Rot -- creative nonfiction by Amelie Hoduc
Memory is a funny thing.
Sometimes you have the ability to forget the big picture, the simple actions, white-out the faces, take away their voices, weave the bleeding, broken stems into a flower crown. And other times, you can’t bring yourself to it. To forgive yourself for your decisions. To change the narrative. So you remember what you have forgotten.
A daylit room, soft looking, dust floating around aimlessly. It’s almost comforting.
Then you notice the muffled chatting of the caretakers in the hallway, the white tiled floor speckled with tiny black dots— or maybe it’s a gray crisscrossed carpet— but it doesn’t matter because all you can feel is the strange thudding of your feet stepping back, reverberating throughout your whole body. You can see your supposed great-grandmother, open arms, smiling a three-toothed smile, her back leaning against a stack of white-yellow pillows on her bed, her pruny and frail fingers shaking to welcome you, a sparse gray head of hair slicked back to look presentable. But, what you notice is the stains on her fraying white blouse, the used tissues scattered across the room, the decay and yellowing of her three teeth, their rot, as sick as mold. And then there’s the choking, suffocating smell of lavender.
You hate lavender.
Some details can stay fast in your mind, like an instinct. The chipped hot pink nail polish sticking onto your ring finger fingernail, the itchy and detestable gray long sleeve your mother had bought for you the night before, and the tinge of staleness in the air, nauseating.
The streaks of pinkish-white across your arms as you scratch and scratch and scratch, and pick at that chipped pink nail polish over and over again, the sweat perspiring on your legs from the too warm leather seats as you head to visit your great-grandmother in a rented minivan that reeks of that certain new car smell, knowing nothing, except that your great-grandmother is old, and that she is dying.
And then, your memory skips a beat. Finds a scratch on the DVD that pauses the movie, the characters frozen mid-movement, forcing you to skip forward a couple scenes and suddenly, you end up in your great-grandmother’s room. It has an unbearable lavender candle and closed-shut windows and a defeated look that you find in your mother and father’s eyes, who are standing on either side of a stranger. She sits against her white-yellow pillows, her puny and frail fingers now crossed in her lap, her smile faltering, covering those rotting three teeth of hers while her eyes are slowly losing their glow. And the hands belonging to your mother and father are patting her shoulders or rubbing her back as they attempt to laugh it off, and assure her that you didn’t mean it, that you didn’t mean to back away. But you did mean it. And that look in your mother and father’s eyes tells you that you will regret it one day, not embracing her, and that this memory will never go away, no matter how many details you do or don’t forget.
Being bound together by shared blood, you have generation after generation of distant family, sometimes cousins that you’ve never met, sometimes great aunts and uncles, sometimes stories, or perhaps legends, about a third cousin once removed, who married into the family on two separate occasions. And sometimes you have a great grandmother on your father’s side who was old and dying, living in Seabreeze Nursing and Facilitation in Texas, the great grandmother who you went to visit seven years ago. Three months before she died.
You weren’t regretful at the time. For one, you didn’t know her, and she didn’t know you. The only thing you had in common was that you were her great granddaughter, and she was your great grandmother. You shared a “bond.”
You thought of her as a stranger.
Sometimes you wonder if she had thought more of you.
Maybe she had seen the pictures your parents had taken throughout your life, watched you grow up from afar. Maybe she had seen you at your kindergarten graduation, or a video of your Frozen-themed birthday party from the year prior. But she didn’t know you. And you didn’t know her.
You didn’t go to her funeral. Your parents didn’t want you to miss your algebra quiz.
Your father said it was sad. Lots of crying. A typical funeral. Closed casket. Just crying and crying and crying. Bawling and sobbing and sharing memories.
You didn’t cry the day of her funeral. You didn’t cry when you got the news that she died. Your father told you that her funeral was adorned with lavender.
You would’ve hated it.
Amelie is a sophomore girl from Massachusetts who likes to do watercolor in her spare time and loves cats. This is her first publication.