As an adolescent, I had an amazing desire to write about my grandma because, up to that point, I considered her life amazing. From the outside, it shined to me. Having been in an abusive marriage since she was 15, when her children were old enough and with their loving support, she left rural Kansas and made her way to the Alaskan pipeline. She would become one of the wealthiest in our family and she would return to Kansas somewhat of a hero. But I would learn in the quiet alone times we shared that there was more to her story. She grew to trust me. Perhaps it was that I trusted her to help me bring my child into the world or that she knew I had a deep and abiding love for her. But I knew things others didn't. What I had seen as a shining freedom was tarnished by an incredible fear of my grandfather. It would take 3500 miles to give her mind some ease. Eventually, she knew she would return. She wanted to retire around her children. I feel blessed that my life flowed in away that allowed me to briefly return as well because it was in this time that I learned the most about her.
My grandma had an older sister that enjoyed the company of boys. This was not allowed, of course, but free-spirits will be free-spirits. She was sneaking out and convinced my grandma to join her. They went joy riding with some of the wilder boys around -- my grandfather being one of them. The sisters somehow separated and my grandma found herself arriving home much later. The boy that had dropped her sister off had successfully been stealth about it. It was not the case with my grandfather. He was busted and so was grandma. They barely knew each other and from what my grandma said there was nothing between them but that did not matter to either set of my Catholic great-grandparents. There was a decision made between the four of them that there would be a marriage. It was made clear, the punishment would be a life together.
This was the story she told me as we sat on her porch swing during a calm day in late September. I remember looking at the leaves which were turning into the brilliant shades of fall and I remember a squirrel that had taken a liking to my grandma pausing at her in disbelief.
There was more than one irony in this tragedy. Having never wanted her, when she left, he made it clear that no one else would have her. He would be watching her. She believed him having little skill in trusting her own thoughts. Life was her own 3500 miles away but when she returned, as he promised, he stayed close. I loved my grandfather but I had begun to see him differently. He lived his life with a companion who was devoted to him but he could never relinquish what he thought was his rights regarding my grandma. From 15 on, he had been an incredibly intense influence on who she thought she was. One she would never shake. She became a No to any joy that attempted to enter her life. As time passed, she would become more and more unhappy living in such close proximity to him.
That is, until the Universe did a most clever thing.
It began to take her memory.
I was far from her when I came into full realization of how much of her we had lost. I was calling checking in and was often told she was sleeping. I was writing to her and sending the letters to my aunt who was caring for her. Or so, I thought. I know how difficult it can be to care for someone who has issues in processing information, speaking, and caring for themselves. So part of me understood when I made a surprise visit to see my grandma, I would not find her with my aunt but rather in a nursing home. But I was not prepared to meet the frail helpless woman that I had once known to be my grandma and who had once known me. I frightened her. They couldn't calm her. Then there was a moment when she paused and looked at me like the squirrel had looked at her...in disbelief. Perhaps, she was just my mirror.
While she lived in Alaska, we would write to each other. I wish I still had those letters. I have mine in my childish heart...easily stored since they were consistently alike:
How are you? I am fine.
(Big Brother) found a (insert insect, reptile, small mammal)
and (Little Sister) is fine and (Baby Brother) is fine. I hope you are fine.
I love you,
(insert seriously over embellished signature)
P.S. Mom and Dad want me to tell you they love you
(sometimes this was true and sometimes it was not but
it was included because I like P.S.s and I knew, in fact,
that they did love her).
I wrote her one last letter when I returned home from that visit. I wrote of that deep and abiding love for her. I wrote that it was okay to let go and go Home and that we'd we always be together. I included a poem I had published about her. My aunt read the letter to her several times, I was told. Curiously, she stopped eating. She died a few weeks later. I did not attend the funeral. I tried but that's another story.
I wonder what her life would have been like if she could have told another story. I wonder in what way she would have shaped it with the knowledge that we create our world through purpose or by default and, sometimes, both. I know that she wanted me to tell an amazing story. After her death, I began to have reoccurring dreams of her. They were vivid and to the point. She would be standing silhouetted in my door frame gesturing for me to come while picking up my suitcases. Those dreams have been replaced. The other night, I dreamed of the beach. A beautiful sunset. Warm. I can feel a light breeze. A silhouette comes towards me. It's her. I begin to reach out for her but I can't move my arms. I look down and I'm holding my suitcases.
Yes. She wants me to tell the most amazing story I can. So I will.