Going to California

In-between Days — Sidebar: Granddad’s Auction

I wrote this almost exactly fifteen years ago, in the summer of 1999, coming back from having auctioned off my grandfather’s belongings on a hot Texas day. It has far too many semi-colons, but I have better things to do than to mess with the text. With the exception of some misspellings, here it is as I wrote it then.

Mom woke me up at 6:30 in the morning. I thought, “What are we doing getting up this early? The auction doesn’t start ’till 10.” But when people started showing up a half-hour later, I knew it was going to be a busy day.

Walking around the house — for all anyone knew, just another curious local interested in an old man’s lifetime of collections — I felt increasingly distant. Every knick-knack and bauble, laid out to fill the yard, were vessels of memory, reminders of summers spend in grandparental solitude.

My mom and dad used to send me off to Weatherford for a week or two between school years; grandmom and granddad weren’t very “hands-on” folks, so I had the run of the house. Everything reminded me of the summer of my childhood and the autumn of my grandparents’ lives. The little red bird perched on the wavy lampshade by wire-formed feet; the porceline figures of women sewing, reading, hugging children; the countless glass bottles smelling faintly of perfumes from more than half-a-century ago; they were natural extensions of my grandparents, their personalities made external. I buried my grandfather’s body several weeks before, but over a long, hot Texas morning we auctioned off his soul.

Of particular interest were the tools and the relics: the things which, as a child, I wasn’t allowed to touch. There were probably five complete workshops worth of wrenches, pliers, hammers, saws, brackets, braces, bolts, and screws. There were enough weed eaters and mowers and edgers and blowers to start a landscaping company.

Most of the relics I didn’t even know existed until the auction had already been announced — and unfortunately, once something had been inventoried for the auction, it couldn’t be taken out. This included the single-shot shotgun, a little 410, once used by my great-grandfather, Sherwood Henry Pearcy, on his farm at the turn of the century. My grandfather’d kept it cleaned and oiled, ready for use, and it was found leaned up against his bed the day he died. The prize, though, was the 18-inch-long Nazi dress dagger, tightly sheathed in leather, that granddad had said he’d pulled off an officer in World War II. It disturbed me a little, but it was beautiful. It was emblazoned with swastikas on pommel and hilt, weighted for decoration but long and sharp and precisely manufactured enough to go through a person’s belly and come out his back as though cutting through the air. I had no weapons at the time; I’m not much of a weapon person. But I wanted that rifle, and I wanted that dagger.

My father, since his dad died, has been distant. Knowing how weird I felt walking around among personal belongings, labeled for sale, I knew I couldn’t imagine how my dad might feel about it. He’d told my mom to throw everything that wasn’t spoken for into the auction, though she cautioned him that he might regret it later. But dad shut down a few months ago and it’ll be awhile ’till he starts caring about things again.

Since we couldn’t pull them from the auction, we set high minimums on the dagger and the rifle; if the bidding didn’t reach the minimums, then we’d keep the weapons. Mom wanted me to get a bidder number anyway and bid on the rifle. I’d just bid until the bidding stopped and then we’d pay the auctioneer his 20% cut, calling it a draw.

I was given a post in the front yard, where the more valuable items were arrayed on two long rows of folding card tables. A stranger asked me what I was doing there, and I confessed I was close family.

“Is stuff going missing?” he asked. No, I didn’t think it was, though I feared it might; granddad had a lot of cool stuff. Mostly, though, people just didn’t know how to handle good, quality things. I don’t mean this as a slam at “country-folk” in general or the populace Weatherford in specific; I’ve gotten my favorite books back from best friends with the spines all torn out and not so much as an apology to go with it. Leading up to the auction, people were doing really stupid shit — picking up mechanical clocks and shaking them, for example. I mean, damn! You don’t shake things driven by delicate gears. Luckily, mom had thought to take the pendulum out so everything was cool. Still, I didn’t see anyone trying to pocket anything, and I didn’t notice anything go missing, and it wasn’t for lack of keeping my eyes open.

Also, the auctioneer gave us some tips on how to keep people from taking advantage of the situation. “Unplug all the phones,” he advised. “People like to save up their long-distance calling for an estate sale, then when everyone’s outside . . .” This was enough to make me a little paranoid. How cheap and petty, I thought, to take advantage of another person’s grief that way.

Before the auction started, my mom came out with grave news. “John Kennedy Jr. and his wife were just in a plane crash; they think they’re dead.” So that’s something else that happened that day. News quickly spread among the assembled throng as they picked through a century’s accumulation of stuff, most purchased before the dead man’s father had been made President.

The knife and the rifle — and various other rifles I didn’t care about — were kept in the auctioneer’s trailer. I could see them hanging up from my post on the front porch. Occasionally I’d see a good old boy pulling at the brim of his cowboy hat, inspecting the shotgun with a cell phone cradled between ear and shoulder. Talking to a gun appraiser or a knowledgable friend, I imagined.

I walked into the trailer when I could no longer see the Nazi dagger hanging from the trailer’s far well, only to be faced with an old man inspecting one of the bolt-action rifles — inadvertently aimed at me. I recoiled smoothly out of the doorway, though it made him jump a little. If the gun had been loaded, it probably would’ve gone off in his hands. I had a brief flash of that alternate world where a red blossom opened up on my right side, the imagined pain blinding me from further fantasy.

“Didn’t mean to startle ya,” he said.

“No problem,” I replied, gesturing as though pushing the rifle barrel aside. “I just don’t like to enter rooms to find guns pointed at me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, forehead furrowed with genuine concern. “Didn’t even realize what I was doing.” He aimed the rifle out the trailer window as he completed his inspection. Goddamn, I thought, I don’t know how someone could reach such an advanced age without learning not to aim guns casually where people are likely to be.

Inside the trailer was a girl, maybe all of 14 years old, selling hot dogs, snacks, and drinks for the auctioneer. Everyone makes money how they can.

“Yeah, I dated a guy from there,” she told someone I couldn’t see. “Well, not ‘dated’ — we just went out a couple times. But he has no respect for women. After the second date, I was like, ‘You ain’t worth my time.'” I wondered where she would be in another 14 years.

My mom found a huge guy in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open, leaning in slack-jawed as though inspecting the interior.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, tapping the “no sale” sign on the door. “This isn’t for sale.”

“Oh, I’m just coolin’ off,” he replied, staring blankly forward.

After we met up and exchanged stories, right before the mid-day break and the auctioning of the weapons, mom said, “At least the guy in the fridge didn’t have a rifle.”

“Did he have thumbs?” I asked.

In the end, we kept both gun and knife. Some guy bid up to $120 for it, and I bit $125 — even though I didn’t have to enter the bidding at all, with a minimum of $150, but my mom applied unnecessary pressure for me to do so.

The knife made it more than halfway through to its minimum bid of $900, but I’m not sure that was even a real bid as it was entered by the man running the auction, who knew the minimum. I think he just wanted to get it over with and inflated the bidding with a bogus entry. If I’m ever put in charge of two yards full of stuff to auction, I won’t want to waste time with stuff the family decided at the last minute not to sell.

Some people were a little bitter about it, though. I overestimated how much this auction meant to some people. I mean, to me this was just the culmination of a long period of family strangeness following a much longer period of family estrangement. But come four o’clock I was free to drive back to Austin. For these people, this was their life. This auction was very important to them for all sorts of selfish (or perhaps merely personal) reasons. Maybe I took it too lightly, all things considered.

“Cain’t believe you turned down $120 for that rifle!” one snaggle-toothed thin blonde woman hunted my mom and I down to tell us. The rest of those assembled were gathered around the rest of the rifle bidding in the back yard.

“Well,” mom said, “it belonged to his father.” She meant it belonged to my grandfather’s father.

“But it ain’t an antique! You can get that same guy down at the store for $99! And you turned down a hundred-and-twenty?”

“It is an antique,” my mother politely insisted.

“But you can get plenty just like it down at the store,” the woman said, “and they even got a star on the handle!”

Mom smiled at her dismissively. Myself, I couldn’t say anything. The previous night, I’d told mom that I wasn’t holding my tongue any more. When granddad was sick, I was the good grandson. When his sister died later that week, I put up with all the ridiculous things said by my peripheral relatives. When he died ten days later, I remained respectful even to the leering second cousin who told me — just feet from the site where I’d just lain my grandfather’s body to its eternal rest — what a good-looking woman my sister appeared to be.

Still, I just couldn’t bear to speak a word to these people for fear of the explosion that might come. I just smiled and nodded sympathetically, sort of a “those are the breaks, I guess we must be screwed” sort of look.

The overweight Nazi knife bidder informed me that he didn’t know what happened with the bidding on that one.

“I see them knives all the time on the eBay, always for ’round $300 or even $350.”

“Really?” I said, with a facetious tone of disbelief. He drew back with great apprehension, surprised that I didn’t just sheepishly hand over the knife, victim to his Internet-savvyness. I kept forgetting that in small-town Texas, the Internet was mostly something that rich folks did. When I heard other people mention the Internet that morning, it was always in the settling of an argument. “Well, but I read it on the Internet.” Something about the ‘Net carries the weight of truth. I’d chastised myself for my old prejudice about people living in small towns not knowing anything about the Internet, so it relieved me to hear an actual Weatherford resident expressing shock that another Weatherford resident had heard of eBay. Dang us city folk

I tried talking my mom into letting me take the knife with me, but she kept it, planning to drive it back to Kansas City to have it appraised.

Then there were the Masonic fezes, emblems of one of several secret fraternal orders grandfather belonged to. I mean, I couldn’t just let those go. I had to out-bid one of the many old Gertrude Stein-era lesbians who’d showed for the sale, but I got them. Twenty bucks.

The worst scene was near the end. A young blond girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, had fallen in love with my old computer, a Mac SE that my parents had bought and used intermittently in the early-90s. It had a dot-matrix printer, a ton of software (including a shrink-wrapped copy of Microsoft Word) — it was ready to go.

How in love with it was she? She was sitting on the floor hugging it to her chest right before the bidding. Sadly, her parents stopped bidding at $20, so someone else got it for $25. She ran into the bathroom, crying, and refused to come out for some time. This is real, I had to remind myself; these were peoples’ lives. I remained quietly reverential through the remainder of the proceedings.

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Going to California

In-between Days — 7.5

The phone rang.

“Hey!” It was Felicity. “I’m coming to town this weekend. Are you going to be around? I got a bunch of family stuff to do, but Sunday work work for me. I’m driving back out after that.”

She’d settled in a small town in east Texas, within miles of the large-scale printing facility I’d discovered out in the country, where we’d printed the first issue of my magazine. That stretch of land, about 45 miles long and a couple of miles wide at its heart, was home to the original Texas oil boom, years ago. It was around this aggressively exploited area that new surveying continued, reaching out to touch other natural resources like natural gas and coal. It was that area’s strip-mining that my former roommates, the archeologists, had dedicated so many years of their life to protecting, when they could, and when they couldn’t they did their own sort of mining, preserving whatever artifacts could be retrieved in the time they had.

Felicity was also only not far from where my mother’s parents owned a patch of land — out amongst the pine trees, with a small horse and a couple of other animals to care for — and where I’d spent many weekends as a child. It sounded like it was a different place, now.

“Hello?” she said.

“Sorry, I was thinking about family.”

“Yeah — me, too. I’m coming in to help my mom with a bunch of stuff. She’s been in this storage unit forever, and it’s already cost way more to keep than it would’ve been to buy the stuff over again, so—”

“My granddad passed away,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh—I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. That’s why I’m not going to be around this weekend.”

“Oh. So the funeral is in a couple of days?” It was Wednesday.

“It’s Sunday,” I said. “Afterwards, I’ll say goodbye to everybody and head on back. When do you have to take off?”

“Mmm, three or four, if I’m going to get back at a decent hour.”

The funeral would be just after noon. I wasn’t going to define a sharp period of time that I thought it should take, but it would have to be at least an hour. Austin was about four hours away.

“I think I’m going to miss you this time,” I said.

“Oh. Well, here’s what you do: call me, when you know, and maybe I can wait for you.”

“I don’t think I’ll know. I just want to drive up, and be there for it, and drive back. I don’t want to think about schedules.”

“I’m—Sure, I totally understand. And I’m really sorry to hear it. That’s bad, and I’m sorry.”

“Well, thanks. He was almost 92 years old—”

“Holy crap!”

“I know!” I sighed. “And his older sister died last week. She was 103, and she still had a really sharp mind.” I laughed. “It’s funny to wonder if he died because she’d died, because I don’t think he liked her that much, actually. He was the youngest of eight children, so they’d always called him ‘Baby’ — and I can imagine that after ninety years, that might start to get under your skin.”

She laughed. “Agreed.”

“I’ll call you,” I said.

“Okay.”

On the drive up, I kept checking in to see how I was feeling. I wasn’t happy, though I’d be glad to see everybody, but I wasn’t sad, either. I’d hit a plateau of calm, somewhere, from which I looked out at the world through unselfish eyes.

Granddad had several people dropping by regularly to check in on him. Until his heart-attack, he’d still insisted on mowing his own yard. Every afternoon, he’d sneak out into the garage and smoke a bowl of damp tobacco in one of the wooden pipes he kept in a cigar box among all his power tools, neatly hanging from peg-surfaced walls. He hung saws on his peg-board; we’d hung modems from ours. Our worlds were not that far apart.

“They found him the next morning,” my mom told me. “One of the nurses, I think. He died in his sleep, at some point the night, with his cat.” She shook her head. “You know he loved that cat. He always had it sleeping on his chest, and that’s how they found them, your grandfather lying on his back and that cat curled up on top of him.”

I’d called Felicity that morning, before the funeral, and left her a message that I didn’t expect to be back before five, so I didn’t expect I’d be able to see her. I wished her well, and I told her we’d see each other another time.

We had a service in a church before we set him into the ground and said our words over him. It was the custom to present the dead to the living one last time, lying in their casket. I’d been in the antechamber in the back of the back of church, where the pall bearers, some of granddad’s older nephews and their boys, now men much older then me, stood somberly.

When I’d approached, the oldest of them had reached out to shake my hand, and I’d felt something funny in his grip, almost like he’d been trying to tickle my palm with his middle finger, or brushing the underside of my thumb with his — it was such a surprising flash of sensory input that it overflowed the cognition I had available. I wasn’t actually sure what had happened, though I did catch him quickly darting his eyes to some of the other men, who then bounced a glance around between them. The rest greeted me more formally, clasping my hand softly and simply.

And that, I thought, is how it feels to fail a secret handshake.

“We’re really sorry for your loss,” the oldest of them said.

“That’s kind of you,” I said.

“He’s a good man, Charlie was,” said another. They glanced around amongst themselves again. “A fine man.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, son,” said the oldest, “I had a question for you.”

“All right.”

He pursed his lips, looking away, then down, then back up at me. His eyes looked different, sharper.

“Your grandfather belonged to a brotherhood, an order — he had for a long time.”

I nodded. “Yes. I saw the letter on his wall, saying he wouldn’t have to pay dues any more for the rest of his life.” I didn’t add how I’d thought they must have figured he could only live so much longer.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “That’s it.”

“I have a lot of respect for the Freemasons. I know my granddad was proud of it, and I always respected him for that.”

They glanced among themselves again. Some of their backs straightened.

The eldest nodded. “That’s good. So then you can keep an eye out, if you can, as you’re going through the things in his house with your family. There are some things Charlie had that would better belong to us. Some books. Some articles of clothing.” He formed a small halo with his hands over his head.

“I know what you’re talking about.”

“Good,” he said. “Good. We need it back. We’d like it. If you could get it for us, we’d probably even put it up on display, in a case, put old Charlie’s name on it.” His face grew serious again. “But the books,” he said, “we do need the books.”

“I will keep my eyes open,” I said, nodding gravely.

He licked his lips. “You know,” he said, “not anyone can become a brother. You must be vouched for by a brother of good standing. Or your father can be a mason. Or your grandfather.”

“I understand,” I said. “I appreciate that. I always respected my grandfather, so that’s a great comfort for me.” He seemed unsure that I might not have understood him. “Thank you,” I finally said. “I’ll let you know.”

He nodded, and then the organ music began. We turned, the group of us, to look through heavy velvet curtains as people arranged themselves to begin the memorial.

One of them said to the others, “So that’s one more?”

The eldest nodded. “One more. The end days are upon us, or will be soon.”

Another asked, “When will we see the New World Order here in the States?”

“It’s already here,” the oldest said. “But it won’t become visible to us until after the world currency takes over. First Europe and the Euro, then a short time after that it’ll be a single currency for all of us. Then the New Order.” He grimaced. Then to me, he said, “You better hurry up and head on down or you’re gonna miss the proceedings.”

Back at granddad’s house, after the funeral, I would be the one tasked with getting the cat out from under the side table granddad had set between the two recliners, across from the TV. He looked like an enormously hairy cat, until you touched him and you realized that no, he was just enormous. I’d never handled a twenty-seven-pound cat before, and I’d rather pass if I ever have to do it again. He clawed the hell out of my hands and my forearms, getting him out. The distant family out from Mineral Wells who’d offered to take him were doing him and us a kindness, so the least I could do was take the brunt of the animal’s fear. He’d spent his whole life with my grandfather. I think he knew what was going on.

The cat probably felt worse about the situation than any of us did. We were going to feel bad about it for a while, but gradually the bruise would fade and anything that eventually remained would be the new structures around the framework of our lives, invisible and unknowable. That cat would miss my grandfather every hour of every day for the rest of his life.

Washing my myriad wounds before daubing them with hydrogen peroxide, moments with my grandfather came back to me. How happy I’d always seen him with that cat. He’d loved him, truly he had. That cat was always getting choice scraps from the table — a practice he’d used on his dogs for so long that why not keep it up with a cat? Granddad would pull the heavy wooden handle on the side of his recliner, leaning back away from the ball game on the TV and kicking his boot-clad toes up in front of it, tipping his cowboy hat half over his face and tapping his chest, encouraging the cat to crawl up and get comfy on his chest.

My hands were washing my hands but my mind was no longer thinking about them. The cat. The twenty-seven-pound cat. That granddad had spent years fattening up. That he had trained to sit on his chest, over his profoundly congested heart. That he did not want an operation to save.

I came out of the bathroom, hands dripping. My sister saw me first.

“I-i-i-i-i-i-i-,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“Motherfucker, motherfucker,” I muttered. “Jesus Christ.”

“What?!”

I took a breath. “It was suicide by cat,” I said.

She took a breath, glanced out the door where the cat had just gone, looked back at me, and a smile broke out over her face.

“Oh, my God,” she said, hands covering her growing grin.

Then we were laughing, then we were crying, and we hugged, and it was okay.

I drove back through the heat of the day, even later than I’d expected by several hours. I wondered more than once if I’d be passing Felicity on the highway, though I was relieved to think we wouldn’t be meeting up. I had a feeling it would be complicated.

Pulling into the alley behind my shack, windblown and calm, as the dust cleared I saw someone sitting on my front step.

“Hello,” Felicity said, standing up, straightening her skirt.

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Going to California

In-between Days — 7

Something like a month earlier, the line began to form to see what would be the first Star Wars movie in 26 years. To say that emotions were high among the geek community, and even in American culture at large, would be an understatement.

Rick and I had spent a large, single-digit number of afternoons scouring the local toy stores for the new Star Wars action figures, those having been the currency of cool in our grade-school years of our youth. If you had a Sandperson, or a Jawa — or, later, Yoda — then you were pretty bad-ass. In fourth grade, I’d had a long, ongoing narrative going amongst all the toys in my room, and my Star Wars action figures figured prominently. When my parents finally made me pack them away so that I’d have one less reason to be “that uncool kid” in junior high, I’d been morose for weeks. I was thrilled to have gotten them back from my parents after all that time, and even more thrilled to see what great condition they were in.

I, of course, had two Yodas. No, I don’t remember how or why.

This all made it that much more important that Rick and I indulge what might well be a last hurrah, making regular sweeps for the rare figures. Because as much as it was feeling like it could be the beginning of something cool — I mean, it was Star Wars; how could you fuck that up? — there was also a sense in the air of an end coming. We were seven months from the end of the millennium, and the occasional bubbling-over of little pockets of insane cults over the course of the last ten years did nothing to dispel an overall concern that something bad might happen on the other side of the millennial boundary. It doesn’t make any sense, but if there was one thing I’d learned from my deep study of paranoia it was that it doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t. The global computer system crash promised by the Y2K Bug, the Japanese nerve-gas cult, the Web developers who thought a flying saucer would take their opiate-laced souls to another world — so many little things contributed to an uneasiness felt across the nation.

And still, we had new Star Wars, and as a person who’d made a serious practice of attending opening nights, typically with large groups of friends — when I saved 16 prime seats at the opening of Jurassic Park with nothing more than three extra sweaters I’d brought to do exactly that, after having been third in line to get into the theater, I thought I might be lynched; I was so relieved when Mentor and his wife showed up early to lay reasonable claim to that much entertainment real estate — I was going to be there. Unfortunately, I had a job. A lot of people did not, and were literally camped out in line for tickets. The theaters were wholly unprepared for the “gotta see it first” culture of the geeks, and eventually relented, agreeing to sell tickets weeks ahead of time just to get their sidewalks back, but they’d made it a condition of the advance sale that leading up to the sale, all the campers had to stay put in their the tents they’d erected in front of the theaters. If a tent was empty, you lost your place in line.

I’d been cursing my bad luck that the startup hadn’t yet been bought, so I was still gainfully employed, when I’d gotten the call: some buddies from Steve Jackson Games who’d worked in the warehouse were rotating through shifts in the fourth tent in line for tickets at Austin’s finest, newest theater at the time. If I’d agree to work a night shift, I could have some tickets, as many as four.

It would’ve been fine, if some other big geek hadn’t gotten drunk and fallen into the tent where I was sleeping, bringing his booted foot down upon my skull. I screamed, and he apologized — he was with the Ain’t It Cool News tent, and might not actually have been old enough to be drinking — before running off.

Over the next couple of days, I was in so much pain that I went back to my chiropractor. I usually saw the woman of the couple, but after she took a look at me, she sent in her husband.

“So,” he said, “you remember in school, how they taught you about continental plates? Right?”

“Uh-huh.”

He held his hands out before him, like he was grasping a globe. “Well, your head, your skull, is much like that. You have a lot of plates, and they all fit together neatly. What’s happened to you is that the plates aren’t perfectly seated right now. So we’re going to work on that.”

“Um, okay. Great.”

He looked me seriously in the eye. “Okay,” he said, and walked behind me, grasping my skull. His hands felt like silk-wrapped granite. He exhaled and he did something, and I heard a low-frequency tone shoot up to the inaudibly high then back down to a low background buzz. My head felt a full quarter larger than it had been. So much room for thoughts.

The doc walked around to face me. I started to move and he held out his hand. “Stay there for a few minutes,” he said. He looked exhausted, suddenly. What had just happened? “Just stay there.” I wiped his brow. “I think that worked — it worked well. Just don’t move for a few minutes. Let everything settle in.” Then he turned and he left and I never saw him again. His wife came back in after a little while, looked at both sides of my head, declared me awesome, and sent me in my way. I never saw her again, either, though we did have a fateful phone conversation not to far in the future, from California.

So I had my tickets, and I’d invited my friends — my best friend John, who I haven’t had a reason to talk about except to say that he kept me sane when I had few reasons to cling to sanity — and Robin, who I’d failed to sleep with several weeks earlier, and one of Robin’s friends, who I’d never met.

It was only as I passed Waco, the roughly halfway point between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Greater Austin area, wondering when I would next carve out the time to read the last half of Cryptonomicon, that I shook my head and realized that my midnight tickets for the new Star Wars movie were for that very night, and that regardless of how many days my pals had stuck it out in an REI tent just to be able to buy tickets, if I got in line thirty minutes before showtime, I’d end up with the worst seats in the place.

I stopped at home long enough to feed my cat, whom I’d come to love quite a bit, against my better judgement, then I busted on over to the theater where I was sixth in line for the midnight show’s general seating. John and Robin and her friend joined me about six hours later, and we chatted and laughed and snacked until they let us into the theater. I was riding a high after having motored through the rest of Cryptonomicon in the time I’d sat on my own, and it reverberated through my reflection on my life and my concern for my grandfather’s.

It wasn’t exactly crushing that it was such a terrible movie. Really, it was one more inexorable step towards an adulthood I’d too long delayed.

Then the phone call: my great-aunt, at 103, had passed away. That was sad, as she’d been bright and mobile up until six weeks before, when she’d broken her hip walking through a grocery story’s automatic doors, but granddad’s reasonable reaction to the passing of his last sibling was more concerning.

When granddad got the news, he panicked, had a heart attack. After hanging up the phone from the news, he’d stumbled over to the front door of the woman across the road — a feisty young woman in her late-60s, who’d already buried two husbands and who recognized from his stride and from his pallor what was going on. She’d called the paramedics without making a fuss. Unfortunately, Weatherford being as slow it is, all three of her adult children happened to be sitting at home scanning the police and emergency radio bands, and when the call went out for an ambulance to their mom’s address, they freaked out, racing over and blocking her driveway with their irregularly parked cars, preventing the arriving ambulance from being able to get anywhere close to my grandfather, who was being overlooked entirely in the clumsy comedy of three children harassing their mother about what could possibly be wrong with her. To their credit, they alternately helped the paramedics and stood off to the side saying nothing, once the truth came out.

Meeting up with family, especially in Weatherford, was always an odd occasion. My life and my interests were so different from everybody else’s, and it wasn’t like I could feel anyone reaching out to bridge the divide.

That’s not totally true. One man, a second-cousin about my age, tried to make friends by telling me how happy he was that he now lived in the suburb where I’d grown up, and how great it was that his neighborhood was almost entirely white people, with only a couple of Mexicans. His life was so empty that he found it to be a good use of time to sit out on his porch, staring down anyone with dark skin who might make the mistake of thinking they could drive through his neighborhood.

“I just want them to know we don’t need their kind here.” I kept waiting for him to break character and say, “Aw, I was just messing with you! Come on: shouldn’t anyone know better than that, nowadays?”

But no. Let no one wonder why I spent so much of my youth dreaming of a world, even in a galaxy far, far away, where it didn’t matter what kind of alien you were, as long as you didn’t give in to your dark side.

The day of the funeral, I was there to help check granddad out of the hospital. He’d been the youngest of eight kids, and now he was the last. Twice he told me of his desire to be done with life, gripping my arm much more strongly than I thought him capable.

He asked, “You ain’t against me, too, are you?” The skin on his hands were worn and crossed with creases, like a piece of paper that had been folded too many ways, too many times.

“I’m here for you,” I said, though not in the way he wanted me. It didn’t matter. Inside of a week, we’d be back in Weatherford to bury him.

In the meantime, the news came out that we were going to be bought by a company that I’d never heard of — that no one I knew had ever heard of, even though two of their executives were on the previous year’s list of richest Internet tech dudes. So, okay, they have money, and their success actually predated the Internet. They didn’t have a Web front-end for their big, successful software package, something about businesses and enterprise relationship management, and while they could’ve hired a bunch of a class of people who’d begun calling themselves Webmasters — a word that made me want to stand in the unpaved alley behind my little shack and slam my car door against my hand over and over — they instead wanted a tech-facing solution as well as a market-facing solution. By saying they were buying us, they’d have a story as to how they were going to set up a beachhead in the new Internet world, whatever that meant.

I started taking afternoons off from work. They weren’t going to need me anymore, and still I spent long hours wondering what I was supposed to do with myself. Eventually, I started walking. In Texas, going out for a walk anytime between late spring and early autumn was a commitment: you were either pacing yourself, presuming you knew how much it’d take you to get to where you were going, or you were on a suicide mission, aiming yourself at a distant target in the hopes that you’d eventually get there. I’d spent a lot of time on Texas summer suicide-mission walks, and as long as you kept going, and didn’t mind sweating, and always stopped to hydrate, it wasn’t nearly as bad for you as it might be otherwise.

In three hours, I’d walked from my place to Austin Books, the closest comic book store, and back. That trip was the first time I saw them selling old Star Wars toys. They had small cardboard boxes overflowing with loose-limbed and paint-worn Han Solo figures, lightsaber-less Obi Wan Kenobi figures, and other more elegant samples from a more civilized age. I bought nothing, taking in the air-conditioning and making my way home in the mid-day heat.

There was a convenience store on 45th Street, attached to a laundromat, where I stopped to rehydrate. I didn’t like buying bottled water — it felt too much like throwing money away — but I needed it. Behind me in line was a young woman of the typical Austin hippie variety, maybe twenty-two years old, with a young boy, maybe four or five years old. He was alternately trying to talk his mom’s ear off about Star Wars, or he was mumbling about something I couldn’t understand. She was tugging one ear and staring out the convenience store’s front window.

Finally, three people away from the cashier, I turned around. “Did I hear you say Yoda?” I asked.

His eyes grew wide, but he was too afraid to speak to me. He begged his mother to communicate for him.

“He loves Yoda,” she said. “He’s his favorite character.”

“Has he seen the new movie, yet?” I didn’t have the heart to criticize it in front of a child.

“No,” she said. “Haven’t, you know, had the time.” Which meant she hadn’t had the money. She pointed at the convenience store’s far wall, where it joined up with the laundromat. “Just washing clothes, trying to stay sane this week.”

“I hear you,” I said.

The boy was pointing furiously at a smear of green ink on his bicep.

“What’s that?” I asked. He looked confused, almost angry.

“Him,” he said.

“Oh! Yoda!” I said.

His mom winced. “He has these stamps.” She sighed. “A, ah, a friend of ours gave them to him. So he stamps himself with Yoda, but it’s hard to see. Hey: with that new movie out, there’s gotta be toys right?”

“Sure,” I said. “Tons of toys. Believe me, I went looking for them.”

“Cool! I mean, especially about the Yoda. That’ll be a huge relief. If I don’t get this kid a Yoda, I d0n’t know what’ll happen.”

He pulled hard on his mom’s peasant skirt and with loud whine asked, “When’s Roger coming back?”

She must’ve been long past her limit for hearing that question in a day, because she snapped.

“He’s not coming back!” she cried. “He’s not, okay? So just accept it! We all have to accept it, that’s what we do now, okay?” She put her hands to her face, sobbing. I paid for my water and got the hell out of there, walking too fast for the heat that surrounded me, because I knew something that she didn’t know, that I didn’t have the heart to say: that there were not any Yoda figures. Oh, he was a popular character, no doubt, but he wasn’t part of the first wave of figures. I hadn’t so much as seen a Yoda beach towel or anything.

Some strange set of symbols slid into place in my mind, imagining this kid suffering a great loss, one that had clearly crippled his mother, without some symbol of wisdom and serenity to form more fully in his head.

I opened up the box of Star Wars toys that I’d started keeping when I’d been eight years old, quickly laying my hands on my two Yodas. They were each identical, with the same robe and the same belt and the same orange snake around their neck and the same gnarled walking stick. They were in as perfect a condition as you could ever want. I picked one and raced in my car back to the laundromat, where I found the woman and her boy. She was staring off into space; he was rubbing the green splotch on his arm, his mind clearing churning.

I muttered under my breath, “Jesus Christ,” then I said, “I’ve got something for you.” She seemed confused. Then I explained as to how, yes, there were new Star Wars toys, but there were no Yodas. She doubted; I assured her; she grew an expression of fear, turning slowly to stare at her boy as I held out my hand to give him one of my Yodas.

“This was mine when I was a boy,” I told him. “You know about Yoda, right? He’s very wise. If you’re ever not sure what to do, you can ask Yoda, and he’ll give you the right answer.”

“Oh, thank you,” said the young mom, her boy’s eyes as big as they could be as he reached for the unexpected toy.

He’s going to break it, I told myself. She’s going to lose the little cane and he’ll melt part of the snake on a candle and the robe will go missing after the belt gets busted, but I couldn’t care less. What’ll be left, that small slug of brown plastic with a green, pointy-eared head, would be a wonder to him, an oracle. At least, that was my new hope.

She thanked me, began to offer to — I cut her off, smiling, backing away. I’d done what I’d come to do. I did not want to impose.

Three days later, peacefully in his sleep, my grandfather died.

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Going to California

In-between Days — 6.5

This was written in May of 1999, after returning from my grandfather’s home in Weatherford Texas. Additional text in italics, below.

The doctor took forever arriving. I took advantage of the opportunity to go outside and call my dad, talk to him for awhile. Dad was prepared to back his dad’s decision, even if it meant a closer death. I think we consoled each other, but sometimes I’m not sure about emotional issues.

It was surreal, walking the halls of the hospital. I got lost at one point and had to be directed back to granddad’s room. I’m sure I was freaking out, though I don’t think I gave any outward signs of it. Still, it gave me a greater respect for the people I see stumbling around hospitals by themselves. There’re very few happy people in hospitals.

The surgeon finally arrived. After a few basic questions, he was very matter of fact.

“So. Do you want the operation?”

“No, I don’t,” granddad said.

“Wait: Why did you come in if you didn’t want the operation?”

“Well,” he said with a wince, “I’m an old man. And even at my age, I have to listen to people. Doctors . . . and other people.” I wondered if he meant my dad. He looked over at me for a second and then away quickly. “But no, I don’t want an operation.”

“Okay, then. You know — you know what this will mean. You’re a strong man. There are few surgeons who would operate on a man of your age. This is your chance.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“Okay, then.” They looked at each other quietly for a moment.

“My dad wanted you to call him when you got here,” I told the doctor.

“Unless this man will consent to an operation, I don’t want to talk to his son.” The doctor smiled at me. “And he doesn’t want the operation.”

“I know,” I said.

“Don’t let anyone convince you of doing something you don’t want to do,” he told granddad on the way out.

The next three hours consisted of granddad alternately napping and trying to check himself out of the hospital with varying degrees of aggression. Sometimes he’d plead with the nurse, more than once he’d jumped ahead to ripping out the various intravenous tubes that’d been plugged into him. Every time, the nurse would talk him down.

“You can’t take the tubes out, Charlie, because we have to make sure the dye they put in your system has been flushed on out. You gotta stay here until four.”

“You sure are a pal,” he gushed, and then spelled out the last word, “P-I-L-L,” smiling sarcastically. He might have been saving that one since the 1920s. She smiled back with sweetness.

Granddad napped and watched daytime television. I tried engaging him in conversation but nothing worked. He’d just decided that he was going to die sooner than later; I guess he figured he didn’t have much left to say, at least not to me.

I read a lot more Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, more than half of the 900-page monster. I couldn’t stop reading because it reminded me a lot of what was going on in my own life, with parallel storylines in World War II, where the situation is life and death on a grand scale, and in the pettily grand games of the Internet start-up frenzy.

In the modern day of the late 1990s, little seems worth risking life and limb for. My grandfather grew up in a different world.

Every once in a while, granddad would look out the window and say, “Storm’s comin’.” On the ceiling-mounted TV, small rectangle on Oprah Winfrey’s shoulder had been replaced with a radar image of huge clouds approaching the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The view out the window was beautiful – blue sky as far as I could see. That’s the problem with Dallas and Fort Worth, I thought. The place is so big that weather conditions can vary widely across a broadcast area. It sure didn’t look like a storm was coming, at least not any place near us, not from any angle we could see.

I thought about Doug, and the storm that had brought him, and the book he’d brought, which I was now reading.

Eventually, four o’clock came and they pulled the tubes out of granddad. On the way out of the hospital, he stopped to put his hand on my shoulder.

“You know Carl, I really appreciate you coming down here.”

“You know it’s no problem, granddad,” not bothering to correct him about my name. I knew he knew who I was.

“Don’t drive so fast on the way back,” he added. Which was good advice really, since we got on the road just in time for the storm. When I pulled out of the hospital parking lot, all I could see to the north and the west were enormous roiling black clouds. I’d been looking out of the wrong side of the hospital. By the time we got on the highway, it was pouring so hard I couldn’t see more than a car and a half in front of me. It was me and granddad against the stormy blackness. Just on the outskirts of Fort Worth, he freaked out.

“Carl!” he shouted, maybe forgetting I didn’t need a hearing aid. “Why didn’t you tell me I didn’t have my seatbelt on!” He wrestled with the strap of maroon weave until he got it situated across his chest and secured across his lap.

“I didn’t notice,” I told him. And then, in the spirit of total honesty, I added, “And what with the decision you made at the hospital, I didn’t think seat belts were really that high up your priority list.”

“Huh?” he said, cupping his hand to his ear.

“Nothing.” We drove on in a comfortable, resigned silence to Weatherford. We could hardly talk most of the way anyway, the storm was that bad. By the time we got back within the confines of small town Texas, the storm had passed and it was back to hot and oppressive again. I know it’s just my programming, but I like things hot and oppressive, punctuated unpredictably by the occasional death-dealing thunderstorm. Perhaps it’s a problem of mine that I seem to see that sort of thing as romantic. Few of my girlfriends have.

“We’re going to get some dinner,” I told him. I stopped at a Texaco and got some cash so I could buy food. “Where do you want to go?”

“Wherever you want to go, I’ll get something.”

Goddammit, I thought, don’t be obstinate now.

“Let’s go some place where you can get some food you want.”

“You just go where ever,” he insisted.

“Where do you usually go?” I asked. He got quiet.

“Not sure you’ll find yourself some food there,” he groused. “But it’s up over yonder, there.”

Chicken Express was the name of the place. It was a low-rent fast food chain with a flying chicken for a logo. Not a flying chicken like it was flying under its own power, but flying like it was getting sucked into a jet engine or something. Great, I thought, fried chicken for the man who needs a triple bypass. Well, it certainly could make anything worse at this point, I thought. I don’t lecture my alcohol-using friends. And it’s not like I haven’t brought him fried chicken before. Give the man what he wants.

He got four chicken strips, three of which would end up being fed to his 27-pound cat, whose arteries could use some examining, I was sure. I got a couple pieces of regular fried chicken. Granddad insisted on paying, and I thanked him.

“Thank ya, Carl,” he said again after we ate. “I really appreciate what you did for me at the hospital today.” He gripped my forearm like he never had before, locking eyes with me. I didn’t feel like a boy anymore.

“No problem,” I said.

After a while people began to call, inquiring about how granddad was doing.

“It’s my lungs,” he explained to them. “I got three spots on my lungs.”

“Charlie,” they’d say, “you didn’t go in to have your lungs looked at. How’s your heart?”

“M’heart’s fine. But there’s nothing they can do about my liver.”

“Your liver, Charlie?”

I couldn’t tell if he was losing it, or if he just wanted people to shut up long enough for him to die in relative peace. Being of the same blood, I’m leaning toward the latter. One of the callers — my Aunt Doll, 103 years old — got treated to my version of the story. It disturbed her a little, but she didn’t necessarily think it was dementia, more likely denial.

Tuesday morning, I got up reasonably early and hung out with granddad. There was never a lot to say between us – not like there was some huge emotional wall, but there just actually wasn’t much to say. He’d lived 91 years and a little bit more, and having decided not to take the operation that might have extended his life by five or ten years he’d hit a plateau of calm unlike anything I’d ever seen before. He was relaxed, happy. Jolly, even.

“I slept last night,” he said, beaming.

“That’s great,” I said.

“Can I make you some coffee?”

“Sure thing, granddad.” I wasn’t drinking coffee that month, but I figured that if granddad wanted to make me some coffee then I’d be drinking some coffee. I had a couple cups and we talked for awhile about nothing in particular. We hugged tightly. He extracted a promise from me to be back soon. He saw me out to the car and waved me goodbye from the curb. Little did I know I’d be back in a few days, for a funeral.

The next two hours were spent driving east through the metropolis that is Dallas/Fort Worth. It was early enough that traffic was still thick. There was no sign that a terrible storm had torn across the cityscape not sixteen hours earlier, dropping golf-ball-sized hail on defenseless vehicles. It was morning, and as near as I could tell the world was at peace.

Around eight, I arrived at downtown Dallas and hooked up with Matt at his work.

Matt was one of Karynne’s sons, the youngest, who’d moved back to Dallas a little while after her death. You might remember that I’d made her a promise, that last time I saw her in Seattle. It was to watch Matt, to help him out. He’d always had a little more of the crazy than was really good for someone, and Karynne was the only person who’d ever been able to calm him down. None of my other friends liked Matt — he was too abrasive. Naturally, he only ever thought he was speaking his mind. I tried to do for him what his mother could no longer do, to help him out, to smooth things over. In the long run, it would not go well.

He asked, “Is someone finally buying your piece-of-shit company, or what?”

Matt worked at a Dallas design studio, one that made real Web sites for real companies for real money. They were good, I’ll give them that. They’d designed the logo for Quake III, for example, which I’d thought was genius. Matt had his finger on the pulse of the newest processes and techniques and procedures for designing and building huge commercial sites. I was treading water at an office that had too little to distinguish it from an elaborate con.

“They’re calling it a merger, but yeah.”

“And so?”

“So with this whole merger thing, the new company would want to move me to Dallas.”

“Dude, fuck that. Dallas fucking sucks.”

I agreed. “I spent too much of my life living in Fort Worth to like Dallas,” I confessed. Not that I like Fort Worth, even though it’s “Where the West Begins.” That’s how they advertise Fort Worth among the other cities of the United States. “Fort Worth is Cowtown, Where the West Begins.” It’s cheesy, but it’s what I grew up with. But as lame as Fort Worth can be, it always had a sense of integrity to me, like Weatherford, a sense that people are at least honest about what they are. I’d long gotten the impression that people in Dallas spend too much time hiding from who they are, dwelling on who they want to be, or who they want people to think they are. Dallas somehow managed to combine all the stereotypically awful things about Texans and all the truly contemptible things about Yankees in one grand, sprawling package.

The person I would be fifteen years later will only hear that Dallas and the people who live there are all quite nice, today.

“If Fort Worth is ‘where the West begins,’” Matt said, “then Dallas is where the East peters out.”

That wasn’t really an option for me. I’d have to do something else.

The drive back to Austin wasn’t terrible at all. The drive back was a surreal blur, a catatonic landscape of open fields and passing cars. I drove quickly, swimming upstream against a slow iron tide.

By the time Austin arrived in my windshield, I started thinking I needed to grab a late lunch, but that only reminded me that the last thing I’d eaten had been that chicken from the night before, with granddad, and that just reminded me of granddad. I feared he would die soon. I feared he would die before I saw him again.

Two days later, I would get the phone call. I was wanted back in Weatherford, for a funeral. But that evening, I had another event of world-shaking importance to attend.

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Going to California

In-between Days — 6

I wrote this in 1999, while sitting in a Weatherford Texas hospital room with my grandfather.

Some of my happiest memories from childhood center around my dad’s parents. My mom’s parents lived in Fort Worth, within ten minutes of our little home in Arlington, so I saw them several times a week; while I was always happy there, the rarity of my dad’s parents made them a special treat. Once a month, my parents and my sister and I would bundle up and drive out to Weatherford, an hour-long trek, to spend the Sunday in the country. I remember my dad’s parents being very strong, very vital people with a good hold on what’s right and what’s not, how you treat people and how you shouldn’t.

Grandmom was a nurse and granddad built helicopters for Bell. I thought the world of both of them. Over the summer, I used to stay with them for a week at a time and we’d watch the Rangers play baseball on TV, or more often just listen to them coming through on the radio, house windows open to the warm, Texas evening air. One summer, as I was turning six, in the scrub brush beside their home I found the stone pedestal where Davy Crockett’s monument must have used to sit until some bandits stole it. (Granddad later told me it was what was left of a cement bird feeder after the top part fell off. I liked my idea better.)

As a child, I thought of them as very warm people, very loving, but I realized later that this was not the truth. One day, on the way home from Weatherford – I was probably 12 at the time – my dad started crying. This was strange, as even when I was a child I thought my father was the epitome of emotional distance. My mother told me, years afterwards, that my father had only then heard for the first time his parents tell him that they loved him.

I know I told this last part of the story already, though I leave it in to remind me how I’d phrased it fifteen years back.

Last night I drove to Weatherford to see my granddad again, this time to chauffeur his 91-year-old body to Fort Worth for an angioplasty. (I keep wanting to say amniocentesis, but if that were what he was going in for, I’d have to change a lot of preconceptions I have about the world.) Most of me really didn’t think it was a big deal, but I guess I knew he could die. Granddads die, I know, but his sister’s 103 years old and she’s still kinda feisty. My dad’s side of the family is very old-lived. One of my great-uncles stayed married for 76 years.

He was very happy to see me, like a little boy. I don’t remember when I saw him last, but every time I see him he seems somehow smaller, more frail, as though time just caught up with him. But this is a man who worked for a long lifetime and retired before I was even born. In a month I’ll be thirty, and I feel I’ve been lucky enough to’ve lived several lifetimes.

My grandfather and I have never been close. I don’t know that he’s ever let anyone very close to him. As the youngest of eight children, raised in the relatively harsh environment of strict religious country life, I’m sure he’s seen a lot of shit in his life. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just the way he is.

We’d never spent time together, just the two of us, so I was worried that the conversation would drag. It did, but it was okay. I tried to have a normal conversation. I didn’t want to yell at him, but it was hard to communicate without raising my voice. The problem is, when you raise your voice to talk to him, I think he takes it as a threat of some kind because he always turns argumentative, but in that, “I’m half-deaf and I’m going to make this as hard for you as possible” sort of way. In addition to the volume control, I had to keep prodding him for information, filling in my side with the questions I imagined he’d ask if he weren’t obsessing on the next day’s hospital visit.

Finally, I broke through to the human being inside my grandfather. “I am… so lonely,” he confided in me, shockingly. “Since Esther’s gone, I— You know, I had her for fifty years, and now….” I held his hand, and we sat in the living room motionless for a few minutes.

“If you want, turn the TV on,” he finally said, pointing to where he’d rubber-banded the remote control to his favorite chair’s wooden arm. “I think the Rangers are playing somewhere.”

On the way into my bedroom for the night, I noticed something on the wall that seemed odd. It was a formal letter from the Fraternal Order of Masons, dated 1997 – perhaps making it the newest thing on any wall of the home – saying that he, Charles F. Pearcy, was exempt from paying dues for the rest of his life. An endowment in his name had been set up with the home office by the Weatherford branch of Masons.

The Freemasons were one of the groups that came up most often when you read about secret conspiracies. It made me laugh to think about my granddad plotting to take over the world. I wondered if being a Mason was like what I used to hear about being a Klansmen in Fort Worth in the earlier part of the century, where the place was just so small that if you wanted to do business you couldn’t really avoid being part of the organization. All things Masonic seemed so far away from my point of reference. It was something done by old people, and Fred Flintstone.

In the hospital, the next morning, things were fine. We got there about an hour early; granddad was having particularly acute chest pains the night before, so he didn’t sleep well. I didn’t sleep well either, but we were in relatively good spirits when we checked in anyway.

The hospital staff had no problem yelling at him to get his attention.

“I said, WOULD YOU LIFT YOUR ARM?”

“My arm?” he said, falling into his usual argumentative posture. “What d’you want with my arm?”

“I just have to take a little blood, sir. So we know what all’s going on with you.”

“Oh. Guess that’s okay, then.”

I sat in his room while they had him across the hall with a long tube running up the inside of his leg through the main artery there into his heart. The plan was to send up a camera to check it out, clear out the expected arterial blockage, and then check him on out. Piece of cake. I kept laughing when I’d hear the doctors yelling at him.

“NOT SUPPOSED TO. I said, you’re NOT SUPPOSED to BE ABLE to FEEL your LEG RIGHT NOW.”

Eventually the doctor came in to see me. He took me into the hallway. He was a polite man, and professional.

“I understand you can call his son for me.”

“How is he?” I blurted, pulling out my cell phone.

“He’s not good,” the doctor said. I called dad, handing the doc the phone. Justine had bought it for me as a Christmas present, since I hadn’t had the money for anything like that at the time.

“Your father,” he explained to both of us, “is blocked, and we can’t do anything about it with balloons. Three of his major arteries, his heart valves, are blocked perhaps seventy to ninety percent. If he consents to the triple-bypass surgery — and the surgeon agrees to perform the surgery on a 91-year-old man, and he survives — there’s a sixty percent chance that he’ll live another five years, maybe ten.”

“If not?”

“If not, then… he might live a year. His heart could fail any time.”

I couldn’t hear what dad had to say, but I could imagine.

“No,” the doctor answered, “I haven’t talked to him about it yet. I wanted to talk to you first. Uh huh. Yes. Yes. Thank you, too.” He handed me back the phone.

“If he goes for it,” I asked the doctor, “how long will he be here?”

“Five days, maybe six.”

“And what do you think the chances are of that happening?”

“I believe the surgeon will agree to perform the operation,” he told me. “Your grandfather is very strong, he must be an active guy. But when the surgeon comes to talk to you, tell him to call your father and talk to both of them at the same time.” I agreed to do so, and thanked him.

As I packed up my books and got granddad’s things together, I could hear the doctor in the room across the hall.

“BLOCKED!” he shouted. “Your HEART, I said, it’s BLOCKED.”

I gathered up our things and met granddad in the hall where two orderlies conspired to wheel him into a proper hospital room. He didn’t acknowledge my presence; he was flirting with the female orderly. I took it as a healthy sign.

“So I’m blocked,” he said to her.

“Yep,” she said.

“Huh?”

“I said YEP, you SURE ARE.”

He was quiet as they wheeled him into the elevator.

“I’m not going to have the surgery,” he confided in her with a quiet smile, like a little boy refusing to go to his room. She must’ve been used to that sort of thing, as she responded immediately with the professional answer.

“Well, that’s your decision. You need to consider quality of life versus quantity.”

“Quality,” he said, nodding, staring up at the ceiling. “Yep.”

Right now, while I’ve written this, he lays beside me in a hospital bed, and I love him so much.

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