On Grandmother Conversations

I wonder sometimes at my grandmother’s perceptions.

Last night she said to me, “I’m watching the airplanes. They’re getting ready to take off.”

“Airplanes,” I said, flat but with the hint of a question.

“Right out there,” she said. She pointed out the kitchen window. “Airplanes.”

I looked out the window. “That’s your neighbor’s house,” I said.

“Those lights,” she said. “Those are airplanes.”

“That’s their backdoor light.”

“There are people. I see them.”

I looked out the window again. “How can you see anything? It’s too dark out there.”

She ignored me. “They’re going to take off soon.”

“Take off from where? There’s no room out there for a runway. You’ve lived in this neighborhood for how long? There’s never been room for an airplane runway.”

“There are airplanes out there,” she insisted.

I walked away.

I wonder at what she sees. Her vision cannot be good; she’s always going on at how she’s lost her glasses, and she can’t see without her glasses. Sometimes she finds strange glasses, glasses I’ve never seen before. Once I wanted to ask her just whose glasses she was wearing, as the frames were much too big for her small head. And the day I found a pair of black glasses that looked exactly like the “brainy specs” the tenth Doctor wears, I had to wonder if there were a rift in time and space that ran through Baltimore.

Sometimes her memories are confused to the point of absurdity. She talked at length about a bus tour she took through Afghanistan once. Last night she claimed to be an expert on the walls along the United States/Mexico border to keep illegal immigrants out — she’s taken tours, she sat on the planning commission, she inspected the finished product. I doubt she’s ever been to Texas.

It’s the invention of memory that I find most difficult to take. One day, apropos of nothing, she told me the story of how, when I was three, we went to the ocean. And she and I walked out a pier into the ocean, and she tossed me off the end of the pier into the water.

I can tell you, dear readers, in all honesty, that I have never been to the ocean with my grandmother. Going to the ocean was not something my grandmother did. Her relatives went to the ocean. She did not. She was always delicate, tried to stay out of the sun.

When I told her that, no, the story she related was clearly false, she was quick to reply with anger.

Trying to explain that what she thinks isn’t true invariably results in anger from her.

It’s not worth arguing over. It might make me feel better, but fifteen minutes later she’ll have forgotten.

Sometimes the best thing to do is simply to walk away.

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