I stepped out of the van onto the warm summer grass on the ninth of June. I woke up at five-o’clock in the morning that day in Dallas, Texas. It was raining and I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to get on the road at six, but we did. We had to, because I needed this trip. The smell of smog was pungent in the air there, but the late afternoon air here was filled with the smell of rich soil. These were the little things about this place that I longed for all through the long fall, green winter and bipolar spring. That place wasn’t home, and nothing could make it any better down there.
The van door slammed shut on my side as Mae got out. “Jesus Christ, it is effing hot outside.”
No it wasn’t, I thought. It was only eighty-five degrees and it was beautiful. The gray Iowa sky hid the sun and the grass was still wet with rain from earlier that day. “It gets a lot hotter down in Texas.” I said.
Uncle Vince decided to chime in as he pulled my suitcase out of the back. “Yeah, compared to Texas, this is perfect.”
It really was perfect, and everything was already feeling so right even as I hadn’t even been there a day.
“So when can I go see grandpa?” I asked.
“Well I suppose you can see him tomorrow if everything goes smoothly. You might want to give it a day since he went in for chemo today, but you’re welcome to hang out with us.”
I would have to wait. I knew that grandpa wouldn’t have wanted me to see him all tired and messed up from the chemo treatments.
About eight months before in October, I found out that grandpa Dennis had three different types of cancer. My mom had told me before Vince and Mae picked me up that he was scared to see me because he’d lost so much weight. I didn’t care, because no matter how big or small, healthy or sick he was, he’d always be my grandpa.
I started unloading the rest of my stuff from the van. Vince had already taken my suitcase, so I only had to grab my purse and violin case.
I opened the door to my grandma Ellie’s house. My mom let me stay with her mom, even though it was my dad’s visitation during the summer. She knew that we didn’t get along, and I really didn’t want to deal with him.
I came in through the living room where everyone else was standing and chatting. It smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. Everyone looked up at me from the conversation. Grandma Ellie was thrilled I was here. I could tell just by the way she looked at me, and from the fact that she lived alone, and her daughter and grandchildren lived eight hundred miles away. She came up to me with a smile as big as her heart, with the most sincere happiness in her sky blue eyes and hugged me.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too, grandma.” I was as glad to be here as she was to have me. It was desolate here; I got no phone service at all and the internet sucked, but it was great to just be away from the city.
Life moved too fast there. One minute I was a freshmen and the next it was the week of finals and now I’m here, after the shortest, most awful year of my life. My two best friends would miss me and my family of course, but life in general would go on without me. My time here would be short, but when I came back I knew everything would be different.
As soon as Vince and Mae left, I took my luggage upstairs to unpack. I told them I would be over in a couple days, but tomorrow I was going to relax while grandma Ellie was at work. I went back downstairs to have dinner an hour later.
Grandma Ellie had grilled two steaks, and she had the barbeque sauce sitting out, just for me. I wasn’t really hungry because I had a footlong hotdog when I was on the road with Vince, but I wasn’t going to waste the steak. I knew that money was tight for grandma.
It smelled good enough to get my appetite going thankfully. I sat down at the table with her and promptly cut into the meat. It was perfectly medium-well, the way I liked it.
“So how’s school going?” she asked.
“It’s alright. I was exempt from all of my exams because I had b’s and above.”
“Nice. I assume that you and the boy are completely over?”
I knew there would be something. I wasn’t going to lip off, mainly because it would just make things worse, but my ex (a.k.a. the boy) was one of the reasons I was so excited to leave Dallas for the summer. “Yes, grandma. Can we just not talk about it?”
She sighed. “I just don’t want to see the same thing that happened to your mother to happen to you. He’s stupid, honey, and you don’t need that kind of boy that wants to take advantage of you in your life. You have a future and so much to look forward to, and I don’t want you to throw that all away to be with him.”
“Yeah. You’re right.” I was in no mood to argue. It didn’t matter anymore if I had been in love with him because I knew nobody would ever see that, so I just gave up.
I finished my food without saying another word, and I did the dishes so grandma could be in bed before nine. I was going to go back upstairs and finish unpacking, but I remembered that “The Mentalist” was on that night.
I made myself a bag of popcorn and got a can of Coke out of the refrigerator and switched the TV to channel 3. I didn’t really understand what was going on in the show because I didn’t get cable at home. We watched all of our shows on Netflix, and unfortunately, that didn’t include “The Mentalist”.
After I got done watching TV, I went back upstairs and got everything put away. I changed into my pajamas, put on my music and went into a deep, long-waited sleep.
* * *
Two days later, I called up aunt Mae and asked if she could pick me up after she got off of work. She had no problem with it, especially since she only worked until two in the afternoon.
Their house was even further out in the country than grandma Ellie’s, and the only way to get there was on a gravel road. I didn’t want to feel like I was inconveniencing Mae, but I guess she didn’t care too much. I could tell she didn’t mind picking me up, but for some reason, I still felt awkward for asking. I was never good at asking for favors.
As we pulled up to the house, I saw Mae’s mom, Tammy, outside watching my cousins play. Trent was six, and Mae had him before she married my uncle and had Maddy, who was one and a half. She sat with Tammy on the front steps while Trent rode his bike back and forth. When I got out of the car, his eyes got wide and the biggest smile appeared on his face.
“Willy!” Trent screamed at the top of his lungs and jumped up and down faster than I thought his little body could handle. I could tell that he was really excited.
“What’s up, turd?” I said. I called pretty much all children turds.
I looked over at Maddy. I had only seen her a few months ago, but she had already grown so much. Her hair was so curly that it still looked about the same length as before. I walked up to give her a hug, but she hid behind Tammy. She obviously didn’t remember me, but it was okay. She was after all so young, but I secretly felt a little bad. I hoped that after I left this summer she’d remember me.
I smiled. She was so adorable. Trent came up behind me and hugged my leg.
“I missed you so much!” he said. “I’m finished with preschool now!”
“Good job, little dude. I’m almost halfway through high school.”
“You’re old.” He had an onry grin on his face, and I couldn’t help but giggle. He really was a little turd.
Tammy left a little bit later to go to my grandpa Rob’s house. They were dating and it kind of freaked me out a little that my grandpa was dating his son’s mother-in-law. But I just didn’t think about it. It wasn’t the kind of thing that I desperately needed to care about
Vince got home around six, and Mae made hot dogs and macaroni with Velveeta. I told her when I was visiting over spring break that I really loved Velveeta, and she remembered.
“Well, jeez, this looks tasty.” he said while taking off his work boots.
I stuffed my mouth with macaroni. It was delicious.
“Yeah, back home my mom is on an all-organic kick. I can’t wait to see how long that lasts.”
“You know, I’ve actually been thinking of doing that.” Mae said. “There really is so much crap in our foods today. I just can’t do it because the stuff I eat is so yummy!”
I laughed. “Yeah, I know that feeling!”
She turned to Vince. “How was work?” she asked.
He grunted. “Ugh, it sucked. The guy who rides in the truck with me broke the air conditioning and we had to ride all the way to Macedonia in the heat.”
“They really need to fire him.” She said, rolling her eyes.
The rest of dinner was filled with small talk, awkward silences and Maddy throwing cut-up hot dogs on the floor. It was nice, even compared to back home. Dinners weren’t bad, but they were just filled with everyone talking about their dramatic days. It was just kind of nice to eat in semi-silence, with everyone together.
After dinner, Vince and Mae put the kids to bed and we went outside and sat together. I got stuck with a cinderblock, while Vince got a random dining chair and Mae sat on one of the kids’ little beach chairs. She was very petite, so it actually worked out well for her.
“Ha ha ha! I can’t believe I actually fit in this!” She exclaimed.
“That’s awesome. I wish I could but I’d get stuck.” I wasn’t really fat, but I wasn’t near as skinny as she was. I envied her, but she wanted to have a little bit more weight on her bones.
“It’s okay! This seems like a gift, but it’s actually a curse.” She said. “I have no boobs. I can’t fit into any of my shirts right and it pisses me off!”
“Yeah, I guess it really wouldn’t be that great.”
Vince changed the subject, lighting a cigarette. “So, do you want to go see the gramps tomorrow?” He asked.
“Sure, it would be great. I’d really like to see him.”
“Yeah, I’ll warn you though. He’s lost a lot more weight than when you saw him last. The chemo’s really taken it’s toll on him, and it doesn’t help that he’s practically living off of Boost.”
“I figured. Last time I talked to him on the phone I was trying to talk him into trying medical marijuana, but he said no.”
“He was raised in a generation where the mindset was that marijuana was a ‘drug’ and that drugs were bad, so I guess I can see where he’s coming from. I wouldn’t want to be stoned for whatever remainder of my life I had left, even if it would help me.”
“I guess.” I said, but before I forgot, there was something I needed to ask. “Look, I know this sounds weird, but do you know if he’s made a will?”
He looked at me. “Yes, he’s made a will. From what I saw last time, it looks like you’re going to get his car, and maybe a few other things, but I don’t know yet. Mark kind of screwed that up for you.”
Mark was my second cousin, and he lived a few towns over. I can’t say that he and I were ever very close, but we got along okay.
“What did he do?” I asked.
“Well, Lily bought him a car after grandpa said that he would give him his old truck in the will, and the deal was he’d get the truck and you’d get the car, but I don’t know how it’s going to work now.”
“Well, I just thought I’d ask. You know after he’s gone, I just wanted a few of his things, you know, maybe a picture or a shirt of something. I just can’t think of myself driving his car. I don’t even know how to drive yet.”
“You’d better start learning then. I’d say that a car would be good for you, especially back in Texas where you’re crammed on a bus and can’t walk to school. Stupid Texas.”
“Yeah. It might be good. It’s just going to be so weird when he’s gone, you know.” I sighed, checking my watch. “You know, it’s getting pretty late. I’m going to go to bed.”
“Alrighty. Sleep tight.” He said.
Both Vince and Mae worked their way inside and laid down too. The house was eerily quiet as I walked up the steep stairs. It was silent outside too, but even more than my grandma Ellie’s, where there would be an occasional car drive by on the highway. It made me feel alone in the silence, so I turned on my iPod and fell asleep listening to Third Eye Blind.