living ghosts

Those of you who know me or read my blog regularly know that I was very close with my grandfather growing up and that my grandfather now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. He has lived in a nursing home for about three or four years, I think.

The years have sort of escaped me because, as you also may know, I rarely visit him for my own personal reasons that only I can wrestle with. I hope it doesn’t make you think less of me as a person. It’s really a lovely place as far as nursing homes go, and the staff is wonderful, but every time I go there I end up running out in tears, so for the most part the only times I see my Poppo are when they bring him out to visit. He can’t be out too long because he starts to get antsy and uncomfortable. People with Alzheimer’s do not like to be far from home, and that place is his home now.

Once upon a time, he lived with me. Or rather, I lived with him, my grandma, my aunt, and my mother. It was a happy home, if somewhat overly filled with grown-ups. I remember being small and sitting at his desk. I don’t think I ever knew what it was he did at that desk. Maybe it belonged to my mother or my aunt, but I associated it with Poppo because he was the one with all the papers. He had so many papers and letters, stacked and wrapped with rubber bands, on the desk, in his dresser, and in the drawers of his bathroom. Then there were the pens. There were pens everywhere. He seemed partial to black pens, belted at their plastic middles with silver rings and with a sliver clicker at the top. I loved those pens, and I would sit at his desk and play all the time. My favorite things to do were to write words and draw (poorly) on huge yellow legal pads, swivel around in the old 70s desk chair that was upholstered in marigold, and press the buttons on the fluorescent desk lamp on and off over and over again. This may not sound that fun, but I liked the way the lamp buzzed loudly and glowed softly if you pressed the button lightly, but then went into a quiet hum and bright glow when you gave it a good, hard press.

The more I think about this, the more I am starting to understand my unreasonable fondness for office supplies.

Anyway, I thought of my grandpa today as I searched online for a vintage desk lamp to go on the desk I rescued from the streets of Echo Park. The desk is old, cheaply made of wood painted a 70s shade of peachy pink. I hope to fill the drawers with pens and paper goods and use its surface to write all the things I will never get to show my Poppo. He is alive and full of love in his heart, I know this, but he is not with me as I wish he could be.

When I’m at my grandma’s house, where his dresser still stands, I feel like I can almost see him shuffling about from desk to drawer, stack of papers in hand. Sometimes I have to take a second look to really know he isn’t there. It scared me the first time this happened. It frightened me that I could see his ghost while he is still very much alive. Now I just think of that shadowy figure as a moving memory of the senses, a beautiful memory, like the kind triggered by the scent of jasmine on a summer breeze. Only mine visits with the smell of aging paper and, just the softest finger press away, the drone of a fluorescent bulb in an otherwise darkened room.

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