Love and Loss

Anne Francesca Smith

Personal Statement

Anne Francesca is a late-start college student with a plethora of successes and failures. Whether through personal loss, such as the passing of her grandmother, academic struggles, financial hardships, or within personal relationships, she attempts to find balance between loss and love in life.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. I raced myself to devour the words on the pages as fast as I could. However, despite being consumed with ideas and stories for books I could never quite form the right words. I could always comprehend material, but I was squeezed tightly between being an avid reader possessing the imagination for a story and the struggle of trying to form the right sentence structure to convey my thoughts. As I reader I would become engrossed in a story and transported into a new world. In contrast, whereas when I attempted to write, it was blocky, unconnected and strung loosely together in an unorganized heap of thoughts and emotions. I was so dedicated to books that my local librarians knew me by name for attempting to check over the allowed limit with each visit. I had my library card number memorized and the hold shelf always had a colorful tag, or five, peeking out of the shelves with my name typed out in neat print. Everything of paper became a potential bookmark and book stores became an almost impractical luxury with how quickly I would fly through any new material. I particularly recall being sick in the fifth grade, reading through the dictionary in an attempt to show my mother how badly I needed new reading material.

My grandmother in particular nurtured my love for reading. She would lend me “Encyclopedia Brown” mysteries novels where I would attempt to solve the case halfway through the story. I loved to put together clues and foreshadowing that I picked up on so easily. I have memories of listening to “Hank the Cow Dog” on audio cassette in her older Toyota Carolla while she drank diet Pepsi, lecturing me on how bad it is for you. I recall the afternoon trips to Third Place Books after being treated to a lunch out I would have never ordinarily received, being one of seven children. She made me feel special, as though we had a secret it was just the two of us in on. I remember biking to the library on the weekdays, loading up my freshly emptied school bag with everything that would fit. This continued for years up until my grandmother suffered her stroke. We both changed after that, mere shells of who we used to be.

It was in my sophomore year of high school when my father sat us down to tell us the stroke had occurred. After that I noticed, my reading had begun to subside. My parents sheltered me from what that type of stroke truly meant. I thought it was something where with a little rehabilitation and physical therapy, she would be back to driving me out and about on our special trips once again. But my grandmother never did end up in the driver’s seat again. She wasn’t expected to live past the first week, or month, or year. However, she was determined to walk again she was determined to succeed and to have me succeed. My grades dropped and spirits plummeted after that year. But not her, she was determined to go back to school and finish her masters. She urged me to apply for the FAFSA and to go into college. Getting through high school was enough of a battle for me, I so declined.

My Grandmother rode horses in her rehabilitation plan, began to work on using a walker, attended physical therapy, but continued to fight a battle she slowly lost over the next five years. I don’t remember how it started exactly, but I remember pushing the doubts aside in my mind. The woman who could do all that was slowly slipping away. She would call at all hours, asking me why I hadn’t arrived for plans we had never scheduled. I was trapped at work for many of these calls. She was trapped in the past. I was no longer her granddaughter. Maybe it was because our names both started with the same letter or maybe it was because I reminded her of my great grandmother: Arlene. But for the last two years of her life, in these phone calls my grandmother began to believe she was talking to her deceased mother.

It began simply enough. A call here or there to complain about something my father supposedly did to exasperate her. But there was always something that stood out. Why was she referring to him in such a juvenile way? Why would my father choose to kick his adult brother out of his room? It eventually dawned on me that she was stuck in the years she had told me stories about. Except this time, I was part of them, I was her mother guiding her through her son’s troubles in school. I became, to her, the guiding figure she had been for me all those years.

Only later, after the funeral, did I find out that I was the only one who had experienced those calls. Of course, everyone else had their own experiences with her dementia but nothing quite so personal or heartbreaking. In a way, she shared with me a new type of togetherness. We could not have those day trips to the library or the bookstore anymore, but she shared with me snippets of her life she had held onto. She told me the story of her life from her first-person point of view. If time travel is real, I have seen it. To be with someone as they are living their past life in the current moment is proof enough. In all those books I had read, nothing came close to the emotional response I had to her life’s story. No novel could compare to the nights I had spent crying after hanging up the phone because she wasn’t the same person I remembered.

In a way she shared with me her life’s story through an unknown glimpse into her life and I suppose I am doing the same now. I would likely not be graduated from high school or enrolled in this class today if not for her. The day she died was the day I applied for school. The first thing my great uncle spoke to me about at her wake was how proud she would have been of me for starting college. She shared with me the struggles of a mother, a wife and a student I would never have known about if it were not for those calls. I’m not the same carefree person who could check out thirteen books and logically expect to have them completed by the same time next week. I worry about bills—but I read when I have time. When the chores are done and the work is complete and I won’t have to get up early, I may allow myself the luxury of reading for pleasure. I have grown up.

When we get older, we have responsibilities, bills, car payment, mouths to feed. There isn’t time for reading for pleasure, unless you’ve made it. At least that is what I believed for years. I take time again to myself; I try to schedule those moments I can lose myself in my passions. I have a way to go until I have time to read again without sense of impending dread. I still have the last gift she ever gave me. “The Girl on the Train” a mystery and suspenseful novel of a woman fighting to unravel the answers to questions no one else wanted to face. I loved that book, it brought back the reading-under the-covers while hoping not to be caught up late with a book adrenaline. She got me excited about books again. My grandmother was able to read without schedule, she could do it all. I have only myself to lead now. I may be disconnected from the world of literature I once ran to with reckless abandon. However, now without her I try to make it there when I can.


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The Lion's Pride, Vol. 15 Copyright © 2022 by Anne Francesca Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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