Love and the things that it is.

Harvey Wust is a twelve year old boy with Autism.
With a surprisingly advanced view of the world, and no small amount of cynicism, he sets out to understand love, and discovers something that he never really expected.

For the John Green competition. It's primarily about suddenly realising that you are in love, but there's some dealing with pain in there too.


7. Love and my Pops

My Pops is what I call my Grandad. My Pops is eighty four years old, which I think makes him very old, and he is very quiet and often sad and does not talk very much. This suits me just fine because I am often sad and do not talk very much and am very quiet too. We get on quite well although he has something called senile dementia. He does not have it very severe and a lot of the time he can remember things about his life and things that we can talk about. 

Sadly it is often that Pops can not remember exactly who I am. I think that he must be used to this because when I go to visit him he does not usually seem concerned that there are strangers in his room. Mama says that he has never forgotten who she is but that he can never remember who the people who come to take care of him in his assisted living are. I thought that having strangers in his room all the time must be very frightening and he must not like it at all, but when I said this to Mama she said that it does make a lot of people become rude and aggressive, but that Pops has got used to the idea that there will be a lot of people he does not know and he just lets them help him because he has got a "gentle soul."

I want to talk to Pops about love because he knows about it well I think. He and my Nana were married for fifty nine years before my Nana died and they had been together for another four years before that, so that they were together and probably in love for sixty three years, and that is a longer time than I can even really properly imagine. So I thought that if anybody would know about love, he would be that person. 

I was worried though that I should not talk to Pops about love because Nana was dead. I thought that it might be cruel. I was worried that making him think about Nana would make him think about how wonderful Nana was, and how happy he was with her, and then that would remind him of how sad he is without her, and how he will not ever be with her again.

Mama said that it does not quite work like this. Mama likes it if we ask her about Father because she likes telling people about him. She likes making people understand how wonderful he was before he died and making them love him in a sort of way too. She says it makes her feel good because she has not forgotten him. 

She also once said to me that when I talk about him sometimes it feels like he is alive again. And when she holds my hand she can feel my heart beat-beat-beating, and it's like he is speaking.

I do not like this. It makes me worried that Mama thinks that I am a lot like Father and that I am him and not me. And I really do not like that he is speaking through me because I do not want the words that I say to be Father's. I want them to be mine.

I went to visit Pops a few days after I had spoken to Pippa. Three days after actually. 

When we are with Pops we generally all go to visit him but because he is in assisted living and usually only gets to eat ready meals and boring foods, it is common that Alex, Pippa and Mama will go to make tea and sandwiches and leave me talking to Pops. They do not always leave me and sometimes I will go to help make sandwiches and tea but on that day I wanted to stay and talk to Pops to ask him about love and also hopefully to make him feel happy and like Nana was alive again.

We sat very quietly for a little while because I did not feel like talking and Pops did not feel like talking. I could not think of a way to ask him about Nana that was what Mama and other people call "Tactful." I am not very good at tact and often I am what is called very "blunt."

Using words like tact and blunt to describe sentences confuses me because tact sounds like it should be something tacky like gum or glue, and sentences are never like gum or glue and blunt is even more confusing because it means to be not sharp and unable to cut, but the things that I say that Mama calls blunt are the sort of things that when said on TV are called sharp or cutting. 

What "Tactful" actually means is to say things in a way that is polite and gentle so that people are not shocked or offended by what you are saying, or think that you are saying it just because you want good things for yourself. I was finding it difficult to think of a way to be "Tactful", but then I noticed a photo of Nana that Pops always kept on his dresser. It was of Pops and Nana when they were a lot younger and just when they got married. The picture is black and white and very old and faded, but you can look at it and see just how much Pops looks like my Uncle Samandriel. In the picture Nana is very young and I think that she is around twenty in it. 

She looks very beautiful. Her hair is bundled up on her head in a way that looks soft and pillowy and nice, and she is smiling very widely. Her dress is simple but very long and she is holding some flowers that look like lilies. It makes me feel all funny because in the picture Nana looks a lot like Mama. And at home I have a picture of Father and Mama when they were married. And now Father and Nana are both dead and the pictures in one way are no longer complete but in another way they are now a set. They are both missing half.

"Nana was very beautiful, Pops." I said.

Pops did not look at me like he was sure of who I am, but he took the picture gently from my hand and he looked at it. I knew that he must be able to remember what the picture means.

"Yes.. she was.." He said. "She really very was..."

He spoke slowly and softly and he was looking off into the distance a little with his eyes unfocused. He smiled a bit.

"Pops will you tell me about her? I do not remember Nana very well and I think that it would be good if you could tell me about her."

Pops looked at me. I was sat at the side of his bed and was leaning out over it with my arms splayed a bit and my head was doing what is called lolling over the covers. He looked at me and he smiled.

"It's funny, boy... you really do remind me of her. The way that you act and talk is so similar sometimes..."

The reason for this similarity was because I am his Grandson. But he did not remember and I did not tell him because you have to be careful about what things you tell Pops to remember because you can sometimes make him afraid or upset. 

"Tell me please Pops. Tell me about Nana." Is what I decided to say. I lifted my head to say this but then let it fall back onto the bed. 

Pops smiled and looked at nothing again and he held the picture and stroked it with his thumb although he was not looking at the picture and was just stroking it absent mindedly I thought. 

"I miss Rose" he said "I... I will tell you something, boy... she was.. beautiful. She was the most beautiful thing... "

He stopped talking then, and I did not want him to stop. I was worried that I was mistakenly looking bored because I do this sometimes. When I looked up though, Pops was not even looking at me any more so I knew that it could not be that. I decided that I would hold his hand because in films and things people like it when that happens, even though I do not like it, or really understand why you would like it.

I thought that I could make him speak to me more if I asked him about an event instead of being general like I had been doing. I often can not think of what to say about big and general things because there are so many things that I can say and I get muddled and start to feel panicky because I do not know what the right things to say are, and I can not tell. So in case this was the problem with Pops, I decided to ask him this:

"Tell me about how you met Nana and fell in love, Pops."

The first things that my Pops said was this:

"Well.. really there, you're asking for two very different stories. Which one do you want?"

I thought about this, and I thought both. So I said both.

Pops smiled and laughed quietly which I did not like because it felt like I was being laughed at. 

"I suppose if you want to know, I can tell you both. You're so eager..."

There was a pause.

"The Park. That was where I first met Rose, and I thought that she was very beautiful. She was wearing... she was wearing a dress, I think... but it was all those years ago, I suppose that I'm not sure any more..."

I smiled. My smiles are quick and short and never with teeth. They last for less than a second and people often think that they are not serious smiles. These people are wrong. My smiles are very serious because otherwise I would not make them. Pops seemed pleased by my smile and he kept on talking.

"I can remember that I was walking Bunsen... I... think Bunsen... I think he was my dog. And that Rose's little Labrador ran up to him... and their leads got into a bit of a pickle... it was raining, too."

Then there was quiet for a bit. This was nice.

" Smiling, laughing, hum... I asked her... I asked her to dance. I asked her to dance, and that's how we fell in love. Between dance steps, like an old film."

The start of his sentence had confused me because it had three words that did not work in context. I assumed that this was because of his senile dementia and ignored it. But then he confused me again because at the end of his sentence he put one arm to his chest and stuck one of his arms out into the air and bent it slightly and then started to sway a bit. At first I had assumed that he was maybe in pain or dizzy and confused.

But his eyes were shut and he was smiling and I realised that he was remembering dancing. When he was talking now he was mumbling and almost to himself. I listened and concentrated.

"... couldn't dance... teaching... holding hands... step twirl... music... music... you. Eyes and stars and sky and heat and..."

And then Pops opened his eyes and dropped his hands like he was waking up from a dream. He looked at me and he was smiling but also crying. And then he started laughing.

"We fell in love in dance steps, boy."

Then he looked at me and smiled widely. And then he gasped a bit and said this:

"Oh, Harvey! Harvey, never, ever, learn to dance!"

Pops was very happy. I thought that even though I did not quite understand what he had said, it was probably very important so I remembered it.

I thought that if this was a book or movie or TV show, Pops would have died just then. But he did not, because this was not any of those things.

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