She showers once a week, and for the next six weeks—approximately four months into our new pandemic normal—I will be the one to bathe her. Her seniors’ program has been closed for months now, and it’s time for a plan. My aunt is tired of bathing her, and it looks like this won’t be over any time soon. Though we have hope for the fall, we hope we are wrong.
Sometimes while I brush her hair I will sneak glances at her in the mirror, but it’s so solemn that usually I look away. Watching Grandma in the mirror feels like a poignant movie scene about aging, about a twenty-something and her grandmother, about death—it’s too raw.
I didn’t expect to enjoy bathing my grandma. I didn’t expect to feel closer to her than ever before. That amidst pandemic anxiety and ennui, this would be the only time I’ve felt capable, confident, good—in my body.
On my grandma’s ninety-seventh birthday, my mom asked what wisdom Grandma had for us. Grandma said, You should live a clean life. I winced. I hate the word “clean.” It’s antiseptic, scrubbed raw; it makes me think of sin and guilt and a God I don’t believe in. It makes me think I’m unclean—that Grandma would think I’m unclean if she knew. Mom replied, What does that mean? Grandma said it means many things—but won’t tell us a single one. I am suspicious she won’t elaborate because she knows we would disagree with her definition.
Arbery, who grew up in Dallas with seven sisters in a conservative Catholic milieu similar to that of “Heroes,” had always wanted to write a play...