I’m drunk when my mother tells me. Reclined in a lawn chair on the front balcony of some stranger’s apartment, I listen to the sounds of trashy EDM music and hammered college kids float out through the open doors and over the balmy evening air. It’s Super Bowl Sunday but I’ve already forgotten the names of the two teams playing. The bulging sun hangs low in the sky, bleed- ing streaks of gold that shimmer on the glass windows of the UCLA medical center facing me directly across the street. Below the cars whiz past, zooming and pausing in time with the flickering green and red lights. I feel my mimosa high from the morning fade as I sink deeper into the chair with jello limbs and a sleepy gaze that settles on the sun rays dancing atop the reflective tower. My buzzing pocket reawakens me to the world. I dig out my phone and read the caller ID before letting it go to voicemail. After two missed calls, and a “Please call me back when you get this” text, I sigh before dialing her number.
“Hey mom,” I say in an upbeat tone, trying to mask any
drunken slur with cheer.
“Hi Mia, sweetie, is there any way you might be able to
make it home this next weekend? I know we already talked
about it, but it’s your grandfather’s 80th birthday.”
“Yeah, I know. I just have that midterm next week. I
thought you said it’s fine if I skipped.”
“I know. It’s just, he’s not doing too well. I think you should
really try to make it, if you can. I was able to convince the
doctor’s to give him permission to leave the night of his
birthday dinner. I thought it’d be nice seeing as, well, he’s
in the late stages and I’m not sure how much longer...”
her voice peters out, swallowed by the hum of silence. I sit,
dazed, my brain processing her words in slow motion.
“What do you mean? Is everything okay?” I ask, concern
dissolving my drunken dim and pulling the world back
into a sharpened focus. The noise on the other end of the
line heightens, a scratchy gargle of uninterpretable sounds.
“Sorry honey I have to go. I’ll call you later tonight.” The
line cuts off as I hear her voice being carried in the opposite
“Shit.” I make no effort to move from the chair, watching
the sky’s deep burnt orange hue fade to darkness as the
reflection of the sun sinks on the hospital’s window wall of
The first thing I’m reminded of as we enter Sunrise Villa is
the pervasive smell of cat litter, which I find odd, seeing as
there are no cats. My parents made the decision to move
Grandpa to an assisted living center nine months after he
was first diagnosed. Grandpa was appalled at the idea. He
was still in the early stages, and found himself hardly need-
ing to be taken care of. He was 71, living alone, and to my
mother’s dismay, as irreparably stubborn as ever.
When I was a freshman in high school and still living at
home, I happened to walk in on her arguing about the mat-
ter with him over the phone one evening. I halted, hearing
the strain in her voice, and stood paused in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, but I really think this is the best decision. After
all, with mom not there to look after you, it’s got to be lone-
some living all on your own.” My mom waited, biting her
thumb nail. I pictured my grandfather’s rigid resolve gliding
across the telephone line all the way from his home in San
Diego three hours away.
“Dad,” my mom said in a pleading voice, “This isn’t something you can just ignore. It’s Alzheimer’s. It’s serious, and
it’s not going away.” I watched through the crack in the
doorway as she finished the conversation, then sat on her
bed. She rung her head in her hands and quietly began to
It’s been two years since I last visited Grandpa at Sunrise
Villa. When I left home for college, my new life consumed
me, vigorously and unconditionally. Despite being only
twenty minutes away, I rarely make it home except for holi-
days, and even then I still somehow manage to spend a good
portion of my vacations and breaks away on trips. As I wait
in the lobby with my father, I realize that there’s never been
anything significant stopping me from visiting Grandpa. I
just hadn’t ever made the time.
As Grandpa emerges shuffling towards us, the entirety of his
weight dispersed between my mother’s arm and his wooden
cane, I’m overcome with shock at how different he looks.
His body is shriveled and frail, swallowed by the clothes
that hang limply from his thin limbs. I stare at his gaunt face
and frame, and think only of bones.
“Hi Grandpa,” I say, giving him an enthusiastic but gentle
hug. He smiles at me and nods. I can tell he is happy, but
there is a mist behind his eyes that I do not recognize. He
kisses my forehead and says “beautiful.” It is the only word
he says until we sit down for dinner.
We arrive at the restaurant on the water. It’s a stunning
Italian restaurant in the Marina with towering glass win-
dows that look out onto the ocean. When I was little, we
used to come every year for Easter dinner. My Grandma
always reserved the table a month in advance for a “front
row seat to the sunset.” I always sat next to Grandpa so that
we could watch for dolphins together. I never saw a single
one, but every few minutes I would shout and point at a
shadow glimmering on the water and pretend I had just seen
a dolphin pop its head up. He always played along, acting
as though he had seen it too. His responses were so enthu-
siastic sometimes I began wondering if a dolphin actually
had appeared, and maybe I was just the one who couldn’t
see it. We stopped coming after Grandma passed away. No
one ever had the intuition or energy to make the reservation
far enough in advance, and after all, that other restaurant in
Redondo was cheaper.
I wonder if this will be my grandfather’s last time at this
restaurant. I wonder it and then immediately wish I could
take it back, but it’s too late. Thoughts don’t work like that.
Outside the waves smack hard against the shore as I stare
out the car window, feeling small.
The spaghetti slaps the checkered tile floor, a wet smack
followed by the ricochet of white ceramic shards. The room
freezes. The only movement is that of a single meatball sent
flying across the floor by the impact of the crash. It rolls
forward and comes to a stop, nudging against the toe of the
waiter’s black loafer. Heads turn as the room hushes. We are
all swallowed by the stillness.
Across the table my grandfather is standing with red sauce
oozing down the front of his white button down, blooming
across his chest like a gun wound. His chair is toppled over
behind him and his expression is perplexed.
“Where is Kathryn?” he repeats for what feels like the hun-
dredth time, though this time his voice is soft. The frustra-
tion and anger have melted, overshadowed now by blended
tones of confusion and worry. My mother leans over to the
waiter and immediately begins whispering a slur of mum-
“He has Alzheimer’s,” she explains. “He doesn’t remember.”
“Where is Kathryn?” he repeats once more. It’s no longer a
question. The words leave his lips automatically, emotion-
less, as the mist behind his eyes dissolves.
“She’s gone, dad. Mom’s gone.” My mother reaches out to
put a hand on my grandfather’s shoulder. Around us, the
gazes of other families beat down on us like burning heat
rays. I stare at my plate of carbonara, pretending not to
notice the air being sucked out of the room. I feel the strings
in my chest being pulled tight. I focus on breathing and pray
they don’t snap.
Grandpa excuses himself to the restroom.
“Check on him, Irving,” my mother fires to my father in a
voice that is her whisper-scream. “I’ll get the check.” I do
not wait for the workers to come mop up the mess, do not
wait for them to pick up the shattered pieces of our broken
I don’t hear my grandfather come up behind me as I sit on
one of the benches outside the restaurant. He takes a seat
beside me, slowly lowering himself and resting his cane
along the side of the wooden bench. I take his hand in mine
and together we sit, engulfed by the humming noise of the
ocean’s pulse, as wave after wave beats softly upon the
There is yelling. The people stare. There is shouting. I am
shouting. “Dad please, sit.” I don’t sit. “Sir,” the waiter pleads.
I don’t sit. “Where is Kathryn? I need to find Kathryn!” I hear
my voice, but do not feel the words escape my lips, do not feel
them dissolve into the air. Where is Kathryn? Where has she
gone this time? There is whispering. They are whispering and
staring, my daughter and the waiter. Secrets drip from her lips,
spilling into his ears. They won’t tell me where my Kathryn is. No
one will tell me where my Kathryn is. The waiter nods. His lips
purse. He stares into me. His face is saturated in pity. It bleeds
in the wrinkled creases near his narrowed eyes, lining his fur-
rowed brow. Recognition clicks. A wave of familiarity knocks the
wind from my lungs. It is a look I have seen countless times, an
expression inked onto countless faceless strangers. And then I
remember. Her tone is hushed, her expression pained. “He has
Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t remember.” Her words swim, slipping
through the gaps in her teeth like smoke. He doesn’t remem-
ber. I blink. The simplicity of my daughter’s words smack me in
the face. I don’t remember.
My head spins slowly on its axis. I look. The floor is littered,
spilled spaghetti, a broken plate, piercing shards of white ce-
ramic painting the checkered tiles. “Where is Kathryn?” A hun-
dred faceless figures, I do not recognize. Two faceless children
I sense that I should recognize, I know that I should recognize,
but who are just as faceless as the rest. “She’s gone,” a voice
murmurs. I lift my gaze to face my daughter. “Mom’s gone.”
A waiter, my daughter, her children, an encroaching circle of
empty eyes. Artificiality presses down on us. The cardboard fig-
ures stare. The synthetic air is stale on my tongue. He doesn’t
I excuse myself. I walk to the bathroom. The water is rain,
sliding down my cheeks. I rub my palms against closed eyes,
digging the heels deep into the papery skin, erasure. I turn the
sink off, grip the counter. I lift my gaze. I stare into the face of
a man, a father, a grandfather. Concentric circles, a hazel ring
hugs an ebony iris. My chest sinks. I wait for the day that I will
lift my gaze and look into my reflection, the day I will meet the
faceless figure of a man, a father, a grandfather that I do not
remember, faded, dissolving among the rest. I take a breath.
Today is not that day.
My daughter’s husband walks me outside, holding my arm like
a small child. I do not fuss, letting myself be held.
“I’m gonna pull the car around. Will you be alright with Mia?” he
asks. I nod in assurance, lowering myself down onto the wood-
en bench next to my granddaughter. She turns and smiles at
me, taking my hand in hers. My daughter comes up behind me
and once more places her hand on my shoulder. In the golden
light reflecting off the water, she looks so much like her mother.
I feel the worry and paranoia ebb from my bones. I allow all the
lost memories to be taken from me, pulled out to sea with the
parting waves. I sit with my beautiful family, listening to the lull
of the ocean crash, shattering upon the shore. Part of me wish-
es to speak, only to realize there is nothing that needs to be
said. The sun sinks below the horizon. The world dims to dusk. I
forget all that I do not remember. This moment is enough.