Over the weekend I went to see my parents, and we stopped by the nursing home to spend an hour with my grandpa. Every weekend my parents go to the Chinese market to buy a takeout container of soupy rice noodles with roasted duck, to bring to Gong-Gong for lunch. The fatty duck and starchy noodles are certainly not included in his healthful nutritionist-determined regular diet, but at this point, who cares? And he never gets sick of the dish, because he never remembers afterward that he’s eaten it. I hate eating anything with lots of bones, but Gong-Gong has no problem maneuvering them around his mouth and spitting them out. He knows what’s good, too; once my parents were in a rush and had to go to a different market where the food is of lower quality, and Gong-Gong commented on the taste.
On Sunday when we arrived at the home, my mom was already there and had set Gong-Gong up in the courtyard with a portable table and his meal. The path to the home’s entrance runs right by the low wall of the courtyard, so as I walked by I was able to see right into it. Gong-Gong saw me and broke out into a joyful smile. I grinned and waved. Whatever his current understanding of my name or relationship, in his heart he definitely knows who I am. When I got inside, I seated myself across from him so I could smile at him freely.
As I wrote in the last post about my grandparents, Gong-Gong is on Lexapro these days. The drug makes him docile, consistently good-natured. It’s a mixed influence, to be sure. My grandpa has always been one of the sunniest people I’ve known (he’s probably the genetic source of my own cheerful optimism), but he’s fiery too, a determined Dragon. The whole reason he’s on Lexapro is that he used to get cranky and lash out at people — inasmuch as an elderly, slightly confused, mostly sedentary person can lash out — and the nursing home said he had to be given medication. From what I could see in my short visit, the drug has taken away his fire and replaced it with mellowness. It’s good, because he’s clearly happy and relaxed, and yet — he’s missing a vital part of his nature, and I’m sad about that. But I’m not the one who’s there day in and day out.
I sat there watching Gong-Gong eat his duck and noodles, and suddenly wanted very badly to capture him as he was in that moment. It makes sense. Life has already stripped away his livelihood, his belongings, his autonomy, his mobility, and his intellect; and now the drug has subtracted his fight and feistiness too. What else will be gone, next time I see him?
Thankfully I’ve taken to carrying around my colored pencils, so I brought them out and opened my sketchbook. I’ve noticed before that I don’t really see things until I’ve drawn them. With pencils moving across the page, I observed more clearly the gentle drape of Gong-Gong’s aged skin, the soft wispiness of his hair, the firm set of his mouth.
They’re not the best sketches because Gong-Gong didn’t hold still, of course, but they do (especially the second one) capture something of him. And best of all, he liked them.