46: My Grandfather’s Gift

46: My Grandfather’s Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

My Grandfather’s Gift

Physical strength can never permanently withstand the impact of spiritual force.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

The painful pattern began when I was only eight years old. Men leave me. My father, an only child, died at the age of thirty-nine after battling cancer for months. My mother’s family lived on the other side of the ocean; her father had already passed away. I was left with only one man to love me: my paternal grandfather, Isaac.

He was a small man, mostly bald, with a beatific smile. His signature way of greeting his grandchildren was to wrap his arms around us and inhale deeply. Every time he saw me, he tried to breathe me in. As a kid, I didn’t really appreciate this strange ritual. But as an adult, I began to understand. I only visited my grandfather every couple of weeks. He was memorizing me, using all of his senses to keep me near to him during our time apart.

When I was twenty-two, my grandfather passed away from a stroke just days before my winter break from college. My mother broke the news to me over the telephone. All I could say was, “No.” No, I would not accept this devastating news, even as the tears poured down my cheeks. No, I refused to accept his loss. My boyfriend and I had recently split up, and now the only man left in my life had also deserted me.

It was a little before Christmas when I drove from Maryland to New York for the funeral. As his closest living relative, I was charged with identifying the body. The shriveled, drawn face on the corpse looked nothing like my gramps; Isaac had had a soft, gentle face with dancing brown eyes.

A few short weeks later, I returned to the off-campus house where I lived for the start of the spring semester. That very night, I was awakened around midnight. The door to my bedroom opened with a soft creak. I sat straight up in bed and asked, “Who’s there?”

A large man I had never seen before stepped into my bedroom. He dove onto my bed, punching me repeatedly in the face and head. I attempted to scream for help. Like the stuff of nightmares, my scream only came out as a high-pitched squeak, no louder than a mouse. No one heard me. No one came to my rescue, although several of my housemates were home at the time.

I fought hard, with everything I had. But it was useless. Soon blood was pouring from my nose. I was no match for this man’s size and strength. When he wrapped his hands around my throat and cut off my air supply, blackness closed in around me. Just as I began to lose consciousness, he suddenly let go.

I realized this man planned to rape me, and it seemed he preferred me alive. Once he demonstrated the ease with which he could kill me, I gave up the physical fight. Articles of my clothing were removed, piece by piece. Now he was in no hurry. But my own mind raced ahead. I had no doubt whatsoever that after he raped me, he would kill me. I had to stop him, but I had no idea how.

At that moment, a voice spoke quietly in my ear. It was my grandfather’s deep, reassuring voice, filled with kindness and love. My grandfather, who had suffered beatings at the hands of the Cossacks, had lived through pogroms in the shtetls of the Russian Empire, had escaped across Europe with a single suitcase, delivered the words I needed. His voice whispered to me, telling me exactly what to say to the man who was hurting me. “Tell him you wish to be his friend,” my grandfather urged me. “Tell him if he stops now, you will have respect for him.”

And like a miracle, the words worked. My attacker stopped. He allowed me to put my clothes back on. He allowed me to get a tissue to clean the blood from my face. Then he sat next to me on the edge of my bed and talked for almost two hours. He let me turn on a light so I was able to see his face clearly. He told me his name, where he lived, where he worked, where he had recently been incarcerated. He told me he had seen me through my window on his way to work earlier that day. And although he had smoked PCP at the end of his shift, he remembered which house I lived in as he made his way back home. I simply listened. Like a friend.

Eventually, after I gave him my phone number, he got up to leave. I walked him to the door, said goodbye, locked the door behind him, and called the police. The officers insisted on summoning an ambulance and transporting me to the hospital, although I felt perfectly fine. Waiting on a gurney in a hospital corridor in the middle of the night, I finally caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I was unrecognizable. I had a black eye, a large lump on my forehead, a bloody nose, two split and swollen lips, a cauliflower ear, and a ruptured eardrum.

My physical injuries healed fairly quickly. The post-traumatic stress disorder was another story. There are still nights, even three decades later, where I wake up in a panic, sweating, sometimes screaming, my heart pounding, imagining a stranger in the room with me. But in these moments of terror, I am able to find comfort. I remember how my grandfather whispered his miraculous words into my ear. And I know he is up there still, his dancing dark eyes watching over me. Thanks to him, I survived. Thanks to him, I lived to meet my beloved husband. Thanks to him, we were able to create our two amazing daughters. My grandfather’s gift made all this possible.

~Liz Rolland

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