My grandma’s favorite wrestler is Sergio “Monster” Montaldi. He has shoe-polish black hair and wears tight shorts with a pair of predatory green eyes leering across the butt.
As she slipped further away from us, Grandma seemed to grow closer to Monster. She clapped every time he hoisted himself up to the top rope to deliver his trademarked “Monster Mash” body slam.
I had told Grandma about Monster coming to the Scheels store in Springfield at least a dozen times before the big day arrived. I enjoyed watching her face light up anew each time.
That morning I walked into her room to find her still snoring. A miscommunication, the nurse’s aide assured me as we slipped the “Green-Eyed Monster” sweatshirt over Grandma’s head. With Grandma now, everything slowed down. It was like moving through water.
When we pulled into the parking lot, the line was already around the building. Boys of all ages were bouncing around next to their fathers or grabbing each other and flopping on the sidewalk.
The sky was clear, and the wind cut through me as I wheeled her toward the end of the line, but I had come prepared, with extra blankets, Depends, and even some bananas and juice.
She looked up at me, “Why did you take me out? It’s too cold.”
I explained it to her again, this time within earshot of a man and his son.
“Pretty cool, huh Blake?” the father said, “This lady likes the Monster.”
“And who are you supposed to be?” Grandma snapped.
“Don’t you shush me. I’ll say what I want.”
“Sorry, ma’am. I’m Nick and this is my son Blake, we’re big fans too.” He shivered, and then brought out a thermos. “You want? Better than
I covered Grandma’s shoulders with the extra blanket and we sipped coffee until the doors opened. A rope line wound its way around the giant fish tanks and then disappeared behind a display of ski jackets.
Before we’d moved another five feet, Grandma was asleep.
Nick noticed, “It’s hard, I know. We’ve been through it too.”
I nodded, remembering the worst moment so far, when she had mistaken my father for her husband.
After explaining, it was as though she were learning about Grandpa’s death for the first time. That was why I took such pleasure in repeatedly
telling her about Monster. I wanted to steal any joy possible from that goddamn dementia.
Grandma woke up. The bananas and juice came out.
It was just after two o’clock when a harried Scheels employee came over and said, “Okay folks, we have to cut off the line right here. I’m sorry, but Mr. Montaldi has a plane to catch” and he put his arm down right in front of us.
My stomach dropped and a hundred disappointed groans rose behind us. Nick spoke up, “Hey, let them go ahead of us. Her grandma’s sick.”
“No switching in line, sir, or everyone’s going to be trying it.” Then he turned to me. “You’re welcome to stand over by the door and wave to Monster as he leaves.”
Tears filled my eyes. “You don’t understand—” I tried.
“Ma’am, please.” I could see he was stressed from wrangling the keyed up crowd.
My eyes met Nick’s.
“Okay,” I said, resigned. “Let’s go wait by the door, Grandma.”
The employee guided us to a good spot to stand. It was partially shielded by the fish tank so we probably wouldn’t be jostled too much.
People filled in around us.
A roar went up. Monster was clearly on his way. He ran down the line high-fiving and accepting pats on his well-muscled back. Then he caught sight of Grandma. I thought he was simply going to rush past, but he stopped right in front of us.
“You must be the lady they told me about.”
I was stunned, but Grandma reached out her hands, like royalty accepting her due. He took them.
“Oh honey, you are too cute,” Grandma said. “You want a girlfriend?”
I gasped; Monster just laughed. “Let’s get a picture. You too.” He lifted the rope and we came forward. His cameraman aimed. I handed over my phone for another couple snaps.
“My man here will get your address.”
Even though the crowd was hollering, Monster was focused. “Thank you for coming out to see me, ma’am.” Then he looked at me. His eyes were kind.
“I truly appreciate it.”
“Me too,” I said.
“Take care now,” and then he was gone.
The box arrived a week later, full of Monster merchandise and the framed picture, signed “Love, Monster.” We sat it next to Grandpa’s picture.
That Sunday, like always, we watched Monster take that top rope, and Grandma turned and winked at her picture.