It was the second time 14-year-old Katy had been alone in the house with her grandfather since his stroke. Somehow that gave her permission to grieve as never before. She cried off and on for a half hour.
Katy's grandma had been nice, but she had died when Katy was three, so she didn't remember her so well. But grandpa had been such a wonderful grandparent. Whenever Katy and her family arrived for a visit, he would give the brightest smile and the warmest hug, and he always had some interesting gift. He listened attentively to the stories she had to tell -- unlike her sister Joan and her mom and her dad, who got tired of them pretty soon or didn't pay attention. He took her and Joan to the zoo and the amusement park. His stories about his past were always interesting. And while her whole family was devout, there was something about grandpa's voice as he said grace that really spoke of a deep belief. And when grandpa looked at her, it just felt like pure warmth and pure love.
Grandpa was 73 years old and going strong when the stroke hit. That was four months ago. Katy's mom had explained what that meant, about his brain not working right. Katy's uncle Paul lived near grandpa, and he and Aunt Judy did most of the visiting. Katy's family had made the four-hour drive on two separate weekends. It had been so sad to see him in the hospital with tubes and machines all over.
As time went on, they gave up hope of him making a recovery. He'd need people to look after him for the rest of his life. The two sons wanted to keep him out of a nursing home if they could. So he'd gone home with Aunt Judy and Uncle Paul. But after two months the grown-ups all decided it was time for him to come live with Katy's family for a few months before switching back. So here he was.
The plan was not to leave grandpa alone for too long at a time. Both of Katy's parents worked. An aide came in during the mornings, but she was expensive. Katy had bible study after school on Tuesday and Thursday, while Joan had it the other days. So one or the other of them was free every afternoon and they had the weekday afternoons covered so the aide could go home. Between 3:30 and 5:30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday grandpa was her responsibility.
The sad part was that he was so seriously disabled. He couldn't communicate and he couldn't move any of his muscles, except the reflexes of swallowing and breathing. His eyes would sometimes focus on something, but it was unpredictable. He certainly couldn't move his eyes to the left for "yes" and the right for "no". No one really knew what he was thinking or if his thoughts made any sense. He lay there on his bed, breathing and occasionally looking at something random, but he couldn't do anything.
And that's why Katy had been crying, thinking about this wonderful grandpa who was reduced to practically nothing.
There was one possible bridge across the chasm, however. There was a new experimental device. The doctors had implanted a few electrodes in grandpa's brain, and the signal they got out indicated how happy or sad grandpa was. It was hooked up to a red digital display, but it also made a simple beep that came every few seconds. The higher the pitch, the happier he was. When he heard the voice of one of his sons or granddaughters, the beep went up. If he was hungry and they gave him some food, the tone would go up. When he was full it would go down again so they knew to stop. A falling tone had told them that he really didn't like apple sauce. Although he had been a very devout man, hearing passages from the bible or churchy organ music made the tone fall. He didn't get anything out of being touched or having his hand held.
The first time they'd been alone together, she'd tried playing her newest violin piece. She was a little bit hurt to discover after just a few measures that the red numbers were falling dramatically. She tried singing and found that "America the Beautiful" got a modest rise. "Our God Our Help In Ages Past" got a falling tone so she quit that in a hurry. "Yesterday" by the Beatles did better than "America the Beautiful". "Brown-Eyed Girl" did even better, which amused Katy.
Last time she'd thought of it like a game, seeing what could make the tone go up. But this time as she was crying it struck her that it wasn't a game at all. This tone was the last bridge to grandpa, and it indicated his actually being sad or a little bit happy. She realized that his tone had gone down a little when she started crying, and she felt bad about that. But she couldn't help herself.
So here she was a half hour later. She'd had only occasional sniffles the last few minutes, so she felt she was done with crying. "It's OK, grandpa, I feel better now." The tone went up a little bit.
"Maybe I can read some more? You seem to like the sound of my voice. I brought 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'." OK, she knew, it was a dumb kids' story, but that's what she wanted to read. Maybe grandpa would recognize it from his own childhood.
She seated herself in a chair right beside his bed, facing up towards the head. The tone went up at first but began to fall again. Her mom had told her she'd go crazy thinking she was a failure if the tone wasn't always high. She thought it was still up a little bit from its baseline, so she kept reading. She realized as she read that an old story like this was comforting when the world didn't make sense.
Suddenly his tone started going up way more than usual. Surely it wasn't the mention of porridge! She then realized that in her shifting around to get comfortable she had put her right foot up on the bed and given him a clear view right up her skirt! And that's exactly where his eyes were focused.
She quickly restored her modesty, and the tone fell again. What an embarrassing idea, that grandpa would be happy looking up her dress! Maybe it was a glitch in the equipment. She went back to reading, and his tone was definitely below average (the meter confirmed that, since they all knew 2.7 was average). Grandpa's eyes were still fixed on her midsection. She was intrigued. She couldn't resist, just as a tiny experiment, crossing her legs. The tone went up briefly. Then she opened her legs a bit while keeping the dress in place, and the tone went up. When she lifted the one leg to give him a clear view again, the tone went way up once more. When she restored her modesty, it fell.
Katy put the book down to think. As far as they could tell, grandpa couldn't understand language. Still, she had to talk to him. Maybe he got something out of tone of voice. "Grandpa!" she said. "Do you really like to see what I think you do?" There was no change in the tone.
Katy's family was part of a very strict religious community. They went to a special cooperative school so they wouldn't be corrupted by all the sinful people. They only watched religious TV. But Katy was aware of the outside world. When they took a trip in the car, she saw all kinds of billboards with half-naked people. In summer the people they saw inside the other cars wore shorts and T-shirts or sometimes just bathing suits, which looked like fun. But she wasn't quite sure what to think since she knew they were all going to hell.
Returning to the situation with grandpa, Katy had been taught from a very young age that it was very important not to let anyone see her chest or between her legs. She had to stay modest at all times. Now she paused to reflect on that prohibition and what it meant.
A couple years before, she'd been frightened to wake up with blood on her panties. Her mother had acted very uncomfortable as she brusquely explained that this was normal and she'd have to wear these special sanitary pads a few days every month. Fortunately her sister Joan was two years older and had been a little bit more helpful and whispered furtively to her about what she could expect in more practical terms, including cramps (yuck). She already knew that that part of her anatomy was shameful and she should only touch it to clean it. There were already two dirty things that came out down there, and now there was a third. There was also something about babies coming out down there, but that didn't make any sense. While occasionally women changed clothing in the same room, she must never let men or boys see that part of her. God would be angry. She also had got this feeling that actual bad things could happen if men or boys saw her down there, but she didn't know what.
She thought about letting grandpa look up her dress. It was wrong of her. But then grandpa was the holiest man she knew and it made him happy; surely he couldn't like something that God didn't. She knew she could get into big trouble if anyone found out, but grandpa could never tell, and no one else would be home for an hour. Even if he weren't such a devout man, grandpa certainly couldn't do bad things to her. Should she let him look or not? The bad parts didn't really seem to apply, but the good part of making grandpa happy was clear. It was very confusing.
She once again gave him a good clear view between her legs up to her panties, and the tone went up. She felt a thrill. Partly it was the thrill of the forbidden, but there was something else too. She found it exciting that someone would be happy looking at her panties. Not just 'someone', too. A male someone.
Even though letting a man see her panties was terrible, panties were also protection. One reason girls and women wore panties all the time was that if in a moment of disarray a man saw up there, far better he see panties than what was inside them! So maybe if you were trying to make your grandpa happy, it was better instead of worse?
.... There is more of this story ...