By Jazmin Garcia
Elena steps out from her home into the backyard and closes the sliding glass door behind her. Sporting her gardening best, she’s ready to tackle the rose bush she’s been avoiding. In the distance, Elena can hear worship music blaring from a home nearby to hers. She smiles at the thought that people can hold on to their faith so passionately during times like these.
The sky is bright blue and not one cloud disrupts the peaceful aura that enwraps the city below it. The birds are chirping, traffic is at an all-time low and if you listen close enough you can hear the bubbly laughter of children playing in their yards- something they haven’t done since technology stole that from their generation.
She glances over to the playground her and her husband built for their daughter Lily. Lily sits at the top of the playground’s roof talking over the white picket fence to her friend Abigail.
“Lily, you know I don’t like it when you sit up there.”
Lily’s head snaps around, startled by her mother’s presence.
Her face breaks into a smile, “I know mom but look!”-she points towards the fence-
“Abigail and I found a way to play together out back while social distancing.”
Social distancing, the two words that seem to flood Elena and everyone else’s minds daily. Ever since a pandemic swept over the entire world, these two words are their holy grail and the hope that by following its pronounced order to “social distance,” the world might somehow go back to the way it was.
“Okay my love, but please be careful.”
She smiles at Lily then shouts over the fence, “Hello Abigail! How are you and your parents?”
“We’re good, Mrs. Delgado! Mom has been doing a lot of yoga because she says dad raises her blood pressure. I learned how to do a front flip on the trampoline too!”
Elena chuckles at this. She knows Lily’s father William being home 24/7 from work is probably driving Amy crazy. Amy would always come over and say “If he comes home one more time with some crazy idea, I am going to lose my mind, Elena! He works on each idea for 2 weeks and swears it’s his way out of corporate and then just moves on to the next thing! It’s ludicrous.” Amy loves William but Elena knows it’s just what comes with marriage. In marriage, people evolve and what they want shifts, but the one thing you’re sure of is the love. If you’re sure of the love, you adjust to everything else.
“That’s amazing, Abigail! Keep practicing and tell your mom to call me if she needs to vent.”
Elena heads towards the rose bush in the corner of their yard when she hears the sliding glass door open behind her. She turns around and sees her husband Grayson just inside the doors pale white and horror-stricken. Elena doesn’t need him to say anything for her to begin running towards him.
“What happened?” Elena said.
Tears fill his eyes, “My grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They believe she caught the virus. Honey, I don’t think she’s going to make it. We need to drive to Georgia.”
Elena erupts into tears and holds her husband. Elena loves his grandmother. Sweet, beautiful Maria. Her husband’s favorite person on the entire planet and while they knew this moment would come one day, they never thought it would be quite like this. Grayson’s knees are weak as his head finds Elena’s chest.
She rubs his hair and whispers through her tears, “I’m so sorry honey, I’m so sorry.”
Elena calls Lily inside and tells her what happened. Lily being just shy of 7 years old doesn’t quite understand loss in its entirety but she’s learning what it is through the faces of her parents.
They all head upstairs and begin to pack. Elena overhears Grayson on the phone discussing the conditions with his parents.
“What do you mean we can’t go inside to see her?”
Elena comes around the corner to their walk-in closet and rests her back on the door frame-listening.
“I will break down the damn doors if I have to, they aren’t keeping me from her.”
The pandemic. The virus. Elena completely forgot.
“I just don’t understand. You know what? I am packing my bags now, and we will be there in a few days, bye.”
Grayson turns around and sees Elena standing there. His eyes scream anger and defeat.
“They’re saying that I won’t be able to see her. Not even my parents can. She’s all alone, Elena. She is all alone and she’s going to die alone.”
Grayson cries and this time it’s unrestrained wailing that almost sounds like roaring. A grieving man isn’t the same as a woman, it’s more ferocious when it reaches the surface. She drops to the ground where he is and rubs his back.
“This is horrible, Gray. I’m so sorry. I don’t think I’ve processed it all.”
Elena’s eyes well up with tears. She knows what she has to say, but she is fearful of saying it.
They pack up their SUV with their luggage and cooler. Elena straps in Lily in the backseat, and then enters herself through the passenger side door. Grayson hops in the driver’s side, buckles himself and begins to back out of the driveway. Elena knows she has to say something, and it’s now or never.
Grayson looks at her and puts his foot on the brake. He knows that tone of voice and it can’t be something good.
“Gray. Why are we going to Georgia?”
Grayson’s eyes go dark.
“What do you mean why are we going to Georgia Elena? My grandmother is dying that’s why.”
“Please don’t get angry with me. There is a pandemic out there. Every time we stop to get food, stay at a hotel, or get gas, we are risking exposure. Masks and gloves can’t guarantee we don’t get sick.”
Grayson doesn’t know where she is going with this.
“Elena this is my grandmother.”
“Honey, I know. I had to give you some time to process this, but your mother is over sixty, immune-compromised and we are not allowed to see your grandma either. Are we thinking this through?”
“Yeah, Elena, that might be true, but when does this end then, huh? What do we do? Just live in fear forever? I don’t plan on letting that hospital tell me I can’t visit, and I’ll wear a mask around my mom.”
“Grayson. The virus spreads through the eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s nasty, and there is a probability we will bring it home with us. We are on the other side of the country; this isn’t down the street. The hospitals are only doing this to protect the immune-compromised and to stop the spread. They aren’t doing it to hurt us.”
“Elena get out of the car and take Lily with you.”
Lily begins protesting and crying profusely. She doesn’t know what is happening and it frightens her.
“Guys stop! We all go together!”
“No Lily, your mother is right, you guys can get sick, so problem solved.”
“No, problem not solved, Grayson. You can’t go home and risk exposing yourself or your loved ones. You don’t want to have to attend a funeral for more than one!”
“ELENA GET OUT NOW!” Elena shocked from his abrupt yelling unbuckles her seat belt and then heads to the back and unbuckles Lily who tries to hold on to the seat’s headrest.
“Lily let go.”
“No! Dad can’t go alone. I want to see grandma too!”
Elena grabs Lily’s fingers and gently unhinges them from the headrest. Elena then looks into the car at Grayson, “You know, we love her too, Gray. I am broken for you… and us. I am only trying to keep things from getting worse for all of us. That’s all.”
Grayson ponders over what he’s just heard, “I’ll call you when I get to my first rest stop. I love you.” He reverses without another thought and disappears into the night, leaving Elena and Lily embracing in the driveway.
As Grayson drives towards the highway, he reminisces on all of the memories with his grandmother. When he was a little kid, she would always take him to the park after school. While he played, they waited for the ice cream truck to come around to both get their usual- a scoop of vanilla. Then they’d walk home through his grandmother’s sketchy neighborhood where she was one of the few respected. Maria didn’t just know the gang-members by name; they also helped with her groceries. Grayson chuckles at that thought. His grandmother wasn’t afraid of anything. Her favorite thing was to look at Gray and say, “Yo soy Fuerte (I am strong),” then she’d wink at him. But she didn’t have to tell him; he already knew she was the strongest woman in the world.
As time passed, he began to think about his mother who spends the majority of her life in the hospital with Lupus. She was constantly ill, and he was always afraid to lose her.
Then Elena and Lily came to his mind. His greatest blessings. His legacy. He remembered leaving them there on the driveway.
Then it hit him.
Maybe on his way to Georgia, he would contract the virus from a gas pump, or while using the restroom at a rest stop or from a person giving take-out orders in the drive-through. Could he live with himself if his mother caught the virus after he’d arrived? What if he brought it home to Elena and Lily? Grayson overwhelmed with emotion pulls to the side of a back road and puts the car in park. He lays his head on the steering wheel.
“Dear God, please, if you can hear me, tell me what the hell to do.”
Elena bathes Lily and scrubs her hair. Lily turns around and leans her head back in her mom’s hand while the water from the bath faucet strips all of the soap away.
“Mommy. Will I get to say bye to Grandma?”
Elena thinks of the right thing to say.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Hopefully, the nice people at the hospital taking care of her will find a way to let us all say bye.”
Lily’s eyes fill with tears once again, “I hate social distancing.”
“Me too baby, me too.”
Lily steps out of the tub and Elena places a towel around her. As they round the corner from the bathtub to her room, they see Grayson sitting in Lily’s bed.
Lily runs to embrace her father still damp from her bath. Elena looks at them and finally takes a deep breath. She walks over to them and they all intertwine in a group hug.
“It will be okay, Gray. We will get through this together.”
Grayson hangs onto her words as if it’s the only thing keeping him from drowning.
The next morning Elena and Lily dress in their Sunday best and head down to the kitchen table.
“You guys ready?”
Grayson looks at both Elena and Lily as they come to join him. They nod in agreement, and Grayson opens his laptop. He joins a group video chat, and immediately the three of them are greeted by the rest of his family. His mother, Lisa, and father, Antonio, who visibly haven’t slept, sit on their couch at home. His sweet grandmother Maria who is accompanied by a nurse, is in her hospital bed. They were all silent on the line waiting for Grayson to join while his grandmother was resting with her eyes closed.
“Hi, Abuelita. It’s me, Grayson.”
Maria’s eyes flutter open. She’s mustered every ounce of strength for this moment, with her only grandson.
“Oh, my sweet boy. Have you guys eaten?”
Everyone chuckles at this. Grandmothers always make sure everyone’s fed.
“Yes, Abuelita, we ate.”
“How come they won’t let you guys come see me? I don’t like the hospital. It’s so sad here.”
“It’s the virus mamá, because of the virus, everyone has to be separate,” Lisa replies.
“That’s right… Well, the Lord is with me.”
“And I’m here with you. We all are,” Grayson says softly as everyone begins smiling and waving to Maria.
“Hi Grandma, it’s me, Lily! I love you.”
“Hello, baby. I love you so much.”
“We want you to know it’s okay to rest, Abuelita. We know you are so tired.”
“Yes, I am. I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“Lisa?” whispers Maria.
“I love you. You be good, okay?”
“Always. I’ll always be good.”
Emotion floods Maria’s eyes, for the first time in her life she’s afraid of what’s to come. She wipes a single tear away knowing she has to muster the courage to be the strong woman they’ve always known.
“Yo soy Fuerte (I am strong).”
Maria sends Gray one last wink through his screen. Grayson couldn’t muffle any words from the impact of the phrase they’ve shared over a life together that wasn’t long enough. Maria’s eyes glaze over, and everyone can no longer hold back tears. Maria held on for this moment alone.
“She has passed,” reveals the nurse as she gently let’s go of Maria’s hand. “I am so sorry to end this call. There is someone else who needs to say goodbye to their loved one. Again, I am so sorry.”
Grayson gathers the strength to say, “Thank you, thank you for letting us say bye.”
The nurse smiles sadly and says, “It’s the least I could do. Take care” and cuts their video.
Grayson looks to his parents, “We had to say goodbye through the screen. I need some air.”
Grayson heads out back and Elena says goodbye to his parents on his behalf and offers them her condolences. She then joins Grayson sitting out back with Lily. Elena looks up at the sky, expecting it to look the way they feel, but instead, it seems the same as it did yesterday. Bright blue, not a cloud in the sky, no sound of cars in the distance, birds chirping and children playing. The world was unashamed and unbothered, uncomfortably pushing them to move at its pace, but Elena knew behind the doors of people’s homes, they couldn’t be the only ones in pain. It was odd, she thought, feeling one with people you’ve never known.
“Do you think Grandma got all of her treasures?”
“What do you mean?”
“She used to tell me that she didn’t need anything on Earth because God had all of her treasures stored for her in heaven.”
Elena and Grayson can’t help but smile at their daughter, overwhelmed that such a small being knows the right things to say.
“I believe so, Lily. I believe so.”
Wrapped up in feelings of joy, sorrow, confusion, and hope, Elena joins the two of them on the ground, as they gaze up into the sky. At this moment, they are grateful for one thing- each other.