Grandma was the one constant in my life. I changed, but she never did. She sat in her chair, in her house, read the paper, made simple dinners, called me, asked me to take her out shopping.
That woman loved to shop.
Even when her cane slowed her down and I became aggravated. I tried not to let it show, but I think she could tell half the time.
But she stopped sitting in her chair in her house, stopped reading the paper, stopped making simple dinners, stopped calling me and asking me to take her out shopping. She stopped. Her heart stopped. She died of kidney failure a year ago today.
It’s hard being my age and hearing my peers talk about their grandparents. I feel like I’m too young to not have grandparents.
But, as my boyfriend says, c’est la vie. Such is life. But I miss her terribly.
I don’t want to think about it and her and seeing her for the last time.
I don’t want to think about it and her and seeing her for the last time and holding her hand and letting her try on my then-new sneakers and hearing her laugh because she couldn’t hear what any of us were saying.
I don’t want to think about her climbing into that red truck and driving away.
I don’t want to think about letting her go.
I don’t want to think about spending a weekend with grandparents that weren’t even mine when my last grandparent took her last breath.
I don’t want to think about her reaction when she saw my pixie cut last year after it had just been done she loved it, she loved it, she loved it.
I don’t want to think about her fingers running through my hair, smiling up at me with her crooked teeth because, at that point, she’d given up on wearing her dentures and pretty much had stopped combing her thinning white hair after years of raking an insistent, painful brush through mine.
I don’t want to think about the phone call and the silent sobs, Hannah climbing into the backseat to hold me, her mom driving on in silence.
I don’t want to think about the three-hour drive home that day because I don’t even remember it.
I don’t want to think about the boy who didn’t care, who hadn’t even checked his voicemail to hear my muffled explanation, who, when I told him where I was, what had happened, how I felt, he sounded…surprised.
I don’t want to think about work tomorrow and the fact that it’s 1 a.m. and I’ll wake up with puffy eyes.
I don’t want to think about this weekend a year ago as the last time I ever saw her alive.
Writing sucks. A lot (of dick, if we’re going beyond PG here).
Writing takes me forever.
So that explains my absence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve conjured up the “Add New Post” screen, only to look at the clock and realize two hours of writing would cut my sleeping time down immensely.
Writing a post means spending time away from the book I’ve been reading or the people I could get to know. Writing means solitude, a word and thing I’ve been trying to avoid as of late. Writing means having to pay close attention to detail and trying so very hard not to make a mistake I’m sure my “enemies” would call me out on Twitter for.
Three years of college and I’ve made some enemies, apparently. Imagine that.
I’ve spent the last couple days at home, watching my grandparents’ belongings get sold to strangers and Walnut trees fall in all their green-and-brown glory.
Some things are ending, but others are beginning. Like my life. My life, man.
Seven credits of college classes separate me from what I’m told is actually – this time – the “real world.” They had lied to me before when I graduated from high school. College isn’t the real world. College is the excuse I use for the drunken weekends and the hangover I have on Friday mornings that is too severe to make it through that morning’s class. But the professor understands when I email him. It’s college, after all.
More than 30 credits separated me from life then. Now I’m down to seven. Seven credits. Seven.
I could graduate early. Get a job. Leave my friends. Get an apartment. Save money. Pay back my loans.
Writing is hard, yet I’m trying to make a career out of it.
A career that I can actually see now. A career where an email on Friday morning from a hungover Emily just won’t fly anymore. I’m more mature than most at my age, but I am having difficulty with accepting this.
When they stopped being able to make it to things. When they stopped hearing. When they stopped being able to walk.
The last track meet they ever watched me run in was when I was in seventh grade. I ran the 4X8 and the 1500. My coach let me skip the 800 because I’d almost beaten the school record in the 1500. I had earned the privilege of going home. I remember leaving the track with Grandma and Papa trailing along. Grandma probably carried the scratchy blanket they always used to keep in their car.
We stopped telling them about musicals and plays I acted in because they couldn’t hear the performers anyway. Even home track meets and cross country meets were impossible because they just couldn’t get around to them.
Papa fell at Jordan’s college graduation ceremony when he got up to use the restroom. Adam blamed me because I’d been in front of him. I cried in my black and white polka-dotted dress. My shoes matched perfectly. It’s all a tear-soaked blur, but I can still see him falling. Falling. Falling. The army veteran and former hardworking Cummins salesman was so embarrassed.
I just wrote that we didn’t take them to Trevor’s college graduation, but “them” wasn’t even possible. Papa had died the year before. He saw everyone graduate from high school except me.
I’m all disconnected disjointed broken with my words because my tear ducts still haven’t run dry. I think about last year when Grandma was around for Easter.
Easter was early my senior year of high school and Grandma and Papa watched my brothers and I scramble around outside for an Easter egg hunt.
Papa went to the hospital a few weeks later.
I know you’re not supposed to regret things in life, but I regret all the times I told Grandma and Papa, “no thank you” when they asked me to do things. I regret complaining about how slow Grandma walked during our shopping trips, how I had to keep track of her cane, how she never stopped talking. I’d give anything to have the voicemail she left on my phone that I accidentally deleted a year ago.
I’d give anything to have either of them back.
I remember when they stopped coming, but I also remember when I stopped going. Stopped wanting to visit them, then stopped wanting to visit her when she lived there alone. When we stopped inviting them over because it was just too hard and then stopped inviting her over because she never shut up.
Dear Emily from a Year Ago,
Stop complaining and go fucking visit her. Give her a hug from me because the clock’s ticking and pretty soon she’ll be gone.
An older, wiser you
I carry them with me everywhere, but the cold metal pendant can’t provide me with the full dosage of warmth I need.
It never will.
Their memories haven’t reduced me to tears since the first day I saw the bed missing from their bedroom. I cried and cried and cried and my dad just enveloped me.
I think my problem is that I just got back from another trip to New York City and I remember telling my grandma all about it last year. I sat on her brand-new couch (that now has my name on it) and she sat in her usual chair. She told me about the time she spent in the city when she and Papa were first married. How they had a bedroom in a house where they lived with a few other people. Papa taught her how to drive in the city, she and Papa played cards in the city. She took a part-time job in a department store(?) while he began his career. If my mom, aunt and uncle can’t tell me more about my grandparents’ lives as newlyweds, those memories are lost forever.
Because he died.
She followed (basically) suit.
Next time I see them, I’ll be sure to invite them to things. Something tells me they’re able to hear and walk better in their post-life adventure.
Six months and I didn’t even realize it. Logging in to Facebook yesterday morning brought this post made by my mother to my attention:
…followed by some silent tears because Emily, of course, tries to hold back emotions when she’s in public places. She’d rather be overwhelmed by them late at night when she can pull the flower-shaped capsule containing her grandparents’ ashes up to her mouth to kiss.
I had never seen that photo before, the one on the left where my mother clasped her mother’s worn, battered hands shortly after life escaped her.
Grandma always had messed-up knuckles. She used to scold me for cracking my knuckles as often as I do (who knew her loss of hearing would actually be a blessing in disguise? No more scolding!). “Do you want your hands to look like these?” she’d say, holding up her tired-looking hands to taunt me. If I’m not mistaken, her brother or someone in her family had shut the car door on her hand as a child, creating some funky-looking joints and misshapen fingernails.
Her sun-spotted hands combed my hair, poured water over my head in the bathtub and kneaded apple pie crust just enough without overworking the dough. She taught me how to do needlepoint, played Go Fish! with me and played the piano for me back when she took lessons in her 70s. Those hands did a lot. She was quite the lady.
We moved what I call my “Big-Girl Bed” into my room over this past winter break from my grandparents’ house. I went into the house ahead of my dad to collect the sheets and prep the mattress and box spring.
“Emmie?” Dad asked when he walked in through the garage door, but I didn’t answer. My sobs had forced me to sink into myself as a headache crept over my brain from all the scrunching and frowning. He found me, blinked back tears himself and just held me. “I know… this sucks,” he said. That only made me sob harder.
Yeah. Emily got her Big-Girl Bed. But she lost her grandma.
I don’t think about her as often as I did. She’s on my ankle, she’s around my neck, she’s on the walls, she’s everywhere, but I don’t break down as often as I used to. It takes certain triggers to set me off. My mom’s Facebook post did the trick.
Below is my poem from the 2013 Poetry Slam at St. Bonaventure University. I sat down afterward, put my head between my knees and sobbed. Hope you do the same…?
Trevor refused to divulge his plan. “You’ll see when we get there,” he said.
He probably knew we’d all steal his idea if we had known ahead of time. We definitely would have stolen his idea.
So we set a 5-hour block appointment with our favorite tattoo artist. I had my design; Mom, hers; Kim –– my almost sister-in-law –– hers. Adam’s, of course, had to do with music to start a sleeve on his right arm instead of continuing his left.
But all of our ideas meant something, even Adam’s. Local Natives’s music inspires him, why not have lyrics tattooed on his arm? “Who Knows Who Cares” is a beautiful sentiment because, honestly, who knows anything and, frankly, who even cares?!?
But Trevor’s. Oh, Trevor’s. He won. His idea was the best. His meant the most.
My grandparents had different tapes we’d listen to on the way to Sunday School every week. The last van they purchased had to have a tape player so they could keep playing them. My three older brothers and I loved one particular tape the most out of the others. And even when a 16-year-old Jordan and then a 16-year-old Trevor took over the driving, pushing Grandma to the middle row of seats, we still loved listening to that tape.
A little boy –– I can’t quite remember his name –– went off walking one day, out in the woods to romp and play. He came to a clearing and happened upon a rather large pond. He hesitated. He wanted to get to the other side as fast as possible but wasn’t sure what to do.
“Peep! Peep! Just knee deep!” a group of young peeper frogs exclaimed.
“Better go around,” an old, deep-voiced bullfrog belched and Papa imitated him perfectly.
He thought about it. The little peeper frogs’ way was surely the best –– he’d get to the other side far more quickly and heck, if it’s only knee deep, he thought, why not?
“Peep! Peep! Just knee deep!”
Following the peeper frogs’ advice, the boy waded into the pond and passed the knee-deep level. The water got deeper and deeper and, because he couldn’t swim, the boy drowned in the pond.
“Shoulda gone around,” the bullfrog croaked.
I know what you’re thinking. What a terribly tragic story. But I never thought that; I always loved it. I can still hear Papa saying “Better go around” in his gruff voice while I shrieked “Peep! Peep! Just knee deep!” in my whiny, childish voice.
There’s a lesson in the story that I only recently realized: trust your wise elders and don’t rush life. Take the long way around. Enjoy the journey instead of rushing it to get to the destination. We know things didn’t end well for the little boy that day. He “Shoulda gone around.”
So tears gathered in my eyes when Trevor finally told us his tattoo idea. And when the tattoo artist lifted the needle from Trevor’s bicep for the final time, wetness trickled down
my freckled cheek.
Don’t get a tattoo just to get one. Make sure it means something to you. You win bonus points if it makes your little sister cry out of happiness like my brother’s did.
When I turned 13, I got my room redone. We covered the ugly mauve walls with bright raspberry, periwinkle, lime green and orange. I had my first boy-girl party that year. My crush came. He gave me AFI’s Decemberunderground CD. Nothing happened.
When I turned 14, I got my first iPod, a square, silver Nano that I promptly named “Pandora.” I wish I could access my mom’s computer right now to upload those pictures. My hair was long and curly. My crush-turned-boyfriend gave me a beautiful little heart necklace. If I remember correctly. Maybe that was Christmas…
When I turned 15, my mom made homemade pizza and wings, but didn’t think to thaw out the wings before putting them in the deep fryer. It overflowed, spilling oil all over the floor. Grandma and Papa came over with cleaning supplies to save our ship. With my brand-new camera (an orange Kodak EasyShare point-and-shoot), I took a “selfie” of my Papa and me. I have pizza sauce in the corners of my mouth.
When I turned 16, my dad couldn’t find my birth certificate. We rushed out to the DMV after he found it, but they had already stopped offering driver’s permit tests for the day. I pouted. And I couldn’t eat cake because I had the most important cross-country meet of the season (Sectionals) the next day. I made it to the state championship meet. Then I bought myself another iPod with my birthday money.
When I turned 17, I ran at Sectionals and qualified for the state championship meet again. Robby and his mom both gave me iPods. (I know…) And, to my mother’s dismay, I told our waitress at Red Robin it was my birthday and the wait staff gathered around our table and sang. My mom sat with her head in her hands.
When I turned 18, Robby gave me a diamond promise ring. I haven’t worn it in almost a year.
When I turned 19, Mom and I went on a shopping spree and Robby gave me diamond earrings. The cross-country girls sang to me at my door when I returned to school.
When I turned 20, my parents and brothers gave me my grandparents. I cried.
“Forego sleep when an idea strikes,” I offered as a writing tip in my opinion writing class a few weeks ago.
It should have been, “If you can’t sleep, write.” ‘Cause that’s what I’m doing right now.
And since I read this article a few days ago, I know I’m simply screwing my brain over by not sleeping right now. So that feels good. Those imaginary garbage men are getting some time off after working overtime to clean out the toxins I accumulated this past weekend.
I’m up because my heart won’t stop racing. I had this same problem when I was younger. My mom would tell me to clear my head and stop thinking so much, but I never could.
Tonight I’ve been overanalyzing relationships I’ve had and imagining new ones.
The unknown scares me, but each day I plunge deeper and deeper into it.
I wish I had more time with my grandmother.
“Where were you?” My roommates asked last weekend.
“Visiting my grandparents,” I replied.
Grandma ushered me into their warm, cozy home with a plate of cookies and a chair to sit in next to a crackling fireplace. Papa cracked a joke and Grandma offered me a glass of milk to go with my cookies.
No. I stood next to a hunk of cold marble holding an umbrella in one hand and a bouquet of autumn-colored flowers in the other. “Happy Sweetest Day,” I said and produced enough tears to rival the rain.
That was an exaggeration. But you get my point. I cried a lot, okay?
These brand-new sheets of mine have already developed pills and it pisses me off. I must thrash around in my sleep. Don’t read too far into that.
Now this is just turning into a stream of consciousness post. Hey, Virginia Woolf.
Speaking of Virginia Woolf, I’m still wondering if I should drop my English major. Make it a minor. Make it easier. But since when has Emily ever take the easy way out of things? Haha never.
My hands still smell like the onions I chopped for the batch of potato soup I made on Friday. Papa would have loved it.
Most of the things I’ve been mulling over are now in this post. I’ll let the rest fester. You’ve suffered long enough.
I had been meaning to write about my visit to my grandparents’. I’m glad I suffered from insomnia tonight.
But, like Junie B. Jones and her ‘B’ for “Beatrice,” I’ve never particularly liked Margaret. I always liked the sound of Emily Kathryn, or “Emmy Kate” for short (my parents’ original plan). But Grandma was in the hospital when I was born and they didn’t think she would make it.
She lived. But I still became Margaret.
I used to tell this story with such disdain. Emmy Kate seemed like a cool name –– why the hell did they have to switch it to “Margaret” at the last minute?
…but I don’t really mind anymore. I’m proud that I am a “Margaret.”
Before dementia really began kicking in, Grandma and I did a lot together. She loved brushing my hair and always –– always –– conducted fingernail inspections. “Let me see your nails,” she’d say when I dropped by for a visit. And –– sorry, Grandma! –– she wouldn’t be too pleased with their appearance right now.
I don’t plan on telling the Emily Kathryn story anymore. I’m happy with Margaret.