First off, I want to apologize so much for forgetting to post this week’s Wordy Wednesday yesterday! In my defense, I had a lot going on yesterday (doctor’s appointment, visiting my high school for the holiday choir concert, hanging out with friends, etc), and I ended up having an epiphany in revising Dreamcatcher that took up quite a bit of time, but really: I spent a good half hour watching a Good Luck Charlie re-run on Disney Channel. I could’ve posted the Wordy Wednesday. So, sorry about that–it just completely slipped my mind. Forgive me? Maybe?
Second off, now that the Semester of Death, Doom, and Destruction’s finished–and I officially passed Spanish(!!!!!)–I’m going to be getting back to posting more often again! So be looking out for weekend posts and Fashion Fridays and all kinds of fun stuff! Whoohoo!
Third off, a reminder to enter my one year blogiversary giveaway! You can win signed copies of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, and Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter, and the only prerequisite to enter the raffle is that you have to be following this blog: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/50b1be0/ The giveaway ends at the end of the year!
Fourth off, here’s your very belated Wordy Wednesday, finally! I wrote this memoir my sophomore year of high school, after the death of my great grandmother. It’s a little bit rough, but it was good enough to win a silver key through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards this past year, so hey: it must be decent, right?
Here are two truths: The first is that it is human to talk about everything, from our favorite band to our least favorite teacher. The second is that there are some moments, some experiences, it is absolutely and irrevocably impossible to speak of. There are moments that change everything. There is a before and an after, and you can’t say anything about the in between.
There are words, but none that can explain the root emotion, the tearing sensation in your gut and the burning in your throat. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot fully explain the pain that came with my great grandmother’s death… but I can explain how it affected me.
Going into March, 2010, I had lost a lot and I was using that as an excuse for my decisions. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t responsible for my actions in grief, and although this is true, it was when I became aware of what I was doing, how I changed and hurt those I loved, that I did become responsible. It was then that I started lying to myself; that I refused to take responsibility for my actions in the aftermath and that I lost who I was.
I wanted to be mature, so I forced myself out of hoodies and into showy blouses. I wanted to be edgy, so I wore heavy makeup and too much jewelry. I ditched instant messaging on AOL for Facebook and began ignoring my “uncool” friends for more popular ones. I became obsessed with climbing the social ladder, with no particular goal in mind but to make it to the top.
This moment in March, 2010 took place during some cloudy day that was indiscernible from all those around it, except that it was wet not with rain but with tears. My great grandmother was two months away from her one hundred and fourth birthday, and she had told us on her one hundred and third that she wanted it to be her last. She said she was ready to go, whenever God chose to take her. We told her we weren’t ready for her to leave. She was the spunk, the spark, the spirit of my family. Something in her eyes promised us that she wouldn’t leave until we were ready.
Something promised that she would say goodbye first, so that we would be prepared.
That day in March, I sat in my seventh period geometry class, taking a test I was not at all prepared for, when the teacher’s phone rang. There was an unexplainable knot in my stomach, a dryness in my mouth. My skinny jeans felt too tight, my chic black vest making it impossible for me to get a good breath into my lungs.
I put down my pencil, turned off my calculator, and did everything short of taking my test up to Mrs. Hugh’s desk while I waited for her to finish talking to the attendance office. When she looked up, I met her eyes immediately. She said my name slowly, almost in a daze, and beckoned to me. “You need to go down to attendance. Take your things with you. You can make up your test on Monday.”
She didn’t need to say more than that for me to know, but still the shock of it turned my blood to ice and made me shiver uncontrollably. It’s like stepping onto the diving board and looking down, knowing that the water’s freezing cold, and then the actual feel of it against your skin when you take the leap. Or when you’re creeping up the first hill on a rollercoaster and you know you’re going to hate the feeling in your stomach when the cart plunges, but it’s ten times worse and more real when you actually begin to go down the other side. The worst part about that feeling is that there’s no going back once you’ve started falling. You can’t go back in time to before, to safety. And not matter how unprepared you are for the nosedive, you’re going to have to endure.
Here are two truths: The first is that time is just a frame of mind, a perception of your reality. The second is that grief makes your memory record in snapshots, a series of individual pictures rather than a full movie scene.
I remember I met my cousin at the door to the attendance office, and I remember the way he shuffled his feet and wouldn’t meet my eye. Neither of us spoke while we waited for someone to tell us what to do. A few minutes later, my mother arrived to drive us to the nursing home.
I remember that while we walked out of the school I whispered, “She’s gone, isn’t she?” and I could feel my face sticky with tears, though I wasn’t aware of the actual sensation of them falling.
I remember Mom whispering back, “Not yet.”
It was just my mother, my cousin, and me in the hallway, and our voices echoed over and over again like the sounds would never fade and would just go on and on after us.
“They just called me,” Mom went on, “and they said it could be a few minutes or a few hours… who knows. That’s why we’re going right away. We still have a chance to say goodbye.”
The way she said it just made me cry harder. Grandma and my mom were best friends.
I remember that it was while we were still in the car, but about to pull into the nursing home parking lot, that my grandparents called to say it was too late. Mom broke down crying and was barely able to pull into a parking spot because she couldn’t see through her tears. My heart broke seeing her like that, and I cried even harder. Not because I wouldn’t get to say goodbye, but because my mother wouldn’t.
While we waited in the elevator on the way up to Grandma’s floor, I was reminded of the last time we were there, a few weeks earlier. Grandma had had me read one of my poems to her. She always loved that I liked to write. I thought about how she wouldn’t get to see the musical I was the assistant director for at school, now. It was my first staff position for a show and I had really been looking forward to that.
The initial numbness began to wear off a bit, then. The realization began to sink in. Grandma was gone. She would never hear another piece of writing or see another show. She would never see me graduate, fall in love, fulfill my dreams.
When we got to her room, everyone else went straight inside to where her body lay on her hospital bed, small and frail and shrunken with age, but I refused to go in. I couldn’t see my lively great grandmother that way. I remained alone in the hallway while nurses and visitors bustled past me, too preoccupied with their own cares to take notice of the weeping girl on the floor. Or maybe they’d just seen too many crying people already.
Directly across the hall a TV blared a commercial for a Disney Channel show, but I don’t remember which. Inside, an elderly woman sat with her two granddaughters, both at least a few years younger than me and still rather pure and young-looking. I smiled through my tears. The older one was probably about sixth grade, the younger maybe third or fourth. It hit me that I missed the time before high school, before everything got so confusing. They were dressed in pink and blue clothes from Justice and the children’s section at Target, with white ankle socks and Crocs, and their hair long and in messy ponytails. They reminded me of me when I was their age.
The evening wore on in a relentless fashion. More relatives showed up, everyone stood around sobbing, and nurses and ministers and doctors and counselors kept coming up to me and trying to tell me that everything was going to be okay. No matter how much they said it, it wouldn’t sink in. I wanted to be left alone, to crawl into a ball and disappear.
I remember that just before we left for dinner, one of my aunts called into the room with the two little girls to say hello. Apparently she had met them before and they were friendly. The girls came out and they talked to my aunt like Great Grandma was their own grandmother, which didn’t surprise me since she was the kind of person who touched everyone she met, but I was surprised when they refused to acknowledge I was even there, standing beside my aunt. I forced a smile through all the pain and tried to talk to them a bit, but they wanted nothing to do with me.
I greeted them with, “Hey!” and they did this slight, shy little nod thing and looked away. I asked them what show they were watching and they glanced up and down my body dubiously and look away. I told them I liked their matching friendship necklaces and at that they looked away… mainly, they just looked away.
Here are two truths: The first is that your entire view of life can be changed within a day, or even just a few minutes. The second is that it’s when you care the most that you understand the least, and if you care too much about finding yourself you can forget what it’s like to be found.
On the way out of the nursing home, I glanced into a mirror out of pure reflex. I had on dark wash skinny jeans, black ballet flats, a tight fitting white t-shirt, and a black vest, all splotched with tears. My hair was short and sticking out in every which direction, still growing back from the chop job I’d been forced to get for a theatre production I played a boy in a few months earlier. I had on a ton of jewelry and makeup.
That afternoon, I had thought I looked trendy and edgy and cute. At that moment, I thought that I couldn’t look any more self-absorbed. Or any less like myself. Why wouldn’t those girls not want to look at me? I didn’t even want to look at me. I was fake, plastic, and a total stranger.
Children have always had a way of seeing things the rest of us can’t.
I learned a lot of lessons from my great grandmother. She always helped others before herself and had a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on waiting whenever anyone needed it, whether it was me or my mother or someone else. She had this constant twinkle in her eye that made her look like everything she said was either a secret, or a great adventure just waiting to happen, or both.
She gave me one last lesson in that meeting with the two little girls: For someone who has always held on for too long, I had really let myself go. I had lost myself in trying to be just like everyone else. Sure, my new friends thought I looked cool, but I didn’t. I didn’t look like myself. I didn’t look like who I wanted to be. In death, my great grandmother reminded me who I was, who I used to be, and who I wanted to become.
The next day we spent cleaning out her apartment. At one point, my dad told me to take a purse he found in the kitchen into her bedroom closet so that it could be boxed up with the rest of her bags.
The moment I walked into the cluttered room, it was like I was alone with my great grandmother again.
Of the entire apartment, it was the only place that entirely smelled of her still, not yet tainted by busy hands and packing tape. I buried myself among her coats and blouses, and the fabric blocked out the sounds of the rest of my family. In that moment, I realized that Grandma had done just as she had promised… she had told me goodbye.
The last time I had seen her, when I read her the poem I had written that day. There was a certain finality about our visit, about looking out the window at the courtyard below, everything still frozen in wintery mush. “Bye, Grandma,” Mom had said, awakening me from my daydreams and my staring out that window as I had done at least twenty times before during the short period of time Great Grandma was in the nursing home. “Come on, it’s time to go.” Mom had turned to me.
I walked over to Grandma, knelt down so that I was just in sight of her as she lay on her side in bed. “Bye, Grandma,” I had said. “I love you.”
“I love you,” she whispered back, her voice raspy and tired. She had planted a wet kiss on my cheek. I couldn’t remember a single time in years that Grandma had kissed me. I hadn’t wanted to let go of her. Both of us knew in that moment that we were saying goodbye.
How in all the hustle and bustle of life did I forget that moment? Why did I let myself hurt before I remembered?
Here are two truths: The first is that a city must burn before it can rebuild. The second is that sometimes this is true with people, too.
When I stepped out and away from Grandma’s shirts, letting the smell fade from my pores, I went back out into the living room where everyone else was continuing to pack up. There was a mirror there, and I stopped for a moment to take in my reflection. My hair was still spiky and short, but I had managed to get some of it into a ponytail. My makeup was light and minimal. I had on an old pair of straight-legged jeans, Converse, and a grey sweatshirt that said I Love Dance.
Who I saw in that mirror was that same little girl I had been when I was in elementary school, staying over at Grandma’s house in Florida back before she moved up to be with us in Michigan. The little girl who ate way too much Kraft macaroni and cheese, loved the Dumbo ride at Disney World, and thought the most entertaining thing in the world was to try and catch those little lizards that are everywhere you look in Orlando. I was the little girl who wanted to be wanted, but wanted to be herself even more, and still believed in miracles. I was just a little bit older, a little bit sadder, and a little bit stronger.
No longer would I be a puppet. No longer would I be plastic. That day was the first day of rebuilding. I was going to be a better person, more like my great grandmother.
The great thing about Grandma was that she always accepted me and everyone else, no matter whom we were and how we acted. She always knew who we were on the inside, deep down. Some adults go and try to change you when they see you branching off onto the wrong path, but Great Grandma let me make my own mistakes and guided me in the right direction by doing so. She supported me in anything I did, and was there to catch me if I fell. She was someone I could trust and always count on, and even in death she gave me a gift that nobody else was able to: perspective, direction, reassurance. She gave me my heart back.
Here are two truths: The first is that out of everything I got from Grandmas’s apartment, my greatest treasure is a year 2000 special edition Beanie Baby. It smells like her; it reminds me of her. It reminds me who I wanted to be and who I promised to become. The second is that since that day in March, 2010, I have become it.
I cannot explain in words the loss of my great grandmother and the pain it caused me, but I know the good that followed, that came of it. There is a before and an after, and I can’t say anything about the in between, but maybe that’s a good thing after all, because Great Grandma would have rather I focused on the happy “after” part anyway. And that’s the truth.