I never thought anything of it, the way my grandpa’s hands shook. “He’s fine,” my mom would whisper reassuringly once I began giving her concerned glances over the Thanksgiving brisket or steaming Passover matzo ball soup. “They’ve always done that.” I would peer with wide, curious brown irises at the roughness of his skin, the quivering fingertips.
His calloused palms still seem to vibrate vigorously off of the air. It’s natural of course; quite normal really. Yet, I still draw in a breath whenever he reaches, grabs, holds. Complying with the needy hands of others, he passes a butter knife, the salt, the dreaded, infamously suspicious bowl of “Broccoli Mush” my grandma so proudly and mysteriously concocts. Our steady fingers receive these things as the chitter-chatter continues and silverware clank-clanks against glass plates. Laughter never ceases, ever, and so sometimes I think I’m the only one who notices. But these simple, generous gestures, these ordinary acts of sharing items, of giving, of placing, of picking up and putting down are stripped, are drained of simplicity. Rather, they seem like a chore, a burden. Sometimes if my fingers graze his in the exchange, I smile slightly, with a sadness that no one can register, and think to myself, What a poor poor poor thing to lack control. Sometimes I feel as though I could cry right there in front of my aunts, my uncles, my cousins who have all grown up so drastically, so suddenly. Everything and everyone seems as though they are moving in fast forward, just going going going as I sit there, limp and helpless, clinking my boots together along with the orchestra, the resonance, of dinner in my desperate attempt to escape from Oz.
I’ve never heard my grandpa yell, never heard him sob. It’s like his emotions—all of them—flood so overwhelmingly to his joints and knuckles, palms and wrists. If his hands were to make noise they would relay a buzzing sound, a soft yet steady hum-humming, hum-humming. Steady, what a funny thing. A persistent purr like a car motor or a man’s mechanical razor. A steady hum from unsteady limbs.
My grandma’s hands have always been as soft as silk, as cold as ice. Her touch, the smoothness of her skin, makes my whole body, my whole being, sigh with a swift exhale of breath. It’s a comfort, like trailing your fingertips slowly—ever so gently—across the surface of water. There’s something therapeutic about her hands, always smelling of lavender and home. I imagine that when she takes my grandpa’s tremor-possessed hands in her own, all trembling vanishes. Just like that. All the pain evaporates and as their fingers intertwine, he is relieved of worry, of sorrow. Even if her palms are chilled, his shivers still cease to exist. At least for a little while. They fit together so easily, so naturally. It’s love, I think and I smile, but this time sadness isn’t hidden behind my lips. This time I am happy. Because they are happy. Because he is happy.
Sometimes I stare down at my own hands and think, This is normal. Yet my mind aches with uncertainty, with fear. It’s selfish of me to be afraid. If tremors take over my fingers, the tools that I use to express, to create, to live, so what? My grandpa still lives. Right? After all, maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe it’s my mind that’s shaken, that’s rattled. My thoughts are unreliable at times, slipping through the fingertips of my mind. All haze creeps gradually away, inch by lingering inch, and clarity is just within reach, only to vanish once again, masked behind a dense gate of fog. They tease me as they fade in, then out, then in again, thoughts like a yo-yo. They are laced with promise, only to be ripped away, snatched away, by some unseen grip. It’s like tearing a page out of a novel, without which the story is broken, incomplete. This makes my palms twitch uncontrollably as though my blood is boiling. But I’m calm, I think. I’m fine. Why is it that I shake then? But the frightening thing, the most terrifying thing, is that they haven’t always done it. They haven’t always shaken, they haven’t always quivered. This makes me feel as though my whole body, my insides, are convulsing. And I am afraid.
by Samantha Brodsky