Here's introducing today's guest post from Kimberly Gotches!
There was one person I ran to see when the sun came up. He was the same person I wanted to see when the sun went down. From the moment Yiayiá brought me home from school, I’d burst into the family room—running straight to Papou.
“Hold on tight,” he’d say, lifting me onto his lap.
We sat in his faded, yellow-and-brown, plaid recliner. He’d raise his leg, wink at me, pause...
“Lift off!” we called together. The chair bounced back, and we were flying.
Papou and I played during the time of space exploration. When I was six, the space shuttle Atlantis launched to dispatch the Galileo probe to Jupiter. I knew very little about space shuttles, Galileo, or Jupiter.
What I did know was Papou was my sun, and I revolved around him.
Papou and I would hear, see, and feel anything we chose to imagine. Our favorite places? Greece, the moon, and a candy store. The chair was old; Papou was old. Yet, that game never got old.
The only person who could end our game was Yiayiá.
“It’s time for dinner!” she’d yell. Her cooking wafted through the hallway— usually pastitsio, buttery mashed potatoes, and rice pudding.
When the sun went down, Papou walked slowly down the hall to my bedroom. He always kept keys in his pocket. With his limp, his signature sound was jingle-step, jingle-step, jingle-step. The last person I’d see before falling asleep was Papou. He’d tuck me in, kiss my forehead, and turn off the light.
One morning in December, I woke up; and Papou wasn’t there. The sheets were rumpled in a heap on his bed.
“Where’s Papou?” I asked.
“He had a bad fall last night,” Mom said. “He’s in the hospital.”
Mom and Rick took me to visit him.
I poked Papou on his leg.
“Will you be back for Christmas?” I asked.
“I’ll be home in three days,” he said.
“You may as well be on the moon,” I complained.
“I promise. I’ll be back,” he said. “Hey, hop in.”
I got into his bed, and he pressed the button to make it rise. “Lift off!” we called together.
While he was gone, I missed him so much. I couldn’t hear, see, or feel him. But, if I sat in his chair, I could imagine him.
“Hold on tight,” I heard him say. I pushed back...
“Lift off!” I am in our hallway with Papou. I tell him I’m afraid to do headstands in gymnastics class.
“I’ve got you,” he says.
He stands over me, holding my feet while I wobble—never loosening his grip. My face turns red. I feel gravity slipping away.
“Are you ready for me to let go?” he asks. “Yes,” I whisper.
“See, Kimmy. Even when your world is upside down, you can stand on your own.”
Another day passed, and Papou was still gone. I pushed back in his chair...
I’m back when Papou taught me to ride my bike without training wheels. I’m wearing a superwoman costume, a pink cape, and pink sunglasses.
Guided by his steady hand, I pick up speed.
“You can let go,” I say. I pedal, carried by the wind, until I can no longer see or hear him. When I return, he winks at me.
“See, Kimmy. Even when you can’t see or hear me, you will feel me like you feel the wind.”
On the third day, Papou kept his promise and returned home.
I knew things were bad because we moved his chair to his bedroom. Our universe shrunk within four walls. The room was dark with just a single lamp for light. We no longer heard his jingle-step down the hall. I learned the word “Cancer.” The chair became slow to recline—its bones cracking and groaning like Papou’s.
We started playing card games a lot. Papou sat in his chair, and I sat on the floor. One day, we were playing Old Maid. When he turned on the lamp behind him, I could see through his cards. Do I admit I can see them? I felt so guilty. So, I purposefully grabbed the Old Maid. We passed her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth—neither of us getting any pairs. The game went on for light years.
Finally, Papou laid down the Old Maid.
“Let’s give her some rest,” he said.
I waited for him to say, “See, Kimmy...” I waited for one of his lessons. But he was struggling to keep his eyes open. So, we laid our cards down together.
Papou fell again and again. One morning, Yiayiá and Mom couldn’t get him up. All we could do was put a pillow under his head.
Rick came over and brought Yiayiá and Papou back to the hospital. It was December 19—six days before Christmas.
Mom found me in Papou’s chair. She sat on the floor and picked up the cards from our last game. I turned on the lamp, and I could see through the cards in her hands. Papou must have seen the same thing. Yet, he still played with me for hours and hours.
He didn’t want to leave me.
During the night, the hospital called. We were asked to come right away.
“I can’t take you out in this,” Mom said. “There’s a really bad snowstorm.”
“I have to go,” I begged.
“There’s something I have to tell him.”
Mom nodded, and Yiayiá held out my coat.
A light glowed down the corridor, and we followed it to Papou’s room. While Mom and Yiayiá told stories about Papou, I talked to him. “Papou?” I poked his leg. “If you hear me, lift your leg,” I said.
“He can’t hear you,” the nurse said. Her eyes said they didn’t want me to be disappointed.
I showed Papou what I meant, lifting my own leg like he’d do before we flew in the chair together. Papou’s eyes, red and glossy, were focused on the corner of the ceiling like he was staring into a black hole.
“He can’t see you,” the nurse said.
I touched his leg.
“He can’t actually feel you,” the nurse said. “But…”
I interrupted her. “He can feel me.”
“Of course, Honey,” said the nurse. She left the room.
“Papou,” I felt my face get hot, preparing to let my confession out. “I know you could see my cards.” My face got hotter. “You held on for me, Papou.”
He didn’t move.
“Who’s going to play with me, Papou?”
The storm rattled the windows to the rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest.
“I’m going to miss you,” I said, nuzzling up against him.
I’m sure I felt his leg rise, preparing for lift off.
I’m sure I heard him ask, “Are you ready for me to let go?”
I crawled into Papou’s bed. I tucked us in together, kissed his forehead, and turned out the light.
Asleep Within Another Bed: A Poem
It is only a pile, an idle heap, unlike Cancer’s silent, lurking, lump.
The linens left in such a way that scream to be held close.
The sweet old man, that held these sheets, will embrace them so—
The lump was like the spinner’s prick, which sprung eternal slumber.
The little one refuses to grasp
the words that hang so
The old man, though forever loved, is asleep within another bed.
The sheets remain behind, reflecting on memories so dear. Tears of joy and of sadness; times of sickness and health, rumpled in a heap.
Which corner to unfold?
Which crease to straighten out the loss?
The beginning is uncertain
when the end has come too soon.
- Kimberly Gotches, 1995 (written three years after he passed)
A former librarian from Chicagoland, Kimberly Gotches now shares her passion for storytelling in New Mexico—The Land of Enchantment. A winner of the Intergeneration Storytelling Contest, she connects people across the generations through and with stories. Her dream is to build a studio in a treehouse where she will write, tell stories, and teach others to tell their stories. She just published her first book entitled Under the Branches, where she tells stories about drawing strength from the roots of her Family Tree.