Monday, September 12, 2016

Lovebugs

You were my second mom when I was little, and you called me your little lovebug. I used to go to your house instead of daycare and we played with my toys and played games and we played Sesame Street Uno where we saw each other's cards the whole time. We'd play this game where I would hide the dolls from that schoolhouse set and you'd have to find them. Grandpa would secretly show me some really good hiding spots when you weren't looking. You took me to the playground that was walking distance down the street and I always brought Grover, and you would always tell the story of that time that I dropped Grover and I kept looking back and you kept wondering what I was looking at so finally you turned around and saw Grover on the sidewalk and you always used to strap him into the carriage after that time. They used to do activities for kids at the park. I was too shy to talk to them but you told them my favorite color was blue so they would give me a blue balloon and you ate the pepperoni off my slice of pizza because I didn't like pepperoni back then. And I filled out that book where you draw a picture of your favorite animal and your home and it asked who is your best friend, and I said, "Grammy" because you were my best friend. You still remembered that about 5 years ago when you were at our house, and I brought down the book that I had saved and showed you. I took some of my first steps in your house. I don't remember, but you said I had a path where I would grab the chair, walk a few steps, grab the coffee table, a few more steps, grab the couch. And you'd be cheering me on the whole time. And we would go in your bedroom and I'd put on your jewelry and do your hair with my little barrettes. You used to sing me to sleep with the Happy Birthday song. You'd sing happy birthday to everyone in our family, including my dad's family that you hadn't probably met. I loved sleeping over at your house and sleeping in your bed with you. I remember always asking my parents if I could have a double sleepover with you - if I could stay over two nights in a row because I wanted to have a full day at your house - wake up there and go to sleep there. We did that twice for sure, maybe even three times. There was one time you let me eat two jelly donuts and I threw up afterwards, and you told my parents that I threw up but you never said why, and I never told them why, that was always our little secret that you let me eat two whole donuts when I was that small. You used to pick me up from school half the time, I think you were even listed as an emergency contact before my mom because she worked far away and you could get to me faster. You used to come over and take care of me when I was sick. Having the chicken pox was just as much fun as Arthur's Chicken Pox because we played Sesame Street Uno and had fun together all day long instead of going to school and I just remember playing with you, I don't actually remember feeling sick. You were always afraid that I'd choke on a Popsicle stick, so you'd let me suck on the Popsicle until I could see the stick, then I'd tell you and you would take the rest of it off the stick and put it in bowl for me to eat with a spoon. You did that long after my mom and dad let me eat Popsicles on my own, and that was fine.  You took me to my swimming lessons at the Y back before I could swim. We walked by the side of the pool to get my swim belt and back, and you held my hand and you told me that we always had to walk with you on the side of the swimming pool so that I wouldn't fall in, even though I knew you couldn't swim either. You explained how to read double-digit numbers - when I was really young, I wouldn't know whether I should read, say, 34 as thirty-four or forty-three, and you were the one who explained that you read numbers from left to right. I wanted to write the poem I heard on Barney - Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm glad it's your birthday, because I love you, in a birthday card for my mom. I didn't know how to spell, so I told you the whole thing and you told me the letters one by one. I didn't leave any spaces between the words and it looped and looped around the whole page, and you suggested that I draw a dot so that my mom would know where it started. I used to make homemade dollhouses at your house out of cereal boxes and bring them home to show mom and dad. And I used to make books with those shoe-box-hardcovers. I used to help you decorate for all the holidays. Half the Halloween decorations I have now are yours that you gave to us, they have disintegrated scotch tape that goes back to before I was born, and I first taped those to your walls at your old apartment, while you were holding me. I used to purposely put the scariest pictures on yours and Grandpa's bedroom doors. We used to have all the holidays at your house and your house was my second home. I had an entire room full of toys at your house. You used to read books to me. I loved reading together. I had a whole stash of books that were at your house because I was there so often. The Little Critter's Grandma and Me, and Mr. Bell's Fixit shop, where Mr. Bell said he could fix anything except broken hearts. You went to all my school concerts and we always came home and had a party afterwards. You knew all my classmates' names. There was a boy in my class who didn't like to sing and would just stand there with his mouth wide open. Mom said that one time you whispered to her in the middle of the concert, "What's the matter with him? His mouth must be sore!" and Mom couldn't stop laughing. We used to have cookouts and you would play catch with me while I was jumping on the trampoline. We took that trip to Dewey Beach with you and Grandpa and Mom and Dad and Uncle Gary and you and Grandpa liked to sit on the porch together and watch the ocean. You sat next to me in the car all the way down to Virginia, and I taught you all of our car games. You went on a tour of my haunted mansion every Halloween. You picked me up from daycamp in fifth grade and took me to our new house that wasn't completely finished being built yet and I was crying because I didn't want to live there, I wanted my own house, so you took me back to your house and I slept with you and Grandpa that night. You were in a different apartment then - you had moved because Grandpa wasn't doing well and couldn't handle the stairs at your old apartment, the one that I thought of as home, but it was still home because you were there. Mom and Dad and I all slept there while our house was being finished, and I spent as much time there as I could. You hugged me tight when I was crying that I didn't want to move, and you let me vent to you and stay at your house as long as I wanted. You were with me when I fell in love with theatre and saw my first show, Oz. Mom planned a big party afterwards and it was your job to turn on the music as soon as I walked in the door. Grandpa wasn't well enough to see the show, so I made a special trip over to your house and brought the video tape of the show so Grandpa could see me. You pointed me out to him, you said, "That's Nicole," and he said, "I know that!" as if you had just pointed out that it gets dark at night. We spent that next summer planning yours and Grandpa's fiftieth wedding anniversary. It was a special surprise - you knew we were having the party, but we kind of indicated that it would be casual, we'd just be serving stuffed rolls, but we surprised you with the whole family being there - both your side and grandpa's, and we had a full-course meal catered with squash soup, Cesar salad, some kind of meat and mashed potatoes and a vegetable (I don't even remember what kind of meat it was), and a marble cake from Dutch Kitchen for dessert. We had Dutch Kitchen spray paint (with frosting) a picture of you and Grandpa onto the cake, just like Mom had done with my Wizard of Oz picture. We had fancy appetizers, it was my first time ever eating shrimp cocktail, and Uncle Gary still teases me about how I ate the shell because I didn't realize that you weren't supposed to. I made those favors of chocolates shaped like roses, which is how I learned what a mess chocolate can turn into if you leave it in the microwave too long. That's why I'm always so careful with it now. I put on a show for everyone and sang the Grandparents song to both of you and recited that "Life" poem I wrote back then that I had thought was so brilliant at the time. I had read it to you over the phone before the anniversary party, and you loved it. We made those collages with tons and tons of pictures of us. Everyone loved them.

The last time I saw Grandpa was on his birthday that year, the birthday that came right after your fiftieth anniversary. We normally went out for his birthday or just had cake and ice cream, but I had gotten into cooking when I got that American Girl cookbook, and I really wanted to make this recipe for spaghetti pie. So I made that homemade spaghetti pie and brought it over to your house and mom brought salad, and probably cake but I don't remember. Mom told me that everyone thought Grandpa had no appetite anymore, but he really just didn't care much for the food choices he had - usually just a lunch meat sandwich or one of those protein drinks. Mom said that grandpa had a really good sized portion of the spaghetti pie I made and he really enjoyed it, it was a huge treat for him. It wasn't his last meal, but it was possibly - probably - his last really good meal, and I made it. I made him a huge poster-sized birthday card and we all played cards. You had told me that you and Grandpa used to play cards all the time, that you stopped at a certain point because he didn't feel well, that you would ask if he wanted to play cards and he would say no. But you said that whenever *I* asked if he wanted to play cards, he said yes, so he yes that time. I won that time, which Mom was happy about. He said Grandpa would sometimes get annoyed when you won, but he was happy when I won. So we hugged and kissed goodbye. A few days later he was in the hospital (which didn't concern me as much this time as it had in the past - it had become routine for him to be in the hospital and come home afterwards). It was a Thursday. We had skiing that Friday. I had needed to get either a new ski helmet or new goggles that fit over my glasses or something, I don't remember exactly what, so I got in the car after school, immediately told my dad that I needed this thing and asked if we could go to the shop right then. He said, "Okay, but first we have to go to the hospital. Grandpa just died."

We had the photo collages at the wake and everyone got to see all our pictures, along with the poem I wrote for Grandpa that you had framed. I knew Grandpa wasn't doing well for a long time so I used to leave little love notes for him around the house, and I wrote this poem on the spur of the moment. I started off writing funny poems like, "Roses are red, violets are blue, you call it a bathroom, I call it a loo," and stuff like that, and then I just ended up writing this deep meaningful one for him and you loved it so much that you framed it and Uncle Gary read it to everyone at Grandpa's funeral.

I was really sad that rest of that year. My world fell to pieces, I remember leaving you a love note in your new apartment (one with one bedroom instead of two) saying that Grandpa was still here with us and that I invited him to come see me perform in Annie and that he was going to get a front-row seat. Mom knew that I had been sad, and when Christmas rolled around, she gave me the single best present that I have ever gotten in my whole life (still, 15 years later). She had everyone in the family make at least three note cards with things they liked about me and she put them all together into a rainbow cup. I just opened it again now and this is what you wrote:

Nicole when you wanted me to play games, read your books, and sing to you made me feel so happy that you are my granddaughter.

Nicole, reading your beautiful poems are a joy. I'm very proud of you. I love you very much.

Nicole I enjoy watching you act in the plays and sing in the concerts. You fill me up with joy and happiness seeing you grow up to be such a nice granddaughter.

You came to grandparents' day at my school all 10 years. You got remarried the following year after Grandpa died, and I sang a song at your wedding. You still kept coming to all of my shows and telling me a did such a good job and that you were so proud of me. I told you who all my classmates were and about all the fun, behind-the-scenes gossip on everyone. You remembered my classmates by name and all of my friends, even though you hadn't met most of them. I remember one year I had worked really extra hard on my singing, dancing, and acting skills, and I performed really well in my summer show, and you said that you could tell I had improved a lot. You were so proud of me when I had my first big role and did that blood-curdling scream. Mom and Dad saw it the night before and kept that part a secret so the rest of you would be surprised. You came to all my wild-themed birthday parties and played gestures and lots of games. You dressed up with all your bright necklaces and performed in the talent show. The year that I had a Harry Potter party, you dressed up as Professor McGonagall. We saw the Harry Potter movies together in the theater. I remember you asking Mom, "Which one's Harry Potter?" during the opening trailers of the first or second movie. Our whole family went to see the fourth movie together my senior year of high school. I remember because Uncle Gary's reaction was, "Voldemort's a pretty tough boss, you cut off your arm for him and he's still not happy!" I dedicated my senior project to all of you, and you got a special part just for you. I said that while my scrapbook was focused more specifically on high school and my high school friends, I wanted to dedicate it to the people who were there with me all along. You got really excited whenever boys were involved. One time when I was getting a ride after a play with a guy friend and you got all excited and started asking Mom about the two of us. Mom explained that he was just my friend and that a bunch of us were riding together, but you were still excited. I remember that summer when I told you that my hormones finally kicked in I loved boys and now I had at least three guys that I had crushes on, you thought it was so funny and cute and you were all excited for me. You got so excited about my prom date. He and I were walking through the halls one time after a play and Mom said that you wanted to run up to us and tell him that you had heard a lot about him. Mom distracted you with something on a bulletin board. You came over on prom night just to see me in my outfit, and you got to meet my date. You talked to him whenever you could. One time he stopped by to visit me when we were on vacation, and you happened to be there at the same time checking on our house and you had a long conversation with him. We weren't even really dating, but you still got a kick out of it. When I went to college, you always came up with Mom and Dad to see all my shows. Even when you weren't really up for that four-hour car ride, you always came. Your second husband passed away during my senior year of college. You did the long drive up there one final time for my graduation, and you were so proud of me that day.

Things started heading a bit downhill after that. When you were with him, you didn't need to drive anymore, so it wasn't as easy to drive again when he was gone. In the years you were with him, you didn't go for your daily walks anymore or go to the senior center or line dancing or read the newspaper every day or any of the things that you used to do before. So once he was gone, everything was harder. You soon gave up your driver's license and had much more trouble walking than you ever used to. I would come over and visit and take you to get your groceries. Whenever we got groceries, you'd slip me a twenty-dollar bill for "gas money" even though it was only a ten-minute drive. Sometimes I'd take you to Cherry Hill for ice cream afterwards, or else you'd invite me upstairs to have one of those sugar-free Fudgesicles and we'd talk about everything. I told you about my boyfriend and my friends and all the fun things we were doing together. You used to reminisce back to when you first met Grandpa at that New Year's Eve dance, about the time he invited you to go swimming and your dad said no, then your dad changed his mind and said you could go, but you weren't allowed to call him back because girls weren't allowed to call boys back then, but luckily he called you back. And Grandpa only had enough money to take the bus one way, so he'd take it with you to your house to drop you off and then walk home by himself.

Things were definitely different. You didn't react to the short stories I wrote the way that I thought you would have when I was younger. Mom explained that you were never a big reader, and that it wasn't something you had kept up with, and that it was a really difficult task for you. That's why I never gave you a copy of my first novel - because Mom said that you would be stressed out if you thought that I expected you to read it and comment on it. I knew I wasn't treating you quite the same as I did when I was little. I loved visiting with you, but I knew things were different. You were repeating the same stories a lot, sometimes in response to things I said that were not really related. I sometimes questioned if I should still have your phone number as my third emergency contact, after my mom and dad, but I left it. That time that Mom and Dad were on vacation during Hurricane Irene, you were following the news and knew that I was going to be home alone, and even though you couldn't drive over, you called Auntie Donna and insisted that the two of you come over and bring me flashlights and batteries and make sure I had everything I needed. I was 23 at the time and was perfectly capable of getting my own flashlights and batteries, but that's just the way you were, the same way that you always put yourself between me and the swimming pool.

It was summer 2013. Mom and Dad were at the Cape, I was home alone, making a refried bean and cheese quesadilla for lunch, when Auntie Donna called saying that you two were supposed to meet, but you weren't answering your buzzer, and she needed me to meet at your apartment with your keys so we could get inside. I headed over, kept telling myself that it was just a miscommunication, you must have forgotten that you were meeting her that day. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that didn't make sense. You've always been super organized, and it was really unlike you to forget plans. So that was when we broke into your apartment and took you to the hospital and how you ended up at the nursing home. I had to remove you from my emergency contacts, but I still have your old phone number at that apartment listed in my phone. I know it's not your number anymore, if I called it, it'd be some random stranger living there, but you don't have a phone number now, and I'm not going to delete your name from my contacts.

I still love to visit you, and I'm glad that it makes you happy when I visit. But it's been really different since 2013. You don't remember the names of any of the new friends I tell you about. Once in a while you'll remember back to my high school or middle school friends and ask me how they are doing, but you haven't remembered anyone that I've told you about since then. You ask me how I like my job, and I always tell you it's going well. Even back when it wasn't. Since 2013, our priority has been to make you happy, and you're happy when I'm happy, so I've never shared anything that would make you worry about me. When my boyfriend and I broke up, I didn't talk to you about it, but Mom let you know, and you gave me an extra big hug that time, so I know that you knew and that you cared. After I tell you that my job is going well, sometimes I'll share a story about something else, like having a party or going to the beach with my friends, and you'll smile and nod and repeat to me again that it's good that I like my job. I've been showing you my calendar, which makes you happy. And I show you my binder every time I come, and you're always so impressed that I wrote that much and you're so proud of me. I know you're proud of the fact that I've written a book, even though you would not easily be able to read it or understand it or ever really talk to me about it the way that my other friends can. If I thought for a second that you would read it, I'd give you your own binder copy, but I know that would be too much stress. And I wish you could have seen it. I wish after all the years of listening to my stories and poems and seeing me onstage, I wish you could have gotten to show off that signed, published copy with your name in the acknowledges section and a note about how much you've supported me throughout my life. I wish you could have read the book and really seen how good of a job I did, I wish you could tell the difference the same way that you could when you said my dancing had improved so much. I wish you'd have the fun of going around with the published book saying, "That's my granddaughter." I wish you would get to see your dedication. Mom and Dad get my first, but you and Grandpa get my second, and I wish you could see that.

I will always be your little lovebug.

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