I Love You and Don’t You Forget It
My grandmother always had a habit of making things uncomfortable. Unlike most little old ladies, she wasn’t much for sugar-coating the world. I don’t believe she thought very much of the world in the first place. One of the clearest memories I have of her was one where she scared me. That’s the funny thing about childhood: you often hang on to the worst parts; instead of clinging to the warm and tender moments, you forget them like a dream, but the nightmares remain.
The cards you’re dealt are not always fair; that’s the unfortunate side-effect of the draw. My grandmother was the poster child of an unfortunate deck. The people she loved sucked the life and vitality out of her, till all that was left was the empty shell of a bitter woman. However, it is human nature to adapt, to find ways to survive; she found her strength in a bottle of Jack. Someone once said that drunk words were sober thoughts. I always found this to be an interesting interpretation of a drunk person’s babble, but as I watched her, the more I understood what they meant. I found her on the sofa, hair disheveled and her breath emitting a strong odor that made you twinge inward. There are many types of drunks: those that cry, those that get angry. While she could be cruel, this particular day her world was blue as if it had caved in on her and she was trying to find her footing. Her warm southern accent urged me closer to her; in my naivety I found myself by her side. With all her strength, that little petite hand gripped into my supple skin, assuring that I would stay in place. It scared me and I didn’t understand why. Why am I scared of someone that has always been warm to me, a safe place away from the rain. Her almond eyes were full of such intensity and pain; it took everything in me not to run away. Before I knew it, her eyes were pouring out tears as she said, “Listen girl, no matter what, I love you and don’t you forget it.” She gave me no other choice but to believe it. That was the last coherent thing she said before my grandfather finally pried her off me and set me in front of the TV.
On the edge of my seventeenth birthday my grandmother passed away suddenly. The paper wrote, a woman dies of a massive heart attack on 911, crashing into a tree, but what they forget to say is her heart gave up. It decided that enough was enough; that having an unfair hand was just an excuse for the world to say it was actually fair that every combination of cards was random, when in reality the hand of the world picks every card. My heart broke alongside hers. The thought that the world had finally taken the last bit of her that was left was too much for me. The way it made me feel was something I didn’t know how to describe at the time.
My favorite memories from that summer consisted of those I shared in her slice of paradise. My grandmother found a new life in nature, one where the bitterness couldn’t reach. The backyard was so much more to us than a yard; it was another world entirely. I can still smell the sweet aroma of wildflowers and roses that dotted her flowerbeds. The beautiful strong oak tree that shielded us from the sun’s abundant rays. Even the coy fish that would come to the surface to nibble on my fingers when I dipped them into the pond water. Words will never describe how lovely those memories were. The thought that they were gone forever made me feel—–empty.
The call came during my birthday dinner with my mom’s family. The phone buzzed and buzzed and buzzed until my mother finally gave in. Her face turned from irritation to a sickly shade of white. An awkward cry squeezed out of her throat involuntarily. It’s a sound you never want to hear, a sound that makes you want to crawl under your bed and never come out. But you have to, you have to face it. I looked into my mother’s eyes, deep into her irises, where the soul lies frail, and I knew that whatever came out of her mouth I wasn’t going to be ready for it.
The funeral came quickly as they always do I suppose. My father later told me that the world has a habit of testing you, pushing you to your breaking point again and again. I came to believe God hired the world to test you; he wants to bend you as far as you will go. He designed us to be strong against the crashing waves that try to erode us piece by piece. Constantly testing his creations faith in him, your perseverance, your ability to withstand hardships and challenges. I remember dreading the funeral. I woke up with a slow kind of depression where everything feels like someone turned the speed down on life. Everything comes in phases; everyone hugs you and tries to condole you, then they attempt to lighten the mood. You laugh because otherwise you’re sitting in silence feeling your own grief. Then you sit again and repeat this interaction until the room is full of family, friends, and the strays.
The funeral was a blur, one moment the preacher was at the pulpit and the next I found myself in front of the casket. I was looking down at the shell of the person I had come to know. Flashes of her garden came to mind and the feeling that it evoked surprised me; I was angry. No, I was furious; I was mad at the world that stole her away from me. Most of all, I was mad at myself for not trying harder to save her, help her, anything to stop this outcome. Maybe if I had poured the bottles down the sink, or maybe if I visited more, I could have lessened the strain on her heart. Now I’m the one sitting here with fat welts of tears running down my cheeks. It almost made me want to laugh at the irony of it all.
Looking back, I know that it wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t something I could have changed. Trying to change a person is like stopping a leak—the moment you let go, it all gushes out again. The world is the worst shuffler of cards, but that doesn’t mean you have to play by its rules. My grandmother fell into the game and couldn’t find her way out; she didn’t realize that you always have the choice to walk away, even if that means walking away from a son. She got caught up in what things were—and didn’t realize what they could be. There isn’t a magical clock that turns time back, so the past is something you have to live with, which isn’t something she could tolerate. She couldn’t handle the person that she had created, but she didn’t know how to fix it. They say a mother’s love knows no bounds, but a mother’s hate is a whole other monster. Sometimes all you can do is let dogs lie and be ok with it, which is the hardest thing for a mother to do. As a mother, all you want for your kids is the best, but what do you do when they reject that, even beat that ideal out of you? I suppose only she and that bottle knew how that conversation ended.
A wise man once said that death is a byproduct of life, and without it, we would never truly live. This felt like an unspoken law I had always just passed by. Why would we take chances, live right, if we knew that it went on forever? My grandmother didn’t always live her life right, but she lived her life the best way she knew how. She took chances and while they didn’t always work out, she always made her way. One day I’ll find her amongst the wildflowers and tell her, “I love you, and don’t you forget it.”