I held my grandma's hand today. She is close to death. She wants to get physically better. I kept quiet so as not to betray my pessimism. I just hoped that she would somehow find peace.
Once upon a time, my grandma wanted to hold my hand as I walked down the stairs. Wearing a sarong and a precocious two year old ego, I refused her hand. One step, two step, three step on the sarong. I tumbled down the flight of stairs landing with my face in the gravel. No cry. 'Tis but a scratched upper lip with a few pieces of gravel embedded. My uncle took a look at me and said, "Oh, we must go to the doctor." Cry. I hated the doctor. They shot me in the butt with needles and placed me in cold steel scales. I felt no pain in my bloodied and torn face, but pain at the thought of being tortured and humiliated by strange hands. I should've taken my grandma's hands instead.
Years later, a front tooth grew almost horizontally outward near the point of impact, a reincarnation of the rebel that fell from grace so ungracefully. I had braces to correct it. For days after each orthodontic session, I rolled around in bed in agony. Years later, my wisdom teeth kicked in before my wisdom kicked in enough to trust the medical industry to remove them. They impacted my teeth and pushed the same tooth outward again.
A perceptive physiognomist recently told me that my crooked teeth indicated a rough childhood. Odd how the trait survived two opportunities for correction, first with the onset of adult teeth and second with braces. I guess I can't hide it; I had always been a rebel, distrustful of authority. Why should I trust people who hurt people or who cannot themselves escape suffering? In retrospect, I understand that I was in an extreme circumstance, born in soil traumatized by war. If the world of adults is domination and murder, let me walk on my own. Don't hold my hand.
But she wanted to hold my hand to protect me from falling, not as a patronizing judgment of my clumsiness. I squeeze her hand now in apology for my defiant independence. With tubes going into her wrists and pillows to prop up her frail body fluctuating between too high and too low blood pressure, I am surprised that she squeezes back with such firmness. Now she is the defiant one.
I listen to an audiobook speaking of spirituality and the powerlessness and nothingness of the body as I caress her hand. Her hands grasp for life while mine grasp for afterlife, impatient for this madness to be over. I'm still here though, and while I'm here, I communicate with the body. I don't speak Khmer to my grandma very well, so I communicate with my hands, the most emotionally sensitive part of my body. I don't know much about life and death, but for the moment, at least I know the warmth and vitality of my grandma's hand.