A preternaturally articulate toddler, who requested he be identified only as “Thor,” has revealed the answer to an age-old research question of child development experts: Why do toddlers scream when placed on the laps of elderly relatives?
The reason is quite logical. “It’s a bloody terrifying glimpse of the future,” stated Thor, who recently completely lost his shit when his mother lifted him up to put him on the lap of his wheelchair-bound great-grandmother at Shady Pines Nursing Care Center.
“First of all, the place smelled like mashed carrots, feces, and despair, which I remember distinctly from my fourth month of life,” Thor explained. “Then they wanted me to touch that sad, shriveled woman. It was too much. Her eyes were blank. She was supposed to know who we were, but she didn’t.”
Thor went on to say that his family was visiting only because they felt obligated, having declared his great-grandmother “the most obstinate human being on earth,” “spiteful,” and “vicious.” “Apparently, she has piss in her veins,” said Thor. “I don’t know what that means, and I’m not sure if it’s catching, but I didn’t touch her just in case.”
After the visit, Thor’s mother told him, “Don’t be afraid. Everyone gets old.” While it was intended to be comforting, this statement caused Thor to throw himself to the ground and begin screaming again. He continued to be distressed even after she calmed him down a second time and said something eloquent about personal choice trumping genetic determinism and the fullness of life tempering the ineluctable march of time.
The toddler known as Thor reports that although he still plays with Legos, he spends most of his time dreading a visit to Shady Pines and anticipating a future in which he is physically and mentally crippled and completely alienated from other human beings.
(commentary for the curious or really bored)
This is the darkest satire I have ever written. I wanted to write about my estranged, ailing grandmother without lapsing into the sentimental. The piece is based on a real incident from a few weeks ago. On the rare times I visit my grandmother, I am struck by the profundity of her decline. She has been wheelchair-bound from severe osteoporosis for several years, and she has a slowly-progressing type of dementia, so it’s not that she changes that much between visits. It’s that for me, each visit magnifies the difference between the woman I’m visiting and the woman I once knew as my grandmother.
On the day my parents and I take my son to visit her, when she sees me, she exclaims, “Oh look! It’s Juanita!” Juanita is her name. She’s called me that more than once, an uncomfortable reminder of how alike we are, of how I am an indisputable inheritor of her genes. Of her anxiety, which I still struggle to accept. I don’t want to be reminded even of the good things, like her eyes and her beautiful singing voice. Because when someone is so elementally a part of you, how do you exist without them?
As I sit there, I feel like I’m sinking into the past, into this hole, and if I go all the way down I’ll be back before I even existed. My mother says, “I heard you ate two breakfasts this morning!” We talk to old people as if they were children, and it hurts my heart. My grandmother nods. J. is fussy and clamoring for the Goldfish he sees peeking out of the diaper bag. “Bananas?!” my mother says. “Two bananas? I can’t feature you eating bananas.”
I think, She likes them sliced very thin, sprinkled with sugar, and eaten like cereal in a bowl of milk. It’s the same way I eat bananas, the only way I eat them. Then I realize that she did not eat them that way that morning because no one else would know it was the right way, and maybe she didn’t even remember herself.
That’s when my dad tries to put J. on my grandmother’s lap, and he cries and struggles. He does what I want to do, what I’m already doing on the inside.
Photo credit: morgueFile.com