Man, where do I even start… First off, thank you God, literally, for getting my grandmother safely to and from Albuquerque this past week. She is 95 years old y’all—95! That’s five years away from 100! And she got on a plane! Technically she got on four planes total, with layovers, there and back. After the first night with her I’m blown away she’s still alive, and that’s just on the ground, without any airplanes to increase any odds of, oh I don’t know, getting sucked out of a window due to engine parts falling off. Yes, we flew Southwest. And we flew on a brand new plane on the way back!
The first night there she woke me up in the middle of the night yelling from her bedroom because she’d fallen out of her bed—and this was before we even got to the airport. I’d flown from Baltimore to my hometown in Georgia so that we could fly together the next day to visit my sister and her family out West. Grandma has been fussing to go there ever since they moved there two years ago. So there I am, deep in sleep, when I realize a couple minutes later that I’m not home in my own bed hearing some psycho couple in the parking lot yelling at each other (that happens in my hood on occasion). They seem to think no one can hear them? Or more likely they really could give a darn because they’re so angry and drunk. I never did that when I was drinking. 😉 …But then I realize it’s Grandma yelling, so I run into her room and there she is, all of four foot nine, crumpled in a little ball on the floor by her bed, struggling to get up.
“Don’t move, Grandma! I’m calling 911!” I run to go get the portable phone, dial 911, run back into her room and she’s already climbing up her bed onto her feet. She wasn’t wearing her hearing aids so she couldn’t hear a word I’d said. She has a portable toilet next to her bed in case she needs to pee in the middle of the night—she lives alone y’all!!!–and she’d knocked it over, urine all over the floor, I’m stepping all in it, cleaning it up, and she gets up like a toddler, nothing broken or fractured, business as usual. It was about 2:30 in the morning.
My dad was due to pick us up around six A.M. to drive us to the Atlanta airport, which is the busiest airport in the world, so it’s like going to Tokyo for my dad and grandma. I spent the rest of the night wondering if we should cancel the trip, surely this was a terrible mistake and what was I thinking, saying yes to taking someone who’s almost a hundred years old across the country on an airplane? She claimed her doctor said it was okay, but I was beginning to wonder if that was a lie she’d told because she was hell-bent on getting to New Mexico to see her favorite granddaughter and great grandkids. My dad shrugged it off in his usual manner, like it was an everyday occurrence. Eh she’ll be aight.
Well she seemed fine, was walking fine, nothing hurt, nothing appeared to be broken or fractured. So off we went, and on the way there my dad almost killed us by running into an 18-wheeler on the interstate, and again I’m just blown away that he and my grandma have survived this long into their lives. (Meanwhile my mother literally dropped dead one day three weeks after getting a clean bill of health from the doctor. But hey! I’m not resentful!) It’s dark outside and Daddy’s talking about how he needs to get a cataract removed, meanwhile we’re plowing full speed ahead towards a slowly-moving truck that probably has explosive gasoline in it, inching its way onto the highway, taking up all lanes right in front of my dad, and I’m like Daddy! Brakes! for the 25th time, and he’s like Oh I didn’t see it…
Grandma and I made it to the airport alive somehow, and they set her up with a wheelchair there, and a woman to push her, while I hold all of our carry-ons and purses. I’d hoped we’d get one of those ATVs they used to drive around in the airport but maybe they did away with those? I did not see them this time, but I just remembered that when I’d come back from London back in 2000, I’d had emergency eye surgery while I was over there (surprise! partially detached retina), and my mom had called the airline to ask them to help me due to my one-eyed status. They’d swooped me up as soon as I exited the plane, ready with a wheelchair, and at some point we switched to an ATV, maybe after they’d gathered my things?, and we plowed through the airport faster than an SUV-driving soccer mom (no offense, and love to all the moms out there!).
So I’d hoped we’d get the royal treatment like that this time, but that was all pre-9/11, and now it’s every woman and child for themselves, so what happened next was we got to security and all hell broke loose. I had this crazy notion that they’d allow an old lady and her granddaughter through some tunnel where all the other wheelchair-riding folks go, streamlining us ahead of everyone else, and they did put us ahead of everyone, kinda. What they do is take you through a different line and then they just park you right in front of everyone else who’s been waiting in line, right at the x-ray machine and conveyor belt, so that you have to awkwardly thrust yourself in front of some able-bodied senior citizen who is not happy you just cut in front of them. At this point Grandma is still in a wheelchair and people are everywhere okay, lines coming out the wazoo, and we’re just waiting for some direction from the wheelchair-pusher lady from Southwest with the Caribbean accent I cannot understand who’s given me no direction whatsoever so far. I’m assuming the lady will be with my grandma the whole time, so I walk through the x-ray machine, come out to the other side, turn around, and no Grandma. People streaming everywhere and still no sign of Grandma. I have lost Grandma.
So I’m looking everywhere, no sign of Grandma or the Southwest lady, and then I see her, Grandma, getting frisked by Atlanta airport security. I’m rushing up to her so she can see me, and at the same time a big tall dude with dreads yells, “Who is with this lady?”
That would be me I tell him, and he’s like, “You need to stay with her! She is very confused…”
Oh no he didn’t.
“Excuse me?” Hand flies up like talk to the hand, mister. “I thought she was with her!” I yell right back, pointing at the mean Southwest lady who’d left my grandma alone. “That’s why I called in advance (twice!) and asked for help!” I don’t even care anymore, I’m like the drunk couple in the parking lot, fighting in public for all the world to see.
Meanwhile Grandma is oblivious, thank God, and not traumatized as I am watching this whole thing. Luckily she was too dazed for it to sink in that they’d confiscated her cosmetics that for some reason she saw pertinent to bring in her carry-on. This is how I know I’m my grandmother’s granddaughter. She must’ve brought 25 different containers, several of them full-sized, of various cosmetics, because you never know when you’ll need to apply toner on an airplane? It sunk in later though, and I guarantee you she’ll never stop complaining about how they’d taken all of her Merle Norman make-up, expensive stuff too, and how she still just does not understand why they’d do that, what could anyone do with cleansing cream for gosh sakes? Are you gonna blow up the plane with that? We explained to her that since 9/11 they have to be extra careful and people can make explosives out of common household items but to her that just sounded like blah blah blah. And I don’t blame her. I’d be mad too. And I blamed myself for not helping her pack her carry-on. She hasn’t flown since 2002, and she probably doesn’t remember it.
I could go on and on in detail about all of the various harrowing experiences that followed but suffice it to say I had to help her in the airplane bathroom by standing with the door open while the flight attendant stood guard and just pray that she didn’t fall down in there or bump her head on anything.
By the time we made it to my sister Lacey’s house, Grandma and I were both worn out. Unfortunately the bed in Lacey’s spare room sits high, and Grandma had trouble getting in and out of it. Lacey, her husband and I discussed pros and cons of various sleeping arrangements: the air mattress on the floor? Take the box spring out to lower the bed? Finally we decided on the latter option, but not after Grandma had tried the air mattress, which she could not get out of, and Mark had to pick her up out of it. At one point later the next day Grandma decided to get on the air mattress anyway, and Mark had to come to her rescue again.
That night after we got Grandma safely in bed, Lacey and I just looked at each other, shaking our heads. Sigh. This was a terrible, terrible mistake.
To be continued…