My grandpa spent his last moments alone, which was nothing different than any other day he was alive. After the neighbor called police because his car hadn’t moved for two weeks, they found him in his computer chair, working on his stocks. His body was a bloated mess that had begun to melt onto the table and floor. A single light burnt in the corner. The toilet hadn’t been flushed in a month. Flies lived on everything. That is my final vision of him. He was a complicated man. Some of my family say I inherited many of his traits.
In 1994 my grandparents got a divorce after 35 years of marriage. Neither of them was happy. They had taken to living in their own worlds in two separate rooms of the house. Never slept together. Hardly spoke unless company was around, otherwise they shared awkward glances and, when my grandpa would leave the room, my grandma would shake her head and call him names. The family always wondered why they stayed together as long as they did. The kids had all left before many of them were even seventeen-years-old, my mother included. They were never happy. Then, they divorced. I was 15. No one was surprised.
My grandpa bought a house across town for a sub-standard rate so that he could live his life as he always wanted: alone and miserly. My grandma was finally free to smoke, drink her diet soda, and have her dogs. They were both free. Then something strange happened. After being married for that many years and hating each other daily, my grandpa would still call my grandma, and would even ride his bike to her house twice a week without warning or announcement. Upon visiting my grandma with my mother, she would discuss his intentions. But they were never what we thought they’d be, and only pointed to one thing: he was lonely. It didn’t seem possible. He didn’t need anyone but his God. His body was nothing but a vessel for the lord. He would have never told us that he was lonely. But his actions told us. For the first time he seemed human. He had no idea.
The Thanksgiving after they divorced my mother and I went down to my grandma’s house. My grandpa was there visiting. We all sat in the kitchen around the table and idly chatted. Soon, my grandpa started talking about the Lord. A common occurrence when the mood struck. My grandma rolled her eyes and said, “Ossie! No one wants to hear about that!” My grandpa rebuffed her, looked at us and started to tell my mother and I that if we didn’t accept Jesus Christ that we’d burn for eternity. My mom exhaled deeply and shook her head. I stared at him. No one but him was religious in my entire family. I had never really been around anyone who spoke fire and brimstone, so accusations about my eternal soul were both foreign and unwanted. But at the same time I was entertained.
“How do you know that?” I asked him.
“I know because Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior! I don’t need no other proof!” His Kentucky bleeding through his sermon.
“I don’t understand how you can say that. I’m not going to hell, even if there was one.”
“You WILL go to HELL, because YOU don’t ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST! THAT MAKES YOU A SINNER and SINNERS BURN FOR ETERNITY!” he yelled, now standing and pointing. I stared. “Get out of my house!” he yelled at me.
“This isn’t your house anymore,” my grandma said quickly. He stood breathing heavy, his mouth open, his eyes wide, and he just dropped his hands to his side and walked out of the house. We three glanced at each other and around the room. Nothing seemed different after he left. He didn’t live there anymore anyway. We sat down at the table and began smiling. Smiles that were both pain and humor.
I got up to look out the window for his bike, it was gone, which meant he was too. We all chuckled at how odd that situation was. My mother, who was a victim of my grandpa’s violence ( read as “discipline”) when she was young, scoffed outwardly, and called him a fucking asshole. “He’d sooner smack you in the face than look at ya,” she’d say about him when she was young and they all ate dinner together. “You’d better answer him right or he’d slap the shit out of ya.” So in a sense,that day, we won. His fire left with him, and we were left to enjoy the holiday together. My uncle and aunt showed up and no one said a word.