Before I had a say in the matter, my weekends were dedicated to being with her. The quaint apartment became my part-time home. As years past, our adoration for one another grew stronger. The routine would start with my mother dropping me off on Friday evenings. I never realised that she followed me through the door, carrying my small baby pink backpack filled with my sleepover essentials. By then I had already scurried my way through the door like a playful puppy. Ninety-nine percent of the time my baba could be found hunched over a tall stainless steel pot of boiling borscht. I always joked that she needed to get a stool. From afar it looked like she didn’t have arms, as she stirred the mixture it appeared that her short stubby arms were boiling as well. All in a commotion I would announce my entrance “Baba! Baba! Here I am!”. She was the only person I found safe to be myself around, not an ounce of shyness present. She faced me with a smile only angels could carve, the young wrinkles under eyes lifted as a gleam in her eyes shined. Her hair had been recently permed. White tight curls crowned upon her head like a halo. To me she always looked like an angel.
She’d put down the ladle, and before her arms even opened up I already squeezed my body through the gap into her embrace. The aroma of cabbage, carrots, fresh picked dill, and heavy cream wrapped around us like a warm blanket. The vapours tickled beneath my nose and teased my stomach. In a silent agreement, we were both ready for a bowl of the borscht. Without asking I’d graced my way to the cream coloured drawers and retrieve two tablespoons and a butter knife. I set them on the violet, hand crochet placemats that rested on the white oval kitchen counter. As I did that, she would cut us two pieces of bread from a loaf she had baked that morning. Following that she would grab two of her watercolor flower glasses and fill them with peach iced tea. A straw placed in each one. As we both sat down for our meal her soft palm would grasp my tiny hand as she recited The Lord’s Prayer, in English but her accent laced throughout.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.
Dinner was followed by the washing of our dishes. She did this while I played with the toys she kept for me. My favourite was a small gingerbread man stuffy. He was the softest, which at that age I greatly appreciated. I always used him as a character in my playtime stories. Once the kitchen was cleaned it was my turn. My baba would give me a luxury bubble bath. I never thought it was for my hygiene, I thought it was to soothe me. She made it like a spa treatment with a rich smell of lavender. Her hands would caress my scalp as she washed my hair, making me feel as light as a feather. I still believe she was a hairdresser in a past life because the way she would massage and rinse the suds from my ringlets always had me dozing off.
Once dried and dressed in warm cotton pajamas, I was placed upon her grand bed. It was cloud straight from heaven that my body would sink into. As we snuggled close together she would continue to soothe me by telling me a fairy tale. It was always Cinderella but her own version. She would call it the Russian version because instead a glass slipper being tried on, the prince tasted different kinds of borscht. Obviously Cinderella’s borscht was always the best. Before sleep crept up I would whisper “I love you” but it was loud enough for her. Before sleep reached her she would respond with “…And I love you”.
I reminisce this routine as sadness places a hand on my shoulder. I find nothing cozy about this retirement home. My baba’s final residency. There’s nothing to sugarcoat. The place is bleak. I could swear the thermostat is broken because the moment I enter her room a cold sweat embraces me. It’s nothing but a shoebox with minimum belongings. One wooden dresser of clothes, a shelf with a vase of roses my mom brought, and a collage board of her favourite pictures. Oh how I miss her garden and pictures in frames. The gingerbread man I once played with now rests on her small bedside table. As well as a clear plastic cup of water. With a straw in it.
I lay beside her careful of my fidgeting movements on a small bed. Nothing about it reminds me of a cloud, it’s more like a stone. I murmur our tale of Cinderella. Her eyes drooped close and small specs of crust rest beneath her wrinkled, aged eyes. I carefully wipe them away and place a kiss on her clammy forehead and tell her I love her. It takes longer than it use to, but I still get a “…And I love you”. She drifts into her afternoon nap so I grab a chair and curl up beside the bed. Due to her Parkinson’s her right leg starts to shake. I place a gentle but firm hand upon it. Now it only slightly quivers.
She still hasn’t forgotten who her favourite great-grandchild is. Not even her state of dementia has taken that away from her. I wish had the answer to why that is, but I like to believe it’s because we hold each other closer in our hearts than our minds. Our bond is something I will never take for granted. The one thing that will always bring me an immense feeling of love. What does bring me heartache is knowing she is unhappy here. My heart syncs to hers in sadness. Knowing that she spends her days helpless and in pain. Her time is coming. I know I still have heartbreak and tears ahead, but I know that I’ll forever be her favourite. She’s forever going to be my angel, and in my heart.