My grandfather, Bill Clinton

When I was in the twelfth grade, I tested for some kind of government scholarship. By tested, what I really mean is that I scanned the multiple-choice test and marked answers at random. This method did not serve me well, as I’m sure you can imagine. Miraculously, I got called back to the second round…and that’s as far as I got. 

As politically conscious as I try to be, I know next to nothing about politics. Until last year I thought a minority whip was some kind of kinky, racist roleplay. (I’m still not entirely convinced that it isn’t.) But I do know one thing for sure…

love Bill Clinton, even though I was never meant to. I grew up listening to a soundtrack of conspiracy theories and political bitching, much of which was aimed at Bill Clinton. There was always something  to complain about…jobs, the economy, the same old, same old.

I couldn’t dislike him, however. His nose, slightly bulbed at the bottom but otherwise unremarkable, is my nose. It is my grandfather’s nose. They have the same silver-white hair. Best of all, Bill Clinton doesn’t have Parkinson’s Disease. I could turn on the television and he would be there, walking, mingling, laughing. I fell in love and I was jealous. 

I don’t know if the diagnosis was made before my birth, but I’ve always known my grandfather as the man who sits in his armchair in the corner of his living room. His head is usually propped against a white pillow, which collects his oils and leaves his hair greasy and flattened to his head. He often drools. 

The earliest memory I have of him is from when I was around seven or eight years old. It was New Year’s Eve and we had joined my father’s side of the family for the countdown. It had just gotten dark, which meant fireworks. My younger brothers, who must have just been learning how to run, had been taken outside. A handful of us were left inside. My grandfather was still walking then, although in that hunched-over kind of way that is typical of the very elderly. He should have been in his 60s at the time, but he was unable to get his jacket on. His hands couldn’t remember how to grasp, how to hold, and the coat fell to the ground over and over again. My aunt and uncle laughed at him and did not try to help.

Meanwhile, Clinton was there. He could walk without shuffling his feet and he could put on his own jacket. I was spellbound. 

This holiday season I will go to my grandparents’ house and he’ll still be there. It’s a wonder he’s lasted this long, considering that he has been unable to get out of his chair or even open his eyes for several years. When I visit, my grandmother pinches his eyes open and tells him to look at me. Sometimes our eyes meet. Once, last year, he mumbled that I was very pretty. 

Maybe it’s not an unusual thing for the universe to present a substitute for someone who has been taken away. Maybe I’m not the first person to look to the television and see a loved one who, while there, isn’t there.

Or maybe it’s peculiar. But he’s still there. He’s still there with his beautiful family and his warm cheeks. He walks and he talks and he puts his jackets on all by himself.


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