My First Lifeline
Joe Pena


    Since decent housing in a third class country was so expensive at the time, it had been at least three – no, four years since my grandparents had moved into our house. It was during that fourth year that I experienced my first major lifeline.

    Though my grandfather was a remarkably slim old fellow, he was tremendously colossal, for even the tallest of men had to raise their heads a few degrees in order to gaze at his glimmering eyes. He always had an enjoyable grin running across his face and, when he spoke, all you could see were the swift flashes of his snow-white teeth. He was a bit age-spotted and the only wrinkles he possessed were from habitually smiling. Though he was almost sixty-four, he had the physique and strength of a thirty-year-old.

    His positive outlook on life was doubtlessly his greatest weapon against the gruesome world. No matter what the weather was, he would always be diligently working on our vast, though luckless, garden. Somehow, that garden to flourished every kind of flower and vegetable imaginable. He was always involved in the town’s daily checker game, rain or shine he would not have missed any of those games for the life of him. His customary opponent and best companion was just as skilled as he, which was the reason why the game usually concluded in a draw. Pointless… or so I thought, but it was their preferred pastime. Whenever he was not playing checkers or single-handedly building a house, he would be watching the Monday night soccer game, ritually rooting for his favored team. He was a wise man, the wisest I have ever known. Not only did he remain a model in my life, I know that he profoundly impacted numerous other lives.

    My grandmother always told me that I was his favorite grandson since I was the first-born. Of course, we would always spend a substantial amount of time together enjoying the frequent barbecues, but I did not believe that I was worthy enough to be his favorite it was a merit which I was not yet ready to embrace. Her best explanation for his preference was that he would always tell me his miniature, though incomplete life lessons: Don’t steal, always be truthful, and love your neighbor. The topics were endless, but never concluded. I anxiously anticipated a resolution, but he never completed any of his sermons I was not yet ready to handle them.

    As another year approached, I began to notice that my grandfather did not have as much energy as he did before. Though he still persisted in building his house, alone, it looked as if he was getting weaker as the hours went by. His previously glimmering eyes seemed dull and faded, eyes that rested on dark blemishes. It seemed as if he could not physically support himself on his own legs, though he tried with all his ability. His formerly scarce age-spots had become more frequent and darker. His overall appearance was dismal and somber. It was becoming evident that he had contracted some sort of illness, but he persevered in building his house for he did not want to be a burden to my parents. The next month, my parents forced him to go to a doctor for a check up. The results were more devastating than anyone had ever expected.

    He had cancer.

    From thereon, his physical condition seemed to worsen by the hour. Still, he continued to build his house, alone. He continued to attend his daily checker game. He continued to work. He still had that customary pleasant smile running across his face, as if peritoneal mesothelioma was just another common cold, as if his days were not numbered.

    Two weeks later, everything took a dramatic turn for the worse. Many had tried to hinder him from building his house, but to no avail. He was so close to finishing that I almost took his side… almost. While a part of me was against him, another was in accord. My family and I went to visit him for the ceremonial last-shingle-on-the-roof day, disposable cameras in hand. There he stood, up on the roof. A small breeze fluttered by, trivial enough that it was tolerable to wear sheer garments. The ceaseless air stream flickered through his strands of hair, sending an occasional glimmer that sparkled from the rays of the crisp evening sun. His outfit flapped in the airflow as he stood in a triumphant posture on that roof, supporting himself merely by the frail shingles he had recently arranged. His radiant eyes expressed honor and pride. He looked more like a god than a man. That ill-fated man had done it, he had finished his house.

    In a swift moment, however, his radiant figure abruptly morphed into an expression of pain and extreme discomfort. He held his stomach with his arm and immediately turned colorless. His muscular legs had now become insubstantial. He could not stand up. He was alone in that roof, nobody could aid him. He gave out a shriek that sounded more like a shout. He began to fall. A small dry rasp escaped my lips, "Oh my God!" He must have fallen at least five – no, six feet, but from my point-of-view, he had fallen at least a mile. Thanks to the merciful Lord there was a mound of sand awaiting his arrival. He came down, head first, right into that mound. I felt his pain, perhaps even more than he. For a second or two, time had been brought to a halt. The birds did not chirp, the wind stood still, time itself had feared for my grandfather. That pleasurable cold breeze had become a horrid gust of air. I scurried to his aid as did many others. I watched through the pools that formed in my eyes that that seemingly innocuous mound of sand was not uniform for there was a minute nugget of rock lodged into it. That pebble was located at the same spot where my grandfather’s forehead had fallen, causing it to hemorrhage incessantly.

    He then spent two weeks in the local hospital. Those two weeks were nothing but a vague flash in my life since I was not permitted to visit him. When he finally came home, he looked even more weary and fatigued his age-spots had become omnipresent. He rested in my bed at once, for it was the only one that could comfortably accommodate his massive body. He rested there with his arms wide apart, still with a grin in his face. He called me over and spoke to me, “You know, grandson, there is something that I have to tell you. This is very important so take it seriously, okay?” I nodded… it was all I could do.

    “I’ve been trying to tell you this for a while,” he said, “but I didn’t think you were ready yet. But, after what happened in my house, how you helped me and all, I think that you’re more than ready to hear this speech. I planned to tell this to all my grandsons and grand daughters when they were ready, but I guess my time is coming.

    Sometimes in life, people throw lemons at you. You know what you do then? You gotta make yourself a nice, cold lemonade with lots of sugar and ice. Don’t let things take you down, you always go on… whatever the situation is, you go on. When you get in a bad situation, you go on. When people say that you’re doing things you really aren’t, you go on. When people say that you’re doing something wrong and you know you’re right, you go on… unless those people are your parents.” He suddenly gave out a brief chuckle.

    “You know… all my life I worried about what people were thinking of me, if people thought what I was doing was okay. But now I know that you can’t care what people think, just do what you gotta do, even if you’re doing it alone.

    Now, I’m gonna go to a better place… I won’t have to worry what people think of me because nobody is gonna think anything bad about me. So, the point I’m trying to make is that you can’t give up in your life goals just because people think you’re stupid. You gotta promise me, though, that you’re gonna take care of your mom and grandma, ok? They’re gonna be a little sad but you just tell’em that you’re gonna take good care of things around here. They’ll need your help. You be a good boy now, you hear me?

    At first, I was speechless. His story had enthralled me and as he said those last words, I embraced him lightly for he was weaker than he had ever been. As I did this, I heard his breathing gradually slowing down as his heart decelerated. Once more, time had come to a rest.

    “It is time,” he murmured quietly. I released him and immediately gazed straight into his eyes. I watched his soul being taken away by dazzlingly resplendent seraphs and scenically stunning cherubs. It was horrifyingly beautiful to watch him drift into a puff of cumulous clouds nearby, disappearing far in the horizon. My eyes watered, but I knew it was best for him. I knew he was gone, but he was gone to a better place.

    The next morning, his usual checkers-playing mate was unaccompanied. He was glad, however, that a man’s anguish had ceased. And so was I.



Copyright © 2004 Joe Pena
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