The Opening of His Eyes
He spoke the phrase which every person, at some point in his or her life, is terrified of hearing. “I’m dying. The doctors told me I have somewhere between three and six months to live,” he mumbled sympathetically, forcing us in a downward spiral into a state of regret and compassion felt toward this dying man. With a blink of an eye, he reverted back to his wretched, verbally abusive self. “Those stupid bastards are giving me three to six months to live! Where in hell did they get their Ph.D.’s? It’s a damn good thing I’m not the supervisor of this hospital, or these doctors would have been thrown out on their fat asses for the atrocious job they are doing!” I stared at this man, the man who claimed to be my grandfather, and my mother’s father, and I thought, “Who the hell is he? What makes me so unusual from him?” This loud mouthed, obnoxious, greedy, elderly man claimed to be my grandfather, Captain Lazar “Sonny” Kay. Life’s warped mysteries have yet ceased to amaze me.
I glanced over at my mother, who clung to her father’s side, dependably and obediently. Like I said before, some people never change. I tried, for the life of me, to understand where Mom found the strength and courage to stand next to this vicious beast, the same man who, nearly thirty-five years ago, beat her and her family, as well as sexually molested her. Ironically, since my Grandpa had been deathly ill, he had lost so much weight, barely breaking one hundred pounds and appearing as frail as a survivor walking out of the concentration camps. Could I ever match her strength, I mean, be able to approach and befriend a person who abused me, G-d forbid? Then I thought, Hell no would I ever want to see my abuser, unless seeing him meant testifying in court, throwing his ass in prison and getting rid of the key.
My mom appeared strong and stable, like the World Trade Center once seemed, but I saw directly through her transparent shield. She once revealed to me that she believed I had laser eyes which could burn directly through a person’s outer shell and through his or her façade, with the ability to see a person’s real emotions. Mom put on a cheerful, “not a care in the world” face for Grandpa, even though he had not glanced in her direction all afternoon. Grandpa knew she hovered beside his oversized hospital bed dutifully, as if he had been World’s Greatest Dad and Mom owed her life to him in gratitude.
When I tried talking to my mom about her physical and sexual abuse as a girl, it appeared that she had too many thoughts to convey, too little time, and too much repression of the trauma. Eventually, I was forced to turn to her older siblings to fill in the seemingly large gaps of her childhood. Grandpa, AKA “Sonny,” had always been a strong willed, outspoken man. Before serving in World War II, he married his high school sweetheart Suzanne Bruml, my grandmother. After the war, he came back to settle down and start a family. He had three children, each two years apart, with my mom, Lauren, being the youngest. Captain Kay kept a tidy, orderly household. Although he loved my grandmother, he knew her faults like the back of his hand. She was lazy, no doubt about it! To this day, carrying her filthy dishes to the sink is a daunting task for her.
Grandpa learned quickly to depend on my mother, who was submissive, dependable, and kind. My mom was simplistic; all she yearned for was a pleasant, “Cleaver-like” household, in which her parents did not argue or fight, and her dad did not verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse them. Sonny elevated Mom to the position of a wife, in a sick, demented way. She cleaned the house, prepared the meals, and pleased each family member in her own way. I guess this was a reason for the sexual abuse as a girl. In his mind, Grandpa justified his actions by convincing himself Mom was his wife, in a matter of speaking. Laying with my mom as a man does with his wife put little if no intense pressure on Sonny’s conscience, for he repeatedly did this during her adolescent and pubescent years.
I closed my eyes and prayed to G-d. Take the air from his lungs. Stop his heart from beating. Let his kidneys fail. Something G-d, anything. I cannot take this anymore… This terrible pain in my chest, this aching sensation. Make it stop! He laid there, without movement except for his frail chest, which shifted upward and downward in a sluggish manner. I focused intently on his chest, praying it would stop moving, it would stop sustaining his life. Damn it! Why won’t he stop breathing? G-d, please, do something! Let my mother’s suffering end. G-d, why would you let a man so heinous, so evil, a man who has hurt and damaged so many lives, live? I realized thinking this way was letting him win, turning me into the bad guy. Of course I would not root for him to recover; however, I could not plead for him to pass away.
Almost immediately after I thought this, the heart monitor began blaring incessant noises. The nurses bolted in, ready in hand with a variety of shots. The on-call ER doctor dashed in, demanding explicit orders of each nurse, ensuring she comprehended what he ordered. Chaos ensued as Grandpa’s heart rate plummeted within seconds, soon flat-lining. The nurses peered at one another, with a mournful and defeated look. The doctor frantically screamed, “The clamps, Nurse, the clamps… Charge to one hundred… Charge to two hundred… Charge to two hundred and fifty.” Finally, after much anticipation and nervousness, Grandpa was revived and stabilized. I peered over at Mom, who began to breathe again herself.
Mom sat there helplessly, her face buried in her hands as if she was praying to G-d as well. I wondered what she was asking for. I would never be able to understand what kind of hold Grandpa had over her. These two people were cosmically tied to one another for eternity, whether Mom liked it or not, almost like a marriage. Why did he focus on Mom? What were his motives for singling her out from the rest of the family? Damn him for doing this to her! Where was everyone while she was being raped by her own flesh and blood? Ironically, this man helped to give her life, and later on, stole the life from her.
I realized I will never know what really happened in her childhood. I had a faint, vague outline of the situation. It was unclear to me how her father abused her so often, without people becoming suspicious. Unless, people consciously chose to ignore the situation, knowing it was a convoluted and sticky one. I vowed to protect my mother from the bastard, the man I called Grandpa. Although it was impossible for me to have been there when she was a child, for I was not born, I could and would support my mother in her time of need, when she was most vulnerable and susceptible to his wrath. Mom was to consider me her Rock of Gibraltar, her very own Superwoman to save her from the villain. Although I was not there for her when she was abused as a child, I was damn sure to be there for Mom when I was alive! That bastard will never lay a hand on her again.
Grandpa woke up, woozy and unaware of his surroundings. He garbled, “What am I doing here Laurie?” as he called her lovingly. “Dad,” she said compassionately, “Do you not remember anything?” Grandpa gazed around, wondering what was happening. “You are dying. The doctors have given you three to six months to live. Do you not remember?” Grandpa gazed at her, perplexed by what she had just said. “I am dying?” he asked, confused by the situation he was in, the hospital bed he was laying in, and why Mom was crying. Mom braced herself for the real Sonny to return, the verbally abusive, derogatory, and selfish man she had always known. Certain people never changed, which she knew and expected.
We waited the entire day, while I shielded my mom from the man who had hurt her all her life. The day became days, soon weeks, and soon those weeks multiplied into months. After Grandpa was released from the hospital, he went back to home and my mom cared for him while he was recovering. I was sitting on the porch, which faced the lake, reading Pride and Prejudice, when I heard him cry for Mom. She ran furiously down the steep stairs into his bedroom, as I crept forward to eavesdrop. I justified my actions by convincing myself I was protecting my mom by listening. As I got closer to the door, I could hear someone sobbing. Grandpa had broken down and was weeping. He pleaded with my mom. “Laurie,” Grandpa whimpered, “you will never understand how apologetic I am for the things I did to you. Nearly dying helped me to realize that life is precious and how I ruined much of your childhood. I can only hope and pray one day you will forgive me. I will spend the rest of my life, how ever long that might be, living with the things I have done, how I have hurt you so deeply.” Grandpa placed his bony, overly veined hand on Mom’s and whispered, “Can you find it in your heart to one day forgive me?” My mom took a deep breath, shook her head, exhaled and asked, “Would you like a sandwich for lunch?”
It took Grandpa nearly thirty years to realize what he had done was abominable and shameful. My mom lost her childhood, which she would never be able to get back. I guess I was the one who learned something new that day. As with age comes knowledge and grace. People can change, although it may take dying, or the possibility of it, to get it done.