She’s metallic tubes of red lipstick scattered on an antique dressing table. She’s a John Grisham novel, a mandarin orange cake, and an episode of West Wing. She’s a mink coat, a weekly trip to the beauty parlor, and garden of yellow day lilies. She’s a single mother – widowed by a tormented alcoholic – turned corner-office victor, local leader, and courtroom mainstay. She’s a second glass of champagne and a second chance at love.
Our hearts were as warm as the Manhattan pavement when she visited last summer, but the cobwebs of her mind were as tangled as a Subway map. She didn’t recognize the blue sectional or distressed white bureau that had migrated from her Lakeland, Georgia den to my Upper West Side Apartment. The pink Depression Glass she and grandpa lovingly collected from auctions and antique shops on the Florida state line – which now decorates on my mantle and coffee table – didn’t ignite a response. Twice she forgot my dad’s name. One morning, unable to distinguish ritual from pain, she slurped her hot coffee down so quickly her mouth blistered.
Our last night together, she sat on the edge of my bed and rustled through a handbag of tissue and cough drops and crumbled receipts. A smile on her face, she pulled a menagerie of mismatched clip-on earrings from the bowels of her purse and stacked them in the palm of my hand. I asked her where she’d worn them and which pairs were from grandpa – but her crippled words couldn’t find the memories.
She waited, expectant as a schoolgirl, when I said I also had a gift for her. Jewels clutched safely in my fist, I moved a magazine from my bedside table and placed it in her lap. Her socked feet swaying gently over my baseboard, she considered the glossy cover with absent indifference.
“Do you remember this magazine?” I asked her. “You and grandpa used to read it every month. It sat on your…”
Her attention, like my words began to trail off.
Desperate for a glimpse of the severe woman I simultaneously admired and feared in my youth, I opened the book and pointed to tiny typeface on an early page.
“You see that, Nana?” I pleaded. “My name’s on that page.”
Brow furrowed, she moved the masthead under her nose. Eyes, slowly scanning the page, lingered on the last name we’d once shared. Marking the spot with one hand, she closed the magazine with the other. With one finger, she traced the S of Southern and the L of Living on the cover. Recognition flickered like the headlights outside my window.
She returned to the masthead and, once again, found my name. A wrinkled smile opened a floodgate of tears. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it.
“That’s you.” She said. “That’s my Macy.”
To her, it didn’t matter if the word assistant fell before my name. She knows that the days she’ll still recognize my face are fleeting, but she doesn’t mind that I’ll spend these days a thousand miles away working and socializing and exploring. I’d like to think she understands why I wasn’t there for her last weekend, when she left her home and dressing table and garden and – with only a faded duffel bag and artificial potted plant in tow – moved into a shared room behind the locked doors of a nursing facility.
Nana never showered me with the kisses and cookies and forgiveness a grandparent traditionally shares with her son’s little girl. When my peers were asking for American Girl dolls, Nana gave me a series of books about an iconic boy wizard. While friends and cousins spent summer weekdays in swimming pools, Nana placed me behind a typewriter in her courthouse office, my imagination for company. Instead of a vacation to Disney World, Nana took me to Ireland. She encouraged me to move faster, think harder, and dream bigger.
I wish I could thank her for sharing the strength and tenacity I strive to mirror every day. I wish I could thank her for cultivating my ambition and determination, and for instilling in me a thirst that only the Concrete Jungle can quench. Unfortunately, now that I’m finally old enough to appreciate the tough love that propelled me into fulfillment and happiness, I can’t communicate my appreciation in a way Nana’s disease-ridden mind will understand.
I comfort myself with the memory of a tall, confident, silver-haired woman, holding my hand at the post office. She checked her mail, throwing envelopes and sale circulars into the garbage haphazardly. But once each month, when Southern Living was delivered, she’d pass it gingerly into my hands.
“Carry that one carefully,” she’d say. “It’s going on the coffee table.”
Today, a nurse will deliver her morning pills, a cup of ice cream, and the October issue of Southern Living. I’d like to think it’ll sit on her bedside table – where my copy sits, too. And I’d like to think that each time she looks at it, she knows just how much I appreciate and love her.