“Sweetie, who are you again?” My grandmother, Susan, asked with a blank, yet amiable expression on her wrinkled features.
I smile sadly.
“I’m no one important.”
“I’m sure that’s not true, darling!” She exclaimed, swatting me playfully on my shoulder with impressive strength for a grandmother. “Just because you’re of no relation to me doesn’t make you unimportant.”
I did not know whether to laugh or cry.
“Now, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself,” Susan requested as an nurse came over to check her vitals.
“Well, I’m a history major at Princeton University,” I tell her, mustering up as much enthusiasm as I could, knowing exactly how she would reply. We have had this conversation many times over, after all.
“A history major!” She cried out gleefully. “Now, that brings back some memories. I was a history major myself, you know.”
I knew. She had told me over and over again, day after day, year after year.
But it was not that hard to fake the surprise. For her sake.
Because seeing her dull, crystalline blue eyes light up when I asked was priceless to me.
“Yes, I am! My favorite thing to study is—”
World War Ⅱ.
“—World War Ⅱ. In fact, I may still have it. Let me check…”
Susan shifted over slightly in her bed, and I became increasingly worried that the IV in her arm would fall out.
Pulling out a small, red book form her tableside drawer, she wiped off the dust with quivering fingers so pale, they were almost translucent, and you could easily see the veins underneath, transporting blood from her fragile heart.
“This is my brother’s diary,” She explained with pride tinting he trembling voice. “He was a soldier who fought World War Ⅱ.”
She handed me the journal, and I gingerly began flipping through the pages.
Even though I’ve read through it thousands upon thousands of times, I never ceased to be amazed when I saw it. My great-uncle Sherman was an pretty incredible fighter and an even more incredible peacemaker. He was the mediator of his squadron, judging by what he had written.
It was regrettable that he had died before his time.
“He was there on the shores of Normandy during Operation Doomsday. His plane had been shot down. There were no survivors.” She stared intently at the notebook in my hands. “It was a miracle that one of the soldiers had managed to recover that diary. A miracle.”
She paused for a moment, as if contemplating something weighing heavily on her alzheimer’s-diseased mind.
“Why don’t you keep that book, sweetie.”
This was a new twist to an normarily ordinary conservation that I’ve had every day for the past couple of years.
“Are you sure about it? This sounds like it’s really important to you.”
“I’m sure. You know…” Her voice trailed off, before returning with more strength than I ever heard in her since before her diagnosis. “You remind me of my granddaughter.”
My breath hitched in my throat.
“Her name was Jessica. Though I’ve long forgotten what she looked like,” She looked at me straight with her dull, crystalline blue eyes. “You remind me a lot about her.”
That night, when I returned to my cramped apartment, I cried for the first time in a long, long time.
Susan Williams passed away the very next day, age eighty-two.
I was given the small, red book by one of the nurses.
I would carry it everywhere I went.
I would read it all the time.
I would read it during lectures; I would read it on the bus; I would read it right before I fell asleep at night, and I would read it first thing in the morning.
And then, on a certain day, Inspiration would strike me like a lightning bolt sent straight from the heavens. Straight from her.
Then, I would have an idea.
I became overwhelmed by the blinding lights flashing from the audience and the question swarming around me like wasps around their hive, desperate for someone to sting.
Today, that someone was me.
“What are your thoughts about your main character, Sherman?”
“How did you decide to write a historical fiction novel?
“What are your thoughts on how your book about World War Ⅱ was name a New York Best Seller?
Suddenly, I heard a question that piqued my interest.
“Hold on,” I cried into the microphone. The buzzing instantly died down.
I pointed to a man sitting in the front row, his receding hairline causing the lights to reflect off of his forehead in a blinding manner.
“Can you please repeat your question?”
Though he looked slightly startled that I had pick him out from the hundreds of reporters there, he continued on without hesitation.
“You said your stories were inspired by a real person. So tell us: what were they like?”
I smiled, suddenly feeling a steady yet comforting hand on my shoulder,
though I would watch the press conference back later and see absolutely no one.
“She was unforgettable.”