“I’m home!” I called out to my babushka.
Usually, this greeting would cause her to storm out of the kitchen and swat at me with her wooden spoon, but our apartment was quiet. She preferred that I speak only Russian to her while we were home.
“Babulya?” I called again.
Only silence greeted me.
I frowned as I walked through the empty kitchen where my babushka would typically be cooking dinner by now. It was odd that her tea kettle was still resting on the stove instead of pushed to the side to make room for her pots and pans.
My heart dropped when I saw her morning cup of tea still sitting on the counter. Babulya took her first cup strong and plain, but then had a second cup with lunch that she sweetened with sugar and milk. She always said she needed that first cup to wake from the dead, but the second she could savor and enjoy.
“Babulya?” I said a bit louder.
Maybe she had gone to the store?
My eyes flicked back to that cup of tea, and my worry only grew. She would have never left the apartment without drinking that tea.
Something was wrong.
I moved forward, breaking into a run as I slammed her bedroom door open. The apartment was small enough that this was the only other place she could be. I looked around slowly, and my brain failed to comprehend what I saw at first.
My eyes focused, and I shook myself out of my frozen state of shock. I ran to my babushka’s side and knelt beside her. Her body was crumpled on the ground as though she’d lost her balance and slid down the wall.
The second I touched my babushka’s hand, I knew the truth, but I couldn’t accept it. Her skin was cold and waxy, but I squeezed her hand and whispered her name again, praying she would open her eyes.
She stared blankly into the distance, and my hands trembled as I gently touched her face. I sucked in air as I tried to hold in a scream, but a pitiful cry still escaped my lips. I brushed the wayward strands of hair out of her eyes as they stared at nothing. My vision blurred as I sat back on my heels and rocked back and forth.
This couldn’t be happening. My babushka was still vibrant and full of life - she was far from frail or elderly. There had been no signs of failing health that had warned me this was a possibility.
My chest contracted in pain, and my entire body shook. I knew by looking at her that she was past help, so I didn’t run to call for emergency assistance. I just stared at the face that I loved as tears slowly slid down my cheeks.
Ice gripped my heart, and pain paralyzed me. Babulya was my only family - the only person I could always rely on to be there for me. Now she was gone, and guilt was eating me up inside. She died completely alone while I was at school, having fun with my best friend. She laid here, desperately struggling for life while I danced. I should have been here when she needed me most.
The next hour was blurry, and my memories of what happened next were disjointed. I must have called for help at some point, because police and EMTs were pounding at my door. I didn’t remember letting them in, but the image of the EMT shaking her head at the police officer was seared into my brain. That was confirmation that my babushka was really gone.
On the inside, I was screaming and sobbing. But on the outside, I just sat frozen in place. The next thing I knew, Ryan held me while Mrs. Logan spoke softly with the police officer. I closed my eyes, hoping that this was just a bad dream. A nightmare that could be washed away with the light of day.
When I opened my eyes again, nothing had changed. The only person who ever loved me was gone, and I was alone. Grief washed through me, and I withdrew from the world. Everything and everyone around me faded to a blur as I floated in a sea of despair. How could this happen?