An open letter to my abuelo
Maria Luisa Paul | Monday, January 27, 2020
When I was three, you sat for hours on the kitchen table with me repeating the random English words I taught you during our “lessons.” Let me tell you: Between my grandmother and you, you were definitely the worst student I had. You pronounced the words as if you had a potato in your mouth. You kept saying you “forgot” them and made me repeat “red es rojo, blue es azul,” a million times. Then you chuckled as I waved my arms in frustration and accepted defeat.
When I was four, you became my very first “patient.” I vividly remember sitting on your chest, pushing down and telling you to breath deeply. To this day, I don’t know how you didn’t get any broken ribs or at least a respiratory malfunction. I remember my grandmother’s alarmed face and her screaming “Cuidado! Be careful!” while we just laughed. Actually, I don’t know how SHE didn’t suffer a heart attack from my medical “care.”
When I was five, you were my biggest fan. You clapped the loudest when I gave my opera concerts. Against probably everyone’s wishes, you asked for an encore after my Grammy-worthy rendition of “Ave Maria.” You made me feel like a star even when my musical talents could shatter a mirror.
When I was six, you held my hand while I roller-skated around the park. Ay, Abuelo, you were so slow! Clad with my pink, Barbie-themed skates, I was definitely on par with Chad Hendrick; I was ready for speed, but you had me go slowly in order to “smell the roses.”
When I was nine, you let me train your dog. Together we built obstacle courses around the house, pushing sticks in between the walls so Nera could jump them. Abuelo, I think we gave her an identity crisis; she started acting more like a horse than a dog. When I wanted to be a veterinarian, you trusted me with her care — to my grandmother’s dismay because I suspect the extra treats I gave Nera led to her obesity.
When I was 13, we talked about politics. You told me stories about your time as an ambassador to Italy. You told me about the problems the country faced and how they ought to be fixed. You taught me to love Venezuela despite all of its issues. You said I would make a fine politician one day.
When I was 18, you came to my graduation. When I went up in the stage — praying to God I wouldn’t slip — I saw you clapping from your seat. When the ceremony was over, you said you were proud of me. Before I left the country, you told me the world was my oyster.
Now I am 20, Abuelo, and sometimes you don’t remember these moments. Sometimes when I call, you don’t remember my name.
Your Alzheimer’s has wiped away many precious memories. It has forced you to cast aside many parts of who you once were, making people close to you grapple with the question of whether or not you are still the same person.
It’s hard, Abuelo; I’m not going to lie. It breaks my heart when you can’t remember who I am, or what day it is, or which roads you built when you were an engineer. Yet, I am comforted when, despite not recalling my name, you tell me that you love me and your face lights up when you see me.
You were there through all my crazy dreams. You were there ever since I wanted to be a teacher, a doctor, a singer, a veterinarian and a politician. And you are still here now that I want to become a journalist. Because if there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s that not even Alzheimer’s disease can erase the relationship we have cultivated throughout the years, as even when you have trouble recalling where you left the keys, you haven’t forgotten how much you love your family.
Whether or not you are able to remember the cookies we ate behind my grandmother’s back or the cigars you smoked with my father at the beach, you will always be the man who held my hand while we skated and clapped while I sang. You will always be my first patient and student. In short, Abuelo, you will always be the grandfather I have loved for 20 years.
Your María Luisita
You can contact María at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.