My grandfather had just turned fourteen years old when he walked into his father’s study and said, “Dear Father, I wanted to let you know that I’m leaving.”
His progenitor didn’t even raise his head from the book he was reading, and just asked, “Where to?”
“I’m joining the revolution!”
The extremely concerned adult immediately raised his head, forgot about his book, and turned to him, so that he could gaze at him directly. He took the pipe out of his mouth, which remained agape, while he was contemplating his son up and down, with that same motion repeated more than once. You see, the young teen was fully dressed in full revolutionary garb (two bandoliers across his chest, sombrero, spurs, a rifle, etc.), and that was no laughing matter in those days, since many 14, 13, and even younger kids were already actively fighting.
His Elder, a savvy and shrewd man, who already had one 20-year old involved in the same war, used an old Mexican strategy: “Have you thought clearly and deeply about this action you’re...about to take, and...how it would affect your poor Mum?”
This motherly approach took the Youngster by surprise: one’s mother’s feelings are a very delicate subject for a Mexican of any age. The kid thought for a little while, took his sombrero off, slowly rubbed his chin, and then replied: “But...Enedino is already over there...fighting, and-”
“Enedino is six-years older than you. You’re quite young and losing you to that war could...hurt your dear mother immensely.”
My grandfather pondered, once more, upon his mum’s feelings, bit his lips, and after a couple of minutes of deep thinking, he finally replied, as he put his sombrero back on, while nervously nodding his head, “Do you really, really think so?”
His old man snapped back, “I definitely know so.”
He was very respectful of his Father, but above all: he adored his mother. He slowly took his sombrero off, once more, then crumpled it as he let out a long sigh, flinched, and then in a painful short speech said, “I don’t want to hurt her, so...I guess...I’ll wait.”
“That’s a very wise decision, and she’ll be delighted to hear that.”
“I think it best she not know about it,” he sighed looking down, to then look up to his parent and ask in his young broken voice: Don’t you think so?” his eyes brimming with tears.
“It will be our secret: she won’t know it ever happened.”
The deflated teenager walked out of the study, slowly dragging his feet, in a painful retreat from his own fighting desires. The patriarch watched him leave seriously, at first, but once my grandfather’s footsteps couldn’t be heard (remember he was wearing spurs) a conquering smile appeared on his face, clapped his hands together, and then laughed openly. He then put his pipe back in his mouth, and then went back to his reading. Once more: the grown-up, with his cunning, experience, and unmatched intelligence has won, and order has been re-established. Exactly a year later, the morning the 14 year old turned 15, he didn’t show up at the breakfast table, so his father sent his younger brother Pepe to get him. The missing son wasn’t in his bed: he hadn’t even slept on it.
On top of his pillow there was a well-placed note that read: “Dear Dad, I am now older so I’m joining the fight. Take care of mum!”
He never rested, never stopped, he fought in the Mexican Revolution until he became an adult, had been counted as dead many times during that bloody struggle, and went through so many scrapes and hairy situations during the rest of his life (the years after the revolution were just as dangerous), but he was always able to defeat and laugh at every single one of those treacherous times, and continue on with a very active and productive life (he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Mexican Army). Sadly, it was going to be his beloved “Faros” (unfiltered cigarettes) that would turn out to be his Achilles heel. The only problem we thought he had at that time was a varicose veins ailment. The doctor ordered him to wear special socks and to exercise daily on a bike, so he would wake up at 5 a.m. All throughout his life my grandpa woke up at 6 a.m. to start the day by taking a cold shower (no matter the season), but since he had to ride a bike for an hour, now it was 5. He would be a sight to see early morning on his bike rain or shine, for a whole hour straight. He felt stronger every day, and we were all happy and quite proud of him: this was going to be just one more adversity my grandpa was going to beat. This started in late spring. The long hot summer went by, and then autumn faded too, and by then the figure of this early-morning-senior-bike rider was just one more quaintly feature of our very Mexican neighborhood. Winter arrived, and with it cold weather and shorter days, but that wasn’t a deterrent for his daily ride, when horribly: one fateful winter morning as he was putting his gloves and a cap, two new wardrobe additions for his early-winter routine, he suddenly collapsed, right next to his bike.His brain was still functioning well, but the right side of his body was paralyzed. He couldn’t really move on his own, only a desire of movement: half of his body had converted into heavy dead weight for the other half to try to carry. But that’s not all, he couldn’t communicate well either: his speech was just an unintelligible slur. Remember, all the muscles on the right side of his body wouldn’t listen to his commands and obeyed even less. All of this sounds terrible, but...that wasn’t the worst: Doctors, with their tests, found that his lungs were full of cancer: emphysema! I was living in Juarez, Mexico, at the time, so the very next day I took the train. While I was looking out my window, at the desert passing at 55 miles an hour, I was wondering how my grandpa must’ve been suffering with this new and most debilitating condition: most likely even humiliating. A man like him who had been a pillar of strength all his life suddenly reduced to a helpless being; a grim scenario that he had never thought of or faced before. He had to be helped to do everything, and I mean everything, plus: he wasn’t allowed to smoke. You have to know that 50% of his daily activity was smoking (only one cigarette lit a day, since all the rest would be lit from that same fire source). The first time that I went to visit him, it was at the hospital, while they were running tests: the room was full of people, but he wasn’t really there mentally - I could plainly see it in his eyes. His eyes tainted with a look that none of us had seen before: spent, lost, lifeless, and for the first time ever - defeated. For 74 years he had been taunting and laughing at danger and death, but now his lucky streak had ended. The physicians had already made their verdict: his lungs were as black as sacks of coal. Their prognosis: he wasn’t going to live more than six months. I had to go back to Juarez, since I was 18 and working and studying at that time, so it was both: painful and problematic for me to find time to be with him. A whole week passed, and I couldn’t wait to go back and see him. Once more, while on my way over, I was wondering and pondering at this new phase of my grandfather’s life. I knew perfectly well that it wasn’t impending death that had finally defeated my grandfather, but his inability to fight back - half of his body just didn’t recognize his commands anymore.
My second visit was completely dissimilar. He was back in his house, and I was able to be with him, in his own environment: just the two of us, like in the good-old times. You see, I had lived with my grandparents for several years during my early teens, so his house had always been a second home to me. My dear grandmother took advantage of my being there to go to the grocery store and get some needed supplies, “I’ll be right back. Please take care of him.”
As soon as she left, my grandpa turned to me, forcefully grabbed my arm with his left hand, and asked me to give him his gun and load it, so that he could get this over with, ASAP! As I pointed out before, I had lived with my grandparents on and off some five years, plus since I was five years old I had always spent a lot of time with him - this speech impediment wasn’t going to stop the flow of information between us, and his dying plea came clearly and bluntly to me. Most people couldn’t understand him now when he spoke, but I understood him, every single time he used his almost-unintelligibly-slurred speech. I was actually the only one in the whole family that could understand him, before and after, plus I always fully accepted him the way he was. But not only that: the only one that would do THAT for him, and he knew it quite well.
Only he and I knew where his beautiful, but powerful and deadly 45 was: the best kept secret in that house. Above everything else, he knew that I plainly understood that his present state wasn’t a life he could live, nor accept.
Still, I repeated the whole thing for him out loud, “You’re asking me to get your gun, so that you can personally take care of this problem?
”He assented with his head, clumsily, patted me tenderly put his left hand on my arm, and said something that sounded like, “Thank you.”
We looked at each other for a couple of seconds, that seemed heavy and dazed, and then I assented confidently. I suspected this situation coming, ever since he became bedridden and even thought about it in passing, but surely did not expect it. Who is ever ready for such a request? By this dire time, I had already agreed, so I acted accordingly. I got the army-ammo-metal box out of the hidden hole in the wall behind the armoire and put it on a table, immediately took the gun out of the metal box and proceeded to load the clip. I only put three bullets, although he only needed one, not just because of the close range, but also for the caliber: 45 military issue. I had my back to him while I was doing this, when my tears betrayed me. They came rushing to my eyes in an instant, as the third bullet was inserted in the clip. I wouldn’t even have noticed them, had it not been for some of those sad blobs hitting the metal box. As soon as I heard that solemn dripping sound and noticed the salty liquid splashing on the table, I placed the gun down sideways, and went to the bathroom to cleanse my betraying eyes, but always kept my back toward him. He couldn’t know that this decision of his was tearing me apart. I knew what he wanted, fully concurred with his choice, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make, or an easy task to undertake. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror with a dirty mixture of fear, shame, guilt, and foreboding, and then proceeded to wash my face thoroughly: as if soap and water could erase all of those feelings rushing to my face in unison.
Once the traces of dread and sorrow were erased, I looked at myself again, and thought deep inside of me: “I’m doing the right thing, that’s what he wants, and that’s all that matters. After all: it’s HIS life!”
I regained my composure as best I could, went back to the table, picked up the gun, and then went to his bed with the gun close to my chest. I stopped in front of him, put the clip inside the gun, and then cocked it, so that it would have a bullet in the chamber (something that was impossible for him to do in his present condition), and then placed the gun in his left hand (he had been a normal right-handed man all his life: he was his battalion’s base-ball pitcher, a long, long time ago. I was told many times that he was actually very good at it.). My mother and my Aunt Irma were entering the house at that very moment, but we were in my Grandpa’s room, in the middle of the house, and quite busy, so he didn’t hear the door, nor did I. I remember that he gave me a last long look, this time with tears in his eyes: something I had never seen in my entire existence, nor thought it was ever possible. Now, with 55 years of experience, I know very well the tears were for me, and for what would happen to me for what I was doing for him: the familial, social, and maybe even judicial repercussions of my very mortal deed.The very last image I have, before completely closing my eyes, was him trying to place the gun into his mouth, since half of his mouth didn’t obey him. I then braced myself for the 45-caliber thunder. When they came into the bedroom he couldn’t see them, since he was facing me (the door was exactly behind him), and I don’t remember seeing them: I had taken a step back, and my eyes were firmly shut to avoid the inevitable image of my beloved grandpa’s final seconds. Mother quickly snatched the gun away from him, which discharged a bullet that went through the back wall and ended up lodging itself on a portrait of my grandpa in full military uniform that was hanging in the corridor wall. My aunt Irma pushed me away, and then started yelling and crying, very loudly, as she kept slapping me, but I never really felt her hands on my face. My mother then pulled me towards her and pelted me very hard a couple of times herself: that I felt! By this time my eyes were wide open, and copious tears were dripping. All the while my grandfather was twitching on his bed, jumping up and down with the muscles that listened, and ordering my mother and my aunt, at the top of his lungs, to leave his house, to leave us alone, and not to meddle in somebody else’s business. After all it was his house, it was his gun, and it was his LIFE! They couldn’t understand him, they couldn’t understand me. Had they understood his pleas, they wouldn’t have listened, anyway. They had their own version of the same situation, and it was the exact opposite of ours. I was never permitted to see him alone, after my failed Kevorkian attempt. The next step was the hospital, once more, but this time as a dying patient. Three, very painful, and drug-addled months later He passed away. The only thing that I recall vividly were his cries for more pain medicine in the middle of the night, on the few nights that I was able to be there for him, remember: I used to live four-and-a-half hours away from where he was hospitalized. One of those pleas for numbness I’ll never forget: my Mother and I, we were the only ones there, looked at each other at the very first cry: right before he uttered it, we were already getting up slowly. You see, we already felt that he was going to be in pain a couple of seconds before he let us know with his half-broken voice. As we both stood up, we looked at each other, and at that time...with that look of hers, I felt that she finally understood what I was going to do Ninety days before! And with that same calm and deep gaze she silently forgave me for it. Once they gave him the medicine and he was able to go back to sleep, my mother and I sat down again.
She pulled me to her side and stroked my hair, as she said, “You and he are so alike.”
“Half of this town has already told me so.”
You have to also know that my grandpa and I were very similar physically, so countless elderly people on the streets of my hometown would stop me and ask me if I was related to him, and I would always proudly answer: “He’s my Grandfather!”
And then they would reply with a broad smile, “You’re the spitting image of him.”
My mother pursed her lips and then said: “He has been suffering too much!”
I didn’t say a thing. There was nothing to be said, really.
Then she caressed my face with her hand lovingly and said, “Son...I was wrong...I should’ve...let him...I should’ve let you-“
I didn’t let her finish: “He’s resting now. Just...let him rest.”
With my hand I softly leaned my mother’s head on my shoulder, now moist with her tears, and as she leaned on me; she let out a deep relieving sigh.A couple of days later all his troubles, aches, and pains abruptly stopped: he finally rested, and so did we.
Author Cesar Alejandro is a filmmaker and actor, who writes, and who has produced 22 feature films with his company (Alexandria Films), the last completed one being the The Line that Divides, which was selected to 10 film festival world-wide (2019-2020), and he also worked in theater as an actor in the 80s (Spanish Rep, INTAR, and LATEA), plus four of his short stories have already been published by other literary magazines. “Grandpa’s Final Battle” is part of his life history, while he was still living in Mexico, where he is from, but now he lives in the United States, is an American Citizen, and is very proud of it!