A leg and a half

Photo Credits: Raya Abou Dargham


To my grandpa,

I popped my head from behind the old wooden door. My height was just about the door handle’s position. He summoned me in with his wrinkled hand, which I had spent moments of my childhood stretching its skin upwards in fascination of its elasticity. I ran into his arms and with one long stride landed on his lap while my mother’s voice, warning me to “take it easy on him”, played in the back of my head. If anyone had seen this greeting between a grandpa and his granddaughter it would seem like a typical, recurring point in time. However, when these individuals are removed from this conventional context, his unusual effect on me becomes clear.

Every time I would step into that old house my heartbeat increased uncontrollably not in excitement of seeing him but rather in fear. I do not pop my head from behind the bedroom door to tease him into calling my name. Checking for his presence with squinting eyes had become a way of protecting my mind from an image I had dreaded my whole life. I needed to know if he was wearing his prosthetic leg before I entered the room. The fear of seeing an amputated limb stayed with me for many years.

It was quite irrational to have this fear of seeing my grandpa’s bare legs, as he was a very clean-cut man. Frankly, I had never seen him in pajamas. Over the years, I witnessed the deterioration of a captivating mind. “Why did you do this to yourself, jedo?” the invincible question that he would never give me an answer to. I don’t blame him for his depression but at some point it became evident how self-inflicted it was. He chose to allow his work retirement to bring about his retirement from existence. I loathe his abstinence from life; and I loathe his surrender to depression.

My grandfather had a rough life growing up to say the least. His father died, before he had ever met him, leaving behind five children and a 30-year-old widowed too soon. Employed in three different jobs since his teenage years, the responsibility multiplied as he grew older and created a family of his own. His life became a series of tragedies beginning with the loss of his 12-year-old son to a cardiac arrest, to living with my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease and most recently, the passing away of his twin brother. I cannot possibly comprehend how he had stayed so resilient over the years after experiencing such downfalls. Yet, I can’t help but criticize how he has chosen to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair he doesn’t need. The family dynamic had completely changed after my grandfather chose to suddenly transform himself from a just, caring hard worker into an incompetent, careless man.

The house, which was once filled with joy and family reunions, has become a hole of darkness and misery. The door, which I had once hid behind in fear of seeing my grandfather’s amputated leg, I now hide behind in fear of his anger at God and life. He is not moved by the achievements of his grandchildren, the love of his daughters, nor my persistent interventions. He cries and wishes for his life to be taken every minute of the day because his life has become a void that cannot be filled with anything except my grandmother’s impossible recovery or his deceased son’s laughter.

“I don’t know what God is punishing me for. Despite being born with a deformity in my leg, I managed to juggle three jobs to give my children the best education.” This is how he always answers me but little does he know that this doesn’t really answer my tireless question. I had always wished to have a strong relationship with my grandfather where he would share his wisdom with me about certain experiences and I could fall asleep listening to his adventures. I have craved this connection since I was a child because I could see so much potential in the tired man who came back home late at night with his blouse still neatly tucked under his pants. I used to dream of how close we would grow as I matured and how he would put me under the spell of his charisma just by calling out my name. The fear I had of my grandfather’s leg became a fear of my grandfather himself. As a child, I never wanted to see an image of him that would alter the perfect image I had in my mind. Now, his whole being has become an imperfect image in my mind.

This summer, my grandfather passed through crippling days of sickness. I was by his side for a week calling upon nurses to maintain his hygiene and feed him. I was growing up but my grandfather was sucked back into being a toddler. He was dependent on someone to take care of his most basic needs and it broke my heart to feel the pain he was going through. Not just the physical pain, the psychological pain as well. I have a unique kind of love for him engraved in the depth of my soul. He hadn’t just touched my heart and mind as a grandfather; he had reached into my soul and taken part of it. My attachment to him is rooted in the respect I have for a man who had lived a daring life caring for six children and a wife who was present one day and absent the next. Not only was he able to give them all they desired, they lived privileged lives at the expense of his weariness and hard work. His assets can be compared to a king’s fortune, and the power of his name can be mistaken for that of a sultan in our hometown. Walking in the streets of our little town, I feel such pride in being Badih’s granddaughter. I am greeted with favoritism wherever I enter and he’s the only person I can thank for such an honored status. My grandfather was consulted in almost all political affairs of his region, and was even asked to be the mediator in most family feuds. He had lived a life that’s full in every sense. However, the past ten years had completely taken away his sense of accomplishment and left him in a hospital bed with a clock ticking under his pillow to remind him every second that he has been doing nothing. His anger at the world led him to deprive his daughters from inheriting anything. The once just man, who was called upon for familial advice, had fallen into a depression antagonistic enough to make him exclude his daughters from his will in life.  “Why jedo? Why did you do this to yourself? The rage inside you is erasing all the good you’ve done.” I call upon him again and again to no avail.

“Rasha! They forgot to cover my legs! I’m cold!” His impatient cries for help send a shivering sensation down my spine waking me up from my deep thoughts. The moment I had feared as a child has finally come. It was a test of composure and empathy. I had never seen it and he has never allowed me to see it. But now, he doesn’t care what image I have of him. Now, he doesn’t care if I see him crippled or not. Right now, he’s just a cold man calling for whoever is in his proximity to cover him up. The wooden door, the man in the suit, the wrinkled hands, they all come back to me as I pull myself together and walk towards the bed. I pull out the blanket from underneath him and spread it over his legs as if I was tucking in a child. I saw it, I saw his amputated leg and I felt no fear. I no longer have this suppressed fear of his physical disability; my only fear now resides in the disability of his mind, my grandfather’s beautiful, damaged mind.

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