I watched the buildings pass by my window. They were the same, never changing buildings I had seen before, but because it was October, the colors were just that much greyer. The giant navy blue middle school doors were propped open by an uninterested boy in baggy pants and his heavy backpack resting on the floor beside him. The doors had just been opened, meaning it was just after 7:30 that morning. The usual florescent lights were noticeably dimmer, but that may have just been me. There was a natural smell, familiar to public schools that my nose was especially sensitive to. The conversations I’d usually hear in the hallway were blocked by the rising feeling I kept getting in my throat. I walked with my head down, which was weird for me, but since I didn’t have any close friends, nobody noticed. I walked into the cafeteria and got my usual breakfast: eggs, sausage, and a gritty substance that I would never call grits. I sat at a table alone and ate without a word to anyone, my mind fully focused on sending mental messages to my ill grandmother, who was being prepped for surgery.
It wasn’t long until my daily irritants showed their faces to mock my size, my face, and my other physical issues, but I didn’t really care anymore. I picked up my extra bag, holding my school basketball jersey- number 55- and hauled it, along with my court shoes, to my locker. Though my disposition was different, the day seemed to be pretty normal. My feet hit the floor following my usual path, which I was sure was going to become a pit, like in the cartoons. I went to my locker, then my first class, which became more of a blur than a lesson, and then to the bathroom. I didn’t have to go like I usually would, but I went to sit and think, where I could be away from the guys that picked on me. I opened the small King James Bible I used to carry to gaze lovingly at an old picture of my grandmother when she was a teacher. It always made me smile. She had on a pale green, loosely fitted dress and matching shoes. The picture had heavy sepia, meaning it was probably older than my mother. The chalk board behind her was blank, but it had a residue that was hard to see unless you were fond of studying it, like I was. Her handwriting was beautiful, and always had been, just like her spirit. The picture and my hand holding it were starting to become a blur. I could feel a deep pain in my stomach, like I was going to be sick. I dried my face quickly, not wanting to lose the picture I cherished the most. My eyes were crying, but I couldn’t make a sound. The only sound in the bathroom was my deep and shallow breaths mixing together into a cacophony of breaths, like the aftermath of a 500 meter dash. I ran through the situation over and over again in my head. “She’ll go in, get the surgery, and I’ll go see her tomorrow. She’ll be fine. She promised she’d be at my graduation after all. Only five years to go.” I repeated the same things over and over again until I forced myself to believe them.
The bell rang and the next few classes went by without me ever noticing. Lunch didn’t serve a purpose for me. My stomach went on empty. I spent the rest of the day with my eyes focused on the brown floor tiles, which were yellow in some classrooms. I went over what I knew about my grandmother again in my head: She’s 71. Her birthday is October 20, three days before mine. She’s been sick since before I was born with heart disease. I see her more than I see daddy, since we’re in different states. She meant a lot to a lot of people. She hated breaking promises, especially to me or Tia. She never got her driver’s license. I could feel myself starting to tear up again. I put my head down and faked a headache to avoid the laughs of my peers. It was my last class and I didn’t need ridicule or this lurking feeling that someone was watching over me, right over my shoulder.
I watched the other kids head home from the gym door, where my teammates were getting ready for our second game of the season. I was the last one on the bus, and I sat as far away from the others as I could. I went back to my bible to look over the picture one more time before tucking it away. The bus arrived at Clarenceville Middle school with a half hour to spare. The team was rushed into the locker room to go over plays and things, but my mind was racing. I couldn’t focus on anything. There was one thing in my head: What if she didn’t make it? What would I do? Who would I talk to? What would I do with myself? Who would I be able to trust? I realized just how underappreciated she had been. I rushed into the nearest bathroom stall and hugged my knees as close to me as I could. I was the one person she saw every day, but I treated her so poorly. I remembered lightly wrestling with her, just kind of rolling around with faked punches and how her body must have hurt, but she put on a big smile for me. I never once thought about how she must have been feeling. I would fight with her, if you could call it a fight, then I would spend an hour doing whatever I wanted while she waited for the coffee I promised her I’d make. I felt like a huge rock had dropped on my shoulders and knocked a noticeably large chunk out of my shoulder. My mind went blank. I tried to remember the last thing she said to me, the last time I saw her smile, nothing.
The game for the A team started and ended without me giving the slightest bit of a care about whether they won or lost. The game ended in an upset, 54 to 52. I looked over to the bleachers where my mother was resting her behind on the second row and waiting patiently, a straight look on her face. I could feel my stomach in the back of my throat. The usual shine I saw in her eyes was dim. She wasn’t happy. I could feel tears welling up, but I forced them back, not wanting my mother to see me cry, a trend that would continue for a very long time. The game started without much notice from me, but it doesn’t take long to realize the people around you are running at top speeds after a bouncing ball. I was the team’s best defense, so I spent most of the game watching my opponent’s waist, the core of all movement. If anyone I was guarding got the ball, there was almost always a turn over, but this time was different. The Trojans weren’t as good as us, but I wasn’t the only one off my game. We lost our game by the same two points that had eluded our better half. We all packed up our things and headed to the bus, but I headed home with my mom. The car was silent. She drove looking straight ahead, but before we could get to far away from the parking lot I asked a question I already knew the answer to. “Did she make it?”
Her big dark brown eyes paned over to me before she responded, eyes with a deep sadness, they said what she didn’t want to say, only they weren’t as modest. “No she didn’t.” Though I knew it was coming, I physically felt my heart drop. I wanted to scream, but I knew no sound would come out. The pain was so deep my young mind couldn’t comprehend. We both sat in silence, wishing we could have saved the only person we both cherished more than we did each other.
I watched the building pass by my window. They were the same never changing buildings I had seen before, but because it was October, the colors were just that much greyer. My outlook was as different as every day would be without her bright smile to lighten my dark nights, but there was something different. Riding home, the silence flooding both our ears just as much as the sound of our truck gliding over the pavement, the sheet of night thinker that the sheep that birthed it, she handed me a ring.
The ring my grandmother always wore was too big for my mother’s skinny fingers. The light gold wiggled around my right ring finger and held on tight, but not too tight. The opal resting in the heart shaped ring front shined just like her smile. The ring she was probably wearing the only time she was ever behind the wheel of a car, the night she wrecked four cars just going down the block to her house, the ring that saw her through her miscarriage and her ten births, the ring that held our shared birth stone. The ring was light, but the responsibility behind it was enough to crush a building like a wrecking ball. I gazed into the hypnotizing opal till the car stopped in the garage. I went into her room, packed full of fragrances, clothes, furniture, and knick knacks. I laid on her hospital like bed and thought about the smiling face I would never see again, the laugh that would eventually fade from my memory, the scratchy voice I’d loved since before I’d left my mother’s stomach.
My grandmother always pushed me to be stronger, but it took her passing to drill it into my head. My sadness awakened a lurching desire to want to be better. I wanted, more than anything to make my grandmother proud of the baby that she couldn’t help bit spoil to bits and pieces. I wanted to be less of a burden on my mother, take her away from the pain and anguish I caused by not cleaning my room or not being the best I could be in school situations, but I’d end up putting more stress on her before I could put her in a stress free environment. Making the people that love me proud became my highest priority. I decided to take my pain and use it to bring smiles to the faces of others, just like she did for me. It was a hard change to make, after getting thin skin from all the bullying. I had to learn to make fun of myself so I could out talk my bullies without bring myself down. I basically invented the “I’m so fat” jokes. I found if I was strong enough in me to make fun of myself the bullies didn’t have much else they could say, the rap battle at the end of 8 mile. I decided to make as many people love me as she had around her. The hidden tears than scraped down my face, leaving a trail of their remains behind, would soon fade into a brisk smile that all would see. Being shy would no longer plague me, and I wouldn’t need a bubble to keep me safe. I opened up, slowly, and became the person I always wanted to be, with a few minor flaws, I even cleaned my room. Just like my grandmother, I aim to have wonderful kids and a wonderful family, and maybe I could even have a smart mouth granddaughter that I would spoil to bits, just like her.