My grandmother would have been 87 years old today. Fortunately, she passed on the eve of my 30th birthday. Twenty five minutes prior, to be exact. I honestly believe that she was trying to hang on so that she could die on my birthday, just to make sure that I’d remember her. As though I could ever forget. Her.
I don’t feel good about saying bad things about my grandmother. But I don’t think this day can pass without some observation concerning the impact that her abuse had on my life. In my mind, even now, she is almost demonic. I have yet to meet another human being who is as treacherous and cruel as she was. Yet, in both of those things, she was brilliant, really. It takes a lot to manipulate so many people in the way that she did.
For reasons that I don’t want to think about, my grandparents ended up raising me from infancy. My mother was still in my life, and I knew that she was my mother, even though, as soon as I could speak, Grandmother had me calling my own mother ‘Lil Sister’. Still, I just knew that Lil Sister was my mommy and she was going to make things right and stop running off and leaving me the way she did. But, that wasn’t to be. I recall the day that I knew my mother was never going to take me home with her again…the day that I knew she’d no longer be my mother and that it was time to stop missing her. I was four years old. On that day, I stopped the silly fantasies of a small child and no longer allowed myself to dream that my mother could, or would, ever love me.
The available alternative to Mother was my grandmother. She was addicted to pills and her own ego. The woman was built like a brick shithouse, but she behaved like a blow-up doll that had come to life. She tormented my grandfather, who was my hero, and he, in turn, tormented her. Although I never saw him lay a hand on her, I’d beg him to kill her when they’d fight, which was often. Even at my earliest memory, I was aware that death would be the only thing to make her stop what she was doing to me. As it turned out, so many years later, that was still true.
In any case, I hope that I can someday remember something good about the woman. She was beautiful. I suppose that’s a good thing. Except that she used her beauty as a weapon, of sorts. And I know she rescued animals. There was always some strange creature being cared for at our house. And stray children. She did take in children that needed help. She’d shower them with love, but she withheld it from me. She beat me every chance she got. And she cursed me with these odd bits of mumbo jumbo. I found it comical even when I was little. (I was on to her bullshit from a very early age). I tend to think that it was because I looked so much like my mother or something…that she’d beat me. It had to be something like that. There had to be a reason. Who knows? I just always spend this day, year after year, trying to think of something really good in her…a memory to grab onto. I’ve yet to think of what that memory might be. Perhaps that makes me a bad person, too. I guess I’ll just have to live with that.
I won’t say that I suffer ill effects from the abuse she imposed upon me. It did not make me a monster. I did not visit that on the heads of my boys, and they are good people. The things she did have always served as a guideline as to what not to do…how not to live. Maybe I should be grateful for that. I am grateful that my mother and I have been able to, not only reconcile, but flourish as mother and daughter and best of friends. We share a pain that never quite leaves us, but has been rendered powerless in our lives. That’s a miracle. To me, anyway. And, in many ways, my grandmother made me stronger. To her immense disappointment, I was always stronger than her, even when I was small.
I found a letter many years ago that my grandmother had written to my uncle when he was in the Navy. I was two years old when it was written. She complained that, no matter how many times she’d say ‘no’, I’d say ‘yes’ that many times, and one more. She said I was the most cussid child she had ever known and that I was very difficult to love. I kept the letter. It’s in an old box, somewhere. Now and then I run across it and, for some reason, I always laugh. I’m laughing now, just thinking about it. Because I’m the type of person, so many decades later who, when she’s told ‘no’, she will say ‘yes’ that many times, and one more. Defiant? Maybe. Determined? Absolutely. Strong? Till the bitter end. So…thanks for that, Grandmother, and a very happy birthday to you!