears made her vision blurry, but she didn’t want to slow down. Didn’t want to stop and miss him.
He’d had these plans when she saw him last. How had she missed it? Why hadn’t he told her?
“Kaitie, take care. It’s a jungle out there. I love you. Always have,” he’d said.
Was that his way of saying “good-bye” to her?
The airport was full. The announcer’s voice blared over the speaker, too muddled to understand. Kaitlin just needed to see his balding head. The white hair. The brown leather briefcase that she knew he’d be lugging around. He never left home without it.
At the cafe. A man drinking a cup of coffee. She was sure it was him.
“Grandpa!” she yelled, her voice seemed to bounce off every wall.
The man looked up. It wasn’t him.
Kaitlin ran through the corridor. Found an airport worker.
“Please, help me. I need to find my grandfather,” she said, nearing breathlessness. “He’s not in his right mind.”
“Okay, ma’am.” The woman said. “What flight?”
“I don’t know. Uh. Switzerland.”
“We don’t do non-stop flights to Switzerland. What’s his name?”
After a few minutes and much pacing by Kaitlin, the woman said, “We found his flight. It hasn’t left yet. Go all the way to the end of the West corridor. You’d better start running. The flight boards in 10 minutes.”
Kaitlin took off. She was relieved and rushed and worried and scared. She dodged families pulling luggage and small children. Frazzled business men and women, checking their watches. Good-byes. Hellos.
She saw him. Pushing a walker. A man walked next to him, carrying the brown briefcase.
He turned slightly. He smiled weakly.
“Stop, please!” she yelled, catching up to him. “Please, Grandpa.”
“Hi, honey. Why are you here?”
“You can’t do this.”
“Oh, Kaitie.” He pushed a finger into the corner of his eye. “I need to go.”
“No. We need you.”
“The problem is that I’ll need you. And I don’t want that.”
“It’s not time. We can take care of you.”
“I really need to get on the plane.” He turned back in the direction he was going.
He looked at her. “You are?”
“Yes.” She touched her stomach. “Your first Great-Grandchild. I’m 10 weeks along. We just found out.”
His face turned to a mixture of joy and sadness. “That’s wonderful.”
“Does it change anything?” She sounded so young. Her face was pulled down by grief for the man that still stood right in front of her. “Please let it change your mind.”
His head jerked to the side. A movement he didn’t understand or will. “I’m only going to get worse.”
“I don’t want to be in pain.”
Kaitlin looked down. Sighed. “But don’t you want to see my baby?”
“When I held you, it made me a better man.”
George looked at his granddaughter. Remembered the moment he held her. She tiny and bundled in a pink blanket. He still drunk from the night before. Hadn’t stopped being drunk for 20 years, it seemed. But her small face and fresh smell had changed him. Sobered him. He knew he would do anything for that little child. Even fight the addiction. Even fight to live.
He turned to his escort. “Thank you for helping me. But I think I’m going to have to change my mind.”
George looked at his granddaughter. “Kaitie, can I get a ride?”
“Oh, and there’s a problem. I don’t have anything. I sold it all.”
“That’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
She helped him get the walker turned around. Took the briefcase from the escort.
“I didn’t have any luggage. Didn’t need a change of clothes.”
They walked together slowly, leaving the escort behind them.