My brother clutches the wheel. His knuckles white. Mountains flash by, giving way to flat corn fields far too quickly. I lean my head against the cool window. Frost spreads its infantile fingers across the glass. We pull over at a gas station, my brother stretching his legs and getting in the passenger seat as my sister slides behind the wheel.
A sign flashes for Albany. My ears pop as the pressure changes. The high beams of the Buick cut through the velvet night. The transmission groans as snow flurries hit the windshield. An eighteen wheeler roars by, its beams revealing my sister’s fingers frantically hitting the wiper switch. Wiper blades thrash furiously as I drift in and out of consciousness.
The eerie glance of a street light made its way through the plexiglass, causing odd shadows to dance across the subway walls. A man the size of a tree sat to my left, easily flicking the pages of a newspaper. I remember glancing at my brother, looking for his reaction to the people all around us. I clutched some odd gigantic foam finger, a spongey souvenir that engulfed my hand. I glanced at my Grandpa, my velcroed shoes skittering across the gray floor as my feet swung. He smiled at me and rumpled my already messy curls. I smiled back. My grandpa always brought us to the movies or on some adventure. No rules from my Granny or parents. I looked forward to these excursions.
I can’t comprehend this idea. The idea of Lou Gehrig’s disease. I refuse it. Reject it. I don’t allow myself to picture the stooped over man I saw during Thanksgiving Holiday. I picture the man I grew up with. The man I ate cornflakes on the patio with, listening to song birds.
I clutched my Grandpa’s hand as the crowd shuffled its way out of the subway stop. We bustled in line; reaching the edge of a parking lot. My slim fingers slip and I lose the grip I had on the edge of my Granpa’s sweater. I was terrified of losing my brother and Grandpa, searching for the life line that had slipped out of my clammy hand. The crowd swept us towards the front doors of a massive dome. It looked like the back of a whale poking above the water. The cold air of upstate New York flushing my naturally rosy cheeks.
I think about how I used to pull on the leather cord of a wooden bird’s tail that he’d carved in the garage, one of his many projects. It would mock the sound of the woodpeckers in the garden, and they would answer. I could run around the stone bird bath and bright yellow daisies of his huge garden for hours when I was a kid.
The Syracuse dome was thundering all around me. A pristine pamphlet found its way into my hand as we make our way to the season ticket seating. I glanced at the cover, pictures of gigantic players stared out at me. Feet stampeded, a packet of peanuts vibrated across the bleachers from the movement of people in the stadium.
We did this a month ago. Right before midterms in the fall semester. The brief remission was over. My uncle died, my mom’s brother. After he had pulled through pancreatic cancer, it came back in his liver. I can’t do this again.
Players darted up and down the court, as I tried to focus my eyes on the orange blurs. I clutched at a cup of popcorn, simultaneously crushing the wrinkled pamphlet beneath my small, slender fingers. I didn’t know why we couldn’t sit yet. I peeked around my grandpa’s khakied legs, catching my brother’s bright blue eyes. Syracuse swishes a three pointer. We could sit. “We stand until someone from Syracuse gets a point, Kate,” My Grandpa explained. I just nod my head, still confused, as my brother jumps up and down, cheering. A player gets fouled and takes the line.
“But Grandpa why does he get to shoot from there?” I asked impatiently pulling on his bright orange sweater.
“It’s a free throw, somebody fouled him, so he gets two free shots,” He explains, pointing towards the player on the line.
“Ohh, okay,” I state very seriously, munching on popcorn and hitting my feet against the bleachers. My brother cheers wildly as I continue questioning my grandpa.
“How do they all run so fast?” I questioned as a player on the opposing team streaked up the court on a breakaway. He answered every single one of my impatient questions as I pulled on his sweater, describing the game in detail to me. Syracuse won, and I understood the basics of the game.
But we have to do it again. We pull up to a hotel, my brother, sister, and I trudging inside. In the morning I pull on black suit pants and a blazer, the weather disallowing a dress. I help my sister choose an outfit and fix her make-up. The services calmly pass in the parish my grandpa preached at. When the service ends we shuffle out into the fine mist, getting in the cars that make up the funeral procession. It winds lazily to the cemetery plot where we gather around the casket. My granny doesn’t cry as she’s handed a folded American flag in honor of my grandpa’s military service. Her small stature rejoins the circle as the bagpipes start to play. I peek up at my brother as tears run down both of our faces.
It’s a crew neck sweater. It sits on top of my bureau, safe in my bedroom. The stitching holds tight around the neck but the sleeves are fraying. It’s bright orange, dark blue lettering. ‘Cuse. That’s all. Underneath the lettering sits the mascot that I’ve always thought of as an odd ball of yarn. It’s two sizes too big and well worn. But I know it was his favorite sweater.