Saturday, January 20, 2007

I know

Since Christmas my stomach has been swelling as if I'm entertaining some kind of bizarre, uterusless mini-pregnancy. And now we know why.

The CT scan showed in detail how much my ulcerative colitis has gotten worse.

My doctor prescribed antibiotics to combat any infection that might have taken hold there. I'd say it's working, but I still can't keep food down for long. In the morning I pat foundation under my eyes to hide the grey half-moons there.

At the same time, the family's learned that my grandma has colon cancer. Sort of has a tendency to appear to the females in this family, it seems. My grandma has it, my great-grandma Margaret Mary had it.

My grandma has ulcerative colitis too. I didn't know that until I was diagnosed with it myself in 1994. That's because sometimes being in a family is like attending a support group: someone else has to stand up first and speak before anyone else will second it.

Her husband, my grandfather, died of a heart attack when I was just a little kid. Like most of my childhood memories, I can't remember what grade I was in or how old I was. It was a primary grade, second or third at the outside. I don't remember it because that's not what mattered at the time.

What I remember is that I was riding home from school on the bus one winter afternoon and all of a sudden I had this bad, dark feeling that something was about to go very, very wrong. Something that couldn't be fixed. It was such a heavy uneasy feeling that I leapt to my feet before the bus even came to a complete stop and ran toward home half-crying already. I ran up the front steps and flung open the front door calling frantically for my mother.

She was already there, waiting for me, tears rolling down her face. I knew.

"Who?" in that empathic shorthand females use.
"My father," she cried, "He died this morning."
"I know," I said.

I threw my arms around her waist and sobbed in earnest. We cried together.

I've avoided going in through the front door ever after. I won't even do it in my own house if I can avoid it. I take the long way around and use the side door, if I can. Because taking the direct route would be irreversibly equated with profound sorrow and loss.

I'm 37 now, if that illustrates how much longer my grandma's had to go on without him. And also to point out just how long it's been that she's been my only grandparent on my mother's side.

I think of her and I think of her dark hair and Irish blue eyes, her hands floating over the old painted piano in her living room, the way she set her mouth sometimes when she was deciding about something, the dolls she sewed for me and my sister when we were little (my doll had black hair, my sister's, yellow).

I learned to play the piano from watching her and the morning I played "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" for her, it was her turn to sit back in my grandfather's place by the window and nod mistily.

"Ed used to sing that to me when we were courting," she said.
"I know," I said.

My grandma cooked bacon on Sunday mornings and took me to Methodist church services later, nodding in approval as my cousin and I sang gleefully trying to outdo each other in tempo and volume:

I've got the joy, JOY, JOY, JOY, down in my heart. WHERE? Down in my heart...

I don't just love my grandmother; I get her. I understand her reserve and her thrifty nature and her way of saying "likely" when she means "Of course" ("Likely you'll want to spend the night, so you can start out fresh in the morning.")

So one of my aunts called me yesterday afternoon and we didn't talk too much about Grandma, because it was too close to the nerve almost, we were all too close to it, but she did ask me about my CT scan and what did it show and what are they going to do about it? Why don't they have you in the hospital so you can build up your strength again, Sharon? You need to keep an eye on that.

I understood what she wanted to say. The roundabout is a pattern I've learned by heart, as an ice skater knows the figure eight.

So I just said, "I know."