When I flunked tenth grade for the third time, my parents gave up on me. They kicked my ass to the curb with suitcase in hand, and I don’t blame them. Grandma picked me up two days later. She lived in upstate New York, where trees replaced skyscrapers and geese out-honked taxi cabs. Grandma’s little white ranch was perched on a hill alongside a thin dirt driveway, which her truck climbed with great wails and groans.
While meandering from room to room during my first day on the ranch, I found a dusty notebook wedged into one of her bookshelves. A cloud of dust flooded my lungs as I yanked it free, but it appeared completely untouched. I took it outside, sat on the chipped wooden porch with a cigarette hanging loosely from my lips, and blew enough smoke to stink up the whole house. I’d finished half of my drawing when she limped outside, plucked the cigarette from my lips with two fingers, and tossed it into the garbage. Before chewing me out, she paused to look over my shoulder.
“That’s pretty hun, you should do more of that.”
Then she turned and hobbled back inside with one hand on her hip. Simple as that. No scolding, no nada. I stared for a moment, then slipped the notebook into my pocket.
That was how we lived for three months. The lowly sinner, me, living with a damn saint, her. Eventually, I sniffed out a bar downtown, and consequently stumbled home drunk on most nights of the week. She’d nurse me back to health with cold washcloths and chicken broth through a straw, and then I’d screw up all over again. Only once did she ask something of me in return.
“Bec,” she said one night over spaghetti and meatballs, “tomorrow there’s an art contest downtown. I want you to submit that drawing.”
People who have the easiest time breaking promises also have the easiest time making them, and I had no problem with this one.
“Yeah, I’ll give it a shot. Thanks grams.” Yes, I called her grams. As in grams of cocaine. I thought it was funny at the time. It wasn’t.
The following evening, I walked downtown to the liquor store, just before happy hour. The town center was crammed with people, a rare sight for sure, and I gazed from family to family with my palm pressed against the front door of the bar. “Art Contest! Submit Your Drawings Here!” read the sign across the street.
I felt the notebook rub along my torso as I swayed in the frozen air. I groped it through my jacket, then looked back at the dim lights of the bar poking through my hand. I thought.
Grandma sat in her reclined chair, an old romance novel spread face down across her PJ bottoms. She didn’t hear me stumble through the door with vomit stains on my shoes. She didn’t see me trip as I two-legged limped towards her, eyes clouded with drunken pain. The heart attack had killed her at 1:50am. It killed that version of “me” ten minutes later.