By Julia Nagy
Tubes slithered out of his body. He motioned to the cheap plastic cup on the table. He needed water. I walked into the ER at Crittenton and it smelled like dirty hands slathered in sanitizer. I held my breath, breathing only when my lungs were fully depleted of oxygen. I tried to stay strong. I didn’t want him to see me cry. I knew that would hurt him and that’s the last thing I wanted to do to my grandfather.
My parents dragged me forward. I looked around. Nurses dressed in pastel green clicked at computers, while some sauntered over to their patients. It wasn’t busy enough. There needed to be people shrieking and weeping. There needed to be a feeling of life, even if it was right before a moment of death.
I walked through the wide hallway, but it felt so tight. The flesh colored walls moved in, coming closer until they wedged me in. And I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I begged my feet to keep moving. If I thought about everything, I would do nothing. My fingers played Twister with each other. If I just held on to them, I wouldn’t fall or break. I needed to be strong for him.
We arrived at room 10. The baby blue curtain, resembling the shower curtain in my grandfather’s bathroom, hung at the side. He was exposed. Terrified. And so was I. His brown eyes sunk into his head. His wispy gray hair looked like clots of hay on a barn floor. It was the first time he’d seen a doctor in 20 years. And the expression on his droopy hound dog face showed it.
I always took my grandfather for granted, mainly because he spoke Romanian, a language I couldn’t speak, but on Nov. 15, 2009 he almost died. I almost lost the one person I love more than anyone else.
At 10 p.m., Buna, what I call my grandmother, called my dad, blubbering and spewing something about Bunu, my grandfather. My dad turned to me, his hands choking the phone.
“Bunu had a heart attack,” he said. And with that, my heart smacked against our dining room floor. I couldn’t respond.
We bolted to our Grand Prix. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas.
So, there I was, in a black tank top and the pajama shorts I sewed in seventh grade, in front of room 10 watching my grandfather trying to grab the cup of water. This wasn’t him—desperate, weak, terrified. His eyes met mine and I looked away.
He didn’t need to see me cry. I turned, muttering to my dad that I needed to go to the restroom. I tromped away, picking up speed as I saw the door. I slammed it behind me and pulled at my roots. My fists locked on and I let out a breathless scream. My eyes clamped shut. I didn’t want to open them.
“I don’t want to see it,” I whispered, “It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.”
It was too real.
My head throbbed and I forced my eyes open.
Light scorched them, intensifying my headache. I turned to the mirror to put myself back together. I hoped Bunu wouldn’t see my blood red eyes, but he wasn’t a stupid man. He’d see them and it would only make it worse. I blotted my soaked face with toilet paper and headed back to his room.
I kept my head down, letting my hair fall.
“He’s so stubborn,” Buna said to my dad, as if Bunu wasn’t next to her. “He’s so stupid. I told him to go to the hospital two days ago.”
“Mom, you know how he is,” my dad said. Yep, Bunu was and always will be a mulish man, bucking and biting at any suggestions.
“I told him to take care of himself,” Buna said. “I told him to eat healthy.”
“Oh, ok,” my dad puffed. “He doesn’t listen to anybody but himself. What did you expect? Hm? For him to eat a freakin’ salad? You know how he is.”
Oh, of course, they just had to start fighting. Bunu didn’t notice though. He stared off, like he was dead.
“I know,” Buna said. “I know. It’s just…”
“What mom?” my dad said. “You know he isn’t going to change. He never will.”
I stood with my hands wrapped around each other, angling my body toward the wall.
“Come on. Let’s go home,” my mom said.
We left. I didn’t sleep. I just glared at the scarlet numbers on my clock, watching as every minute passed by.
The next day, we found out Bunu had three obstructed arteries that would require open heart surgery. My parents told me to go say goodbye.
“He’s not going to die,” I thought. “He’s not going to die. So, why do I need to say goodbye to him like he is? He’s not going to die. Don’t you do this to me God. Don’t you dare.”
They moved him to the cardiac wing of the hospital. I inched towards Room 8, cracking open the door.
“Bunu?” I said.
“Hi,” he said, his thick Romanian accent present.
“Hi,” I said. I burst into tears and whipped around, facing the hallway. I took a short breath and gritted my teeth. I turned towards him.
There he was, the once strong leu-lion-now frail. He clenched onto a specially made teddy bear to help his chest relax.
I went to his side.
“Te iubesc Bunu,” I told him “I love you.” I learned how to say it, just for him.
“I love you too,” he said.