I write for me. First and foremost, I write because I need to, because there are things inside me that need to be released and at the same time, captured. I need them to be somewhere that can be reached when I am in another place and time and feel the pull to come back. Everything I write, I write because I feel it needs to be preserved. Even if not permanently, even that moment is important.
That being said, I aim for everything I write to have an audience. Otherwise, what’s the point? If a tree falls in the woods… but okay, I’m not in the woods. I’m screaming in front of people who can’t hear me. But they see me screaming. Understand?
That being said, I’m going to get personal for now because I have something I want to say out loud about all of the things I feel I can’t say out loud.
There’s something narcissistic about being a poet. There’s a wishful thought in my heart that I will be remembered. Knowing the odds are that I won’t be loved as much as I lived to be loved for until I am long gone, I’m okay with that. Just please don’t forget about me.
But when I am going, not when I am already gone, when I am just starting to coast into those last years of my life, I want to be remembered, too. Please don’t forget me. Please don’t consider me gone before I have left, and please don’t rush me out the door. Please remember who I was, who I was until very recently – when you realized the tables had been turned. No longer the source of comfort, or security, or perhaps even stability, I am still going to be someone you assumed you loved.
Some families are quilted together like a patchwork quilt; they’re close-knitted, tight-stitched, and will most certainly keep one warm when the sun is not shining on them. My family could be better compared to a crocheted afghan. There are big holes. It’s a little tacky. But it was made with love. My family is as large as it is because we’ve lived, we’ve loved, we’ve lost and we’re sentimental packrats in every aspect of our lives. We even keep the dirt because at one point, flowers grew there…and someday, maybe they could again.
There are gaping holes in my family’s stitching. I don’t know what caused them, but when I pick at anyone for answers, I feel those holes widen. There are skeletons I’ve yet to be introduced to in my family’s closet and I’m not necessarily eager to meet them, and I couldn’t begin to understand them. I don’t even particularly care that it could answer questions for me at this point, because when it comes down to the basic elements of what I believe to be true about families, this is it: families stick together because we love, and love bears all.
When I was small, I adored my Grama Barb, and I still do. She was the peak of my childhood, every day I spent with her. I lived with her in her modest house on Dean Street and I guess my father did, too, but I don’t remember him being there. Every memory I have of him in that house is him walking out the door, most vividly the time he shook me off his leg to meet his girlfriend at the bar.
(Redaction refused after my second thought because I’m tired of pulling punches.)
After he married and decided to uproot our lives much like I’m doing to my own children now, she disappeared. We never spoke of Grama Barb and when we did it was in tones that reminded us we were not supposed to do that. We visited rarely and only out of severe obligation, and I went from seeing my best friend and constant companion every day to going months without a reminder from anyone but my own homesick heart that she still existed.
We were told to drop it. We were told not to question it, and be happy with the time we were able to spend with her at his own convenience. But it was never enough. They were small reprieves amidst constant oppression at home. I counted the weeks, the days, until I knew I could see her again. It felt like holding my breath underwater.
I always told myself I’d come back for her. As soon as I could go out on my own, I would be with her. I would come back to take care of her and we would live together and eat potato soup and cornbread every day and walk to the library every week and I’d take care of her when she grew old (which was never going to happen) and we’d be happy. Me and Grama Barb. We’d spend our days watching Murder She Wrote and Doctor Who and sampling different kinds of candies at the sweets shop.
So there was a childish sort of hope that I would be able to someday live with Grama Barb again. When I grew up and began looking for places to plant my own family’s roots, it occurred to me that I could make that decision now. I could actually go back and do what I always wanted to do. My first dream was to go home. I’ve had many since then, even ones involving leaving home, but this was my first dream, and there’s something special about the first one.
It was a forgotten promise I’d made so many years ago and now, I had the chance and the reminder. As I have been rebuilding my life brick by brick each day with a better foundation in my marriage and my understanding of my children and my more stable sense of self, she has begun to fade. Her once relentless body has begun to wither and wilt. She is no longer the steely-spined matriarch with gold-green eyes. She is now the brittle and breakable grandmother and great-grandmother we refused to believe for so long would ever take her place.
And it scares the hell out of me, the thought of my world without her.
I am in no rush to come to terms with this. I cannot fathom the idea that she is old. She barely qualifies for a senior citizen’s discount. Yet there are those in our family who tilt their head to the side and remark how sad it is but yet how little of a shock, she is, after all, almost 70. Fuck 70. I see your 70 and I raise you a 90. 95 even. I know she’s on oxygen and I know she rivaled a refinery in terms of secondhand smoke contribution to the environment, but I can’t deal with it so give me more time.
Thus, our decision to move this summer. Naively believing I could, maybe, come home to take care of her. To be there for her and do the selfless things she had done for everyone else for so long. Cooked for, cleaned after, watched and sat with, spent time with that maybe could be better spent – but not really. To be a source of comfort and encouragement. A hand to hold like she held mine. I could never repay my grandmother for everything she made better in my life, not in a thousand lifetimes. But I wanted to come home and try.
I saw her in her new home this week. She shares a room with a sad woman who also suffers from Forgotten Mom Syndrome (the feeling of, or the actual event of having been abandoned by your adult children) listening to the chirpy encouragement from nurses who are there to make the money they thought a quick certification would give them. She has the choice of plain meat on a plain bun with tapioca, or noodles and tomato sauce with canned green beans for dinner. When they bring her the tapioca, she laughs at the whipped cream and a cherry on top. “Like wrapping a turd in tissue paper,” she says. She tries to feed her food to anyone who will take it from her because she can’t taste it. There’s nothing to taste, that paper doll food.
As she shifts uncomfortably in the hospital bed, she slowly lifts her legs with her arms, because every movement is a full-bodied effort. She moves to the other side of the bed and the Tattle-Tale goes off. This is what I call the alarms strapped to her bed and chair, every place she can rest, all waiting to screech to the nurses that she’s being “independent” again. How dare she.
Trapped in her own body, she is. A mind that has always been on its own track, going at its own pace, now running rampant in a shell that can no longer keep up. I wonder what she’s thinking in there, while everyone around here thinks of something else in their own lives. An aunt thinking about the dozens and dozens of hours per week she’s putting in at work, a cousin thinking about the upcoming birth of her newest baby, a father thinking of an excuse to not have to come next week, a nurse thinking about the sleep she can’t wait to have. She’s been here eight hours already, and has eight more to go. This is the same nurse who will be taking care of my Grama at the fifteenth hour, losing her patience and telling her this is all her own fault. This is the corporation that runs her life now. To think that anyone but she could run her own life is ludicrous to me. She has always been my prime example of what it means to muck through, to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other. Now, it takes dedicated thought and much effort to take that step. I never noticed when she slowed down, or refused to admit it was happening. To see it so painfully obvious now, it shames me to think about what I’ve wasted this time doing instead.
Some say it is a part of life, that it is inevitable. Grandmothers grow old and when things grow old or become less useful, we shelve them until we have forgotten them, and when they are rediscovered they are so obsolete in our lives, we throw them away.
I have spent far too much time and effort, blood, sweat, tears, ink and paper to settle for being forgotten. This is why I write. For me, for you, for us and them and for her. I write for her now because I can’t say these things at home. I can’t say these things without someone shushing me and trying to quiet their own guilt. I can’t say these things because the more I say them, the more I understand why she might be better off in a home than at home.
When I am going, not gone, but going, I will be at home. I will be loved and surrounded by my life, my family, and I will sleep in my bed next to my Fair Ginger Lover until the day we don’t wake up, still curled in each other’s arms. If any one of my children have otherwise to say about it, shoot us both because I will have failed as a mother if I have not taught my children to love as they have been loved.
I will not be forgotten, and I will not forget. I never have, and it is forefront in my mind as I make plans to transplant my family back to my hometown. Maybe I can’t save her. But I will spend every day making damn sure she knows I will never leave her behind.