By Tech Rathgen
Whenever I came to visit my Grandpa every few years in his apartment, he'd always seem like he just lost a best friend and I always knew what'd cheer him up. There was six toy balls that'd always cheer him up, sadly he was reaching that age where he has to see something to know it's there; even if it happens to be directly behind him. He always wore that sweatshirt that I bought him and I don't think he's taken it off yet come to think of it. And yet he always smells like a mid-summer's breeze. Sometimes I wonder if he ever takes a shower even without it on. I've seen wet splotches here and there.
My Grandpa always kept the balls behind him and it was the one thing that kept him lively and so happy that I sometimes wonder if he's the circus clown. Each of the balls he has were distinctive in their own regard. A yellow ball with red stripes and a star in the middle, an evenly sized volleyball with a few distinctive shapes that helped to create it, a plush baseball that was slightly smaller than the other balls and somehow managed to bounce with the rest of them, a gray ball with a touch of gold and multiple patches to keep it intact, a yellow ball with a smiley face on it, and a red ball that seems to have gone through a lot of abuse. He viewed them as heroes and I officially came to see why.
I grabbed the balls from behind him one by one and it seemed like he was too sad to notice I was even there. It usually hurt to see him like this, all seemingly dead on his couch. I knew waving my hand in front of his face wouldn't do any good, he'd just lie there like a block of stone; so I knew through experience that'd he'd only react to his balls. He just had to know they were there and that was the only way to know for sure that he was alive. Anything else wouldn't make an ounce of difference.
I lightly tossed each ball against him and by the third one he'd light up like a Christmas tree. His eyes were wide open and his smile was very bright and wide. He caught the balls from there and set each one on the back of the couch where they were before. Shortly afterwards, he'd greet me and we'd hug.
I released and smiled, "Hi Papa. It's been long time since I last saw you. I've missed you so much."
My Grandpa returned the smile, "Hi there Timothy. I've missed you too. Why have you come?"
I kneeled down so I could easily look into his eyes. "I came with a mission. I want to know why you view your balls so highly and don't give me a single glance, until I toss those balls your way." I almost found myself bursting into tears. "Don't I matter, too? Am I just a speck of your imagination?"
My Grandpa struggled to lean toward me and somehow was able to manage it. He took my hand in his and held it firmly. He slowly lifted my head and I saw him on the verge of tears. From what I saw in his eyes, I knew he cared for me. "Timothy, I love you with every aching bone in my body and soul. If there was any other way I could respond to you, I would. You do matter to me and you aren't a spec of my imagination. These balls won't ever replace the love I have for you. Those balls only have my sentimental value, you're much more important than that."
I smiled through my tears, "You really mean that?"
My Grandpa smiled through his tears as well, "Cross my heart and hope to die."
I leaped into his arms and hugged him. I kissed his cheek and cried for several minutes, knowing my grandpa did and still does care. He pat my back and shared in the moment of pure happiness. It was the best moment for both of us. We won't ever forget this, never.
I sat down eagerly to hear the tale of his heroic balls like a child watching their favorite TV show or reading their favorite book. I knew it was time to see why my Grandpa seemed like a train wreck unless his balls were by his side and in thought. From what I saw in my grandpa's eyes, I could see he knew why I had came in the first place. I sensed a little hesitation on his end, but I could tell he was gathering up his thoughts.
My grandpa sighed absentmindedly and began his story. "When I was a toddler, I received these six balls and each one was in better condition than they are now. Two of the six were passed down as a family heirloom and so those two were given to me in a bad condition. The one with multiple patches and the one that went through a lot of abuse are older than me. At least two hundred years older than I am, so I try all in my power to keep them alive. I will die, while these will continue to be passed on to each generation; but I won't easily give them up. We've been through a lot together, those balls and me.
My grandpa smiled warmly. "I remember the time when I was in first grade, I had friends and enemies just like any other person. It wasn't the best place to be back then since the security to keep the kids in order wasn't as enforced as it is today. I was constantly bullied by older kids that were on their last year before high school. I had no one to turn to during this, I refused to turn to my parents; back then you had to fend for yourself or you'd fall thousands of feet. I knew damn well that my parents would have turned their backs on me the moment I fell on my knees in tears, begging them to release me from the pain."
I knew my grandpa was into this, but I had to interrupt. There was something about his story that troubled me and I had to know before he got any further. The story hadn't even been a few minutes long yet, but I had to know why; I cried just thinking about it and I could see by the look in his eye that he was trying to hold back tears. It was one of those moments that shouldn't be ignored.
I asked through my tears. "How would you know that your parents would turn their back on you? Didn't it hurt to have loved ones not give a shit about you?"
My grandpa shook his head and brushed his fingers across his eyes. "It wasn't because they didn't care Timothy. They loved me with every ounce in their being and I loved them, too. The way we looked at the world back then was way different from now. Helping a child out with something like that was seen as babying the child, instead of making them ready for the hardships of manhood and womanhood. We lived in troubled times."
I smiled through my tears, "Thanks Grandpa. Continue please."
My Grandpa turned right and gestured to his balls with a very bright smile. "We've been through a lot together, these balls and me. My friends started to abandon me and it virtually seemed like I had no one to turn to, so I found myself turning to these six balls. I prayed for magic, mystery and friendship to surface from these balls and give them the power to come to life and help in my dire need. All I wanted was a miracle. In the days that followed, they showed me that they were a miracle I so gladly prayed for.
My Grandpa curved away from the story and asked me. "If you want, I could tell you about these balls' names. You interested?"
I cheered and threw my fist in the air. "Bring it on grandpa!"
My grandpa gestured to the yellow ball with red stripes and a star in the middle. "I named it Star for obvious reasons and I highly believe it was the one that sensed danger and alerted the other five to it. It was usually the first in line and it always gave my bully a wake up call before the other ones gave them a scare of their life. It was scary mainly because they seemed alive.
My Grandpa gestured to the volley ball. "I named this little flower Vivian, after my mom and it can pack quite a punch. I also named it that since it seemed like a girl's ball and I honestly felt like it was a girl. It had an internal map and usually led the way in search of their destinations. Then from there, Star would take over.
My Grandpa gestured to the plush baseball that was slightly smaller than the other balls and somehow managed to bounce with the rest of them. "I named this one Bosco and it was named after my father because he enjoyed baseball. If you ever piss this ball off, it'll take you on a homerun. The two of us grew up with Babe Ruth and I believe that's where this ball's attitude comes from. It may be the weakest, but it managed to bounce with the others.
My grandpa gestured to the gray ball with a touch of gold and multiple patches to keep it intact. "This was one of the two balls that was passed down to me as an heirloom and my family called it Friend. I've had to add multiple patches to it during it's life and those patches came from the things it had to do to protect me from my bullies that seemed to only increase. Eventually this ball and the others managed to stop the bullying and help me learn that friends can appear in the weirdest places.
My grandpa gestured to the yellow ball with a smiley face on it. "This was called Emotional because if this ball felt any emotion, you'd see it as white as rain. When it protected me, it gave a furious look on the way to the bullies.
My grandpa gestured to the red ball that seems to have gone through a lot of abuse. "This was also a ball that was passed on to me as a family heirloom and they called it Fox, because it was next to a bloodied fox when they found it. The fox put it through a lot of abuse before it was in our arms. It was a shock to see it that way they told me, but my has tried to get it in better condition before with no luck. I promised it I would cherish it for as long as I lived and it told me to love the other five just as much. Not once have I rejected that promise."
I asked with curiosity. "Do you have a picture perhaps to know it actually happened?"
My Grandpa thought it over and it appeared he had a tough time figuring out the answer. "To be honest…I don't think cameras existed that far back, but I do know of a drawing somewhere that might be in my files. After I'm done with the tale, you can look."
I nodded a little bit. "Alright. I'll put it on my list."
My Grandpa returned to the story shortly afterwards. "Whenever I came home, the balls always greeted me like a dog does when it's excited to see you. It was the best thing to ever happen to me. To have friends that love you like this was outrageous and sometimes weird, but it was enjoyable regardless. I grew to love those and I bet they grew to love me as well.
"I grew to love myself and I forever befriended those balls, but that was the easy part. The hard part was to survive grade school without any bruises. It wasn't a picnic and a fun day out at all. It was like walking into the flames of hell.
My Grandpa looked at the balls and back at me. He continued after he gathered his thoughts. "While I was at a playground, I was bullied by this muscle bounded kid and at my age there was virtually no way I could beat him. He chased me around the playground equipment and his friends cornered me and restrained me with the utmost prejudice. He seemed to love saying you're going to die like a broken record. That much I know.
"He carried me to a tree against my will and I struggled to release, but the struggling didn't do any good. He was powerful and used brute strength over brains to send messages my way. He grabbed me by the neck and slammed me against a tree with pure malice.
"I almost passed out and I looked into his eyes with fear overtaking me. This was it for me I thought. And why wouldn't it be? I was clearly in a situation where I couldn't defend myself and my body was too limp to respond in time. I was at the mercy of his fists and all I hoped for was someone to save me from this pain and suffering.
"He bashed me with his fists and there wasn't a place he didn't miss once. I was nearly bloodied and hung somewhere to dry. No one could possibly want to save, it was their funeral next if they did.
"Then I saw something that I couldn't believe at first, but accepted with an internal array of cheering. My balls came to save me and I couldn't be anymore excited to see them. It was one of those times that was worth remembering. I knew the bully would be freaked out when he saw it.
"I pointed at the balls with some difficulty and looked in the general direction. The bully turned that way and the balls gave him no time to react. The balls knocked him and his friends back into Kindergarten. The balls came back to me after going through a malicious war against the bully and the accomplices.
"I walked along side my balls and headed home. I never thought I'd be saved like this at all. It never crossed my mind. It was the greatest moment of my life and at the same time it was completely awkward, not because I was saved by my friends; but because my friends were six balls that should be lifeless.
"Along the way through school, I found I didn't need them to protect me anymore; but I never forgot any of them. I never forgot what they did for me. I continued to play with them through high school and through the work life. I had to pay my bills of course and I still do, but you're the good old sport that helps me out with those kind of things. Then I got into retirement and I still played with these balls, but now it's an effort to even get out of this couch.
"Which leads me to why I can't play with them and why I'm a block stone whenever you see me. However; even though the balls will live through the years, my time to leave is drawing near. There are times when people vow to live just so they can pass on their story and then die on the spot. I chose to be one of those people and I know my balls will be hurt when I'm gone; but I don't want to live like this any longer. It's depressing to sit on this couch and watch the days flow by, just waiting to die.
"This is the end. You can look for the drawing if you want. I could guide you in the right direction, but my bones are too weak to even stand. I might just see you in the next two years."
I nod at my Grandpa and I managed to find it after a few hours of rummaging through file folders. It was in a plastic cover and it was preserved long enough to be able to see it remotely. The picture decayed over the years and it was very evident indeed.
I hugged my Grandpa and waved goodbye. I decided I'd take the picture with me to make it look new again. As I opened the door, I heard my grandpa collapse and I had no idea about what I should do and I had to come up with something fast. This never happened before and what he said during his story's conclusion hit me. What he decided to choose after he told his story was very much in my mind.
Regardless, I refused to believe he died and I knew what I had to do to be absolutely positive. I searched through his cabinets for a glass and filled it up with water. I raced to my grandpa, turned his body over and poured water on his face. It didn't work. I tried CPR and tossing the balls his way, but it was all in vain. Nothing worked, so I was forced to believe what I refused more than anything. My Grandpa died.
I gathered up the balls as I knew my grandpa would have wished of me and placed each one in a single bag. I waved at my grandpa one last time as I went to the door.
I opened the door and a single tear fell down my cheek, "Farewell grandpa."