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United States, Connecticut, United States, District of Columbia, United States, New Jersey, United States, New York,
Just one hour, una hora, is all I’m asking of you, son.” My grandfather is in a nursing home in Brooklyn, and my mother wants me to spend some time with him, since the doctors say that he doesn’t have too long to go now. I don’t have much time left of my summer vacation, and there’s a stack of books next to my bed I’ve got to read if I’m going to get into the AP English class I want. I’m going stupid in some of my classes, and Mr. Williams, the principal at Central, said that if I passed some reading tests, he’d let me move up.
Besides, I hate the place, the old people’s home, especially the way it smells like industrial-strength ammonia and other stuff I won’t mention, since it turns my stomach. And really the abuelo always has a lot of relatives visiting him, so I’ve gotten out of going out there except at Christmas, when a whole vanload of grandchildren are herded over there to give him gifts and a hug. We all make it quick and spend the rest of the time in the recreation area, where they play checkers and stuff with some of the old people’s games, and I catch up on back issues of Modern Maturity. I’m not picky, I’ll read almost anything.
Anyway, after my mother nags me for about a week, I let her drive me to Golden Years. She drops me off in front. She wants me to go in alone and have a “good time” talking to Abuelo. I tell her to be back in one hour or I’ll take the bus back to Paterson. She squeezes my hand and says, “Gracias, hijo,” in a choked-up voice like I’m doing her a big favor.
I get depressed the minute I walk into the place. They line up the old people in wheelchairs in the hallway as if they were about to be raced to the finish line by orderlies who don’t even look at them when they push them here and there. I walk fast to room 10, Abuelo’s “suite.” He is sitting up in his bed writing with a pencil in one of those old-fashioned black hardback notebooks. It has the outline of the island of Puerto Rico on it. I slide into the hard vinyl chair by his bed. He sort of smiles and the lines on his face get deeper, but he doesn’t say anything. Since I’m supposed to talk to him, I say, “What are you doing, Abuelo, writing the story of your life?”
It’s supposed to be a joke, but he answers, “Sí, how did you know, Arturo?”
His name is Arturo too. I was named after him. I don’t really know my grandfather. His children, including my mother, came to New York and New Jersey (where I was born), and he stayed on the Island until my grandmother died. Then he got sick, and since nobody could leave their jobs to go take care of him, they brought him to this nursing home in Brooklyn. I see him a couple times a year, but he’s always surrounded by his sons and daughters. My mother tells me that Don Arturo had once been a teacher back in Puerto Rico, but had lost his job after the war. Then he became a farmer. She’s always saying in a sad voice, “Ay, bendito! What a waste of a fine mind.” Then she usually shrugs her shoulders and says, “Así es la vida.” That’s the way life is. It sometimes makes me mad that the adults I know just accept whatever crap is thrown at them because “that’s the way things are.” Not for me. I go after what I want.
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