We disembark from the airplane into a blast of Southern California heat and sunshine. Jack carries Gus, and I watch as Simon, wide-eyed, climbs down the stairway and walks down the tarmac outside — where you can look up and see the airplane right next to you, not through a window.
I have so many memories of this tiny airport from when I was a little girl. I would be so excited to see my grandparents I could hardly speak. I would skip down the tarmac, reveling in the heat after months of sleet and snow at home in Wisconsin.
The scent of the hot, clean air is tinged with desert wildflowers. We walk through security, and there is my mom. The kids run up and give her a big squeeze.
“Where’s Gram?” My throat aches. She’s never missed an airport pick-up.
“She’s at the house. She was too tired.”
On the ride to the house that we rented, next door to my grandparents’, I feel lightheaded and a weird tingly sensation passes over me, a cross between goosebumps and having a foot fall asleep.
That sensation has been happening a lot since I’ve started weaning myself off the Paxil and taking a combination of Welbutrin and Effexor. My new psychopharmacologist has been a huge help in tailoring my medication to meet my needs, down to weighing the side effects of different brands. She warned me about the lightheadedness, mood swings, and other side effects of “Paxil withdrawal.” When I read about the “withdrawal” symptoms on the Internet, I freaked out. Was I addicted? Dr. Hobson patiently explained that many medications have side effects upon “discontinuation.” That did not mean I was “addicted.”
We pull in to the house. I’m a little wobbly walking in, but I’m fine. We bring our bags inside and walk over to see my grandparents. Gramps is ninety and Gram is eighty-five. I always think of the house as “her” house because her sense of décor is so strong.
Her house smells the same. Clean, airy, a particular sweet scent, not floral, not a “food” smell. I can’t put my finger on it other than to say that it’s “her” smell. Each room is decorated in either bright blue and white, or cardinal red and white. Bold modern art pieces, sculpture, paint, and prints decorate each space with a perfect sense of proportion and color.
I walk in to Gram’s bright white bedroom. Propped up in bed, she smiles. “You look so pretty. How do you get your part so straight? It’s perfect. How are you?” I want her to think I’m doing great. I don’t want her to worry. I’m happy to spend the weekend playing in the pool with Jack and the boys and watching Simon and Gus entertain her and Gramps.
But back at our place, I’m irritable with the boys and anxious that our bed set-up isn’t right. I’m worried that we don’t have Gus’s crib tent and he’ll climb out of the little porta-crib and keep us up all night. I snap at Jack for forgetting it.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asks angrily. “It will be fine. He’ll adapt.” Suddenly I’m transported back to the days when I worried obsessively over Simon’s sleep. What is wrong with me? Oh yeah.
It’s the med switch. I hope I’m doing the right thing. This feels too weird, like a step back almost. I’m so crabby all the time. Or sleepy. Or dizzy. What if I should be on the Paxil? What if I can never go off? What if I always need medication?”
Jack gently reminds me that Dr. Hobson told me to expect this. That I’d be rocky for a while.
“Have faith, Becca — you are doing this because you are strong enough to ask for more.”
The next day I watch Gram as she laughs at everything the boys do. She’s propped in a lawn chair on the back patio and Simon is blowing bubbles. Gus toddles over and tries to grab the bubble wand. “I asked Simon if I could play with him,” she giggles,” and he said, ‘I can’t right now Estie, I need my privacy.’ He sure knows exactly what he wants.”
My mom, Gram, and I steal some afternoon time. Gram is feeling energetic so we take the opportunity escort her to the Saks in Palm Desert. Gram has always loved elegant department stores. She could spend hours just looking at everything. We look at purses and she picks one out for me. I watch her looking at the lipstick at the make-up counter and stifle a chuckle. She’s had the same shade of pink for as long as I can remember.
“Running out?” I ask, eyebrow up.
“You can never have too many lipsticks. Did I ever tell you about the time I visited Aunt Mary right before she died?”
Aunt Mary was legendary in our family. She wore a bright red wig and long, flowing skirts. A solid-gold diamond-studded earring shaped like a safety pin twinkled from one of her ears. She lived in Eagle River, a small town in upstate Wisconsin. She owned a succession of little red cars, each one pretty much a copy of the others. I remember a little red Honda with dents all over it in a rainbow of hues. I would visit her up in Eagle River in between sessions of sleep-away camp. She’d drive around with her little brightly colored reading glasses perched on her nose in order to read the signs on the little highway between the camp and Eagle River. She’d slow waaay down to look at the signs. Then once we got into town and she knew where she was going she’d rev up to 50 mph on the side streets. I remember when she’d say goodbye and hop in her car. She’d always slam just a little trail of her skirt into the door and it would flutter a little wave as she drove away.
“I don’t think you ever told me about that Gram. What happened?”
“Well, it was a few weeks before she died and I visited her in the hospital. She didn’t look good at all. She motioned for me to come over to her side. She motioned to her drawer and I pulled out a notepad and a pen. I thought she was going to dictate her last words. Her voice was gravelly and soft. I had to ask her to repeat herself. She spoke up, ‘Three Passionata Pink Revlon Lipsticks.’ Very matter of fact. Just like that. I asked, ‘Why? Why three?’ And she replied, ‘You can never have too many.’ Can you imagine?”
That night I thought about Gram and Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was a blur of movement until she died when I was sixteen. Gram is the same way. She reads everything, and can converse about art, politics, movies — almost any subject. She always knows “the latest.” She never stops being interested in everything. Yet I know that she had periods of depression when my mom and her sister were children, periods which lasted through their high-school years. Somehow she must have found a way to get through it. My mom and her sister had a hard time with her while they were growing up. But for my sister, my cousin and me, she has been an incredible grandmother. She hasn’t lost her desire for life.
I hope I can be just like her.