Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.
When my parents died six years ago Poppy was the only family I had left. And at that time, he was barely that. But still, without hesitation, he took me in. And he provided me with, not only the basics, but so much more. Poppy loved me unconditionally right from the very start.
It didn’t matter to him that my existence was news to him. It didn’t matter that we first met the day my parents were being buried in the cold ground. He loved me.
Truth be told, I didn’t love Poppy. Not at first. I barely knew this man who seemed to have more hair sprouting from his ears rather than from the top of his head. For twelve years, he was a mystery I never dared question. But as days turned into months, and months turned into years I grew to love Poppy. I loved him like I have never, ever loved before. After all, he became the father I never really had the chance to have.
Of course we had our ups and downs. Poppy had a temper and I had a stubborn streak. But we always made it through – and never went to bed angry with one another. Even when life wasn’t great, it was good.
Until the day the doctor told us that Poppy was sick. The world stopped revolving, and as the doctor talked my heart barely beat.
Poppy had early onset dementia – a disease that would eventually strip Poppy of his memories. As time went by, the illness would progress from dementia into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
The doctor talked about the different stages that both Poppy and I would experience. He talked about medications that would, not cure, but would prolong the disease’s progression. He talked and he talked. But the only think I was hearing was the Poppy could, and would probably forget everything and everyone … including me.
I decided then and there that I’d make the most of my time with Poppy. I would do everything in my power to take care of him the way he took care of me when I needed him most. That meant, dropping out of school a few months shy of graduating. That meant putting my life on pause in order to give him the fullest one possible. That meant breaking a promise I swore – to both myself and to him – that I’d keep.
After having found out that he was sick, Poppy sat me down to have a heart to heart. We were sitting in a cracked vinyl booth of our favorite diner. Both of us pushing food around our plates. Poppy’s fish and chips were getting cold, and the cheese on my bacon cheeseburger was starting to harden.
“Kiddo, listen. I know this is a lot to process. And I know the gears in your head are already fast at work thinking about what you can do to make this better. There is nothing to make this better.”
“You don’t know that,” I responded quietly.
“There are things we need to talk about — things I need to say and you need to hear.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“You don’t have a choice. I’ve never been stern with you Ginny, but I’m putting my foot down.”
“Fine,” I huffed.
“There’s money in an account. There is enough to cover my expenses at the Cherry Blossom nursing home.,” he started, but I stopped him before he went any further.
“Stop talking like this, I’m not putting you in a home.”
“You don’t have a choice in this, I refuse to be a burden.”
“You’re my grandfather, it’s my responsibility to take care of you,” I argued.
“No, it’s my responsibility to take care of you kiddo. And I won’t be able to do that for much longer. When the time comes, I want you to take that money and check me into the home. My name is already on the waiting list.”
He wanted me to promise him, but I refused. He didn’t press the issue, but I knew this wasn’t the end of this discussion.
He continued, “The house is yours, everything in it, and the property it sits on. I’ve already had the deed put in your name.”
“It won’t be much of a home without you,” I said quietly.
“It was never a home until you move in kiddo. But I need you to promise me something.”
“Anything, Poppy,” I said without a hint of hesitation. He could have asked to me knock off the local liquor store, and I would have gladly. I would do anything and everything for this man, and he knew that.
“Promise me that that house will always be your home, always Ginny.”
I couldn’t fathom why he would want me to promise such a thing when he already knew that that house was more than a house that sat upon a pebble driveway. That house was home, and would forever be my home.
“I promise, Pop.”
At the time I swore I could keep such a promise. After all, it wasn’t a difficult one. But after a time, it seemed like with each passing day a little bit of Poppy’s memory slipped. Before long, I faced reality: I couldn’t take care of him any longer.
The first few days after leaving him in that place was hell. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. But eventually I learned to live on my own in that big empty house that sat upon a pebble driveway. I learned to function like a normal human being – working during the day, visiting Poppy at night.
Money was tight and emotions were high, but I thought I was doing okay. Sure I was a few payments behind on a bill or two, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I had already handled my worst nightmare. But when the bank sent notice that because of one too many missed payment, they were foreclosing on the house.
I begged. I pleaded. And I borrowed for anyone who would lend me a dime. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to save me, to save the house, to save the only promise I ever made.