Today, my grandmother drew her last breath, with my mother holding her hand. There are few people I’ve had a more complicated relationship with than my grandmother.
I remember when I was young, she would babysit me, and we would curl up in her big yellow chair and watch Sesame Street. That chair was one of my favorite places to be, warm and fuzzy and full of love. We would sing along and laugh.
Sometimes we didn’t laugh. When I misbehaved, she would threaten and sometimes make good on her promise to spank me, with a wooden spoon or a paint stick.
She taught me about psychics and mysticism, even though it was more her mother than herself who embraced the tradition of the witch.
She also taught me, at the tender age of six, that I should swirl food on my mouth and spit it out, instead of eating it. “You get all the taste, but you won’t get so fat.”
I was in awe of her habit of spending a few minutes a day standing on her head. Inversion, she told me, was key: it sent fresh blood to your brain and kept you young. I studied yoga because I believed there was truth in her words.
She never left the house without a full face of makeup on, and she taught me how I could use a scarf to put on my dress after I’d beat my face, so that I wouldn’t get a mark on the fabric. It was a great disappointment to her that I didn’t wear lipstick every day.
Maybe it was the lipstick thing… or maybe it’s because I’m bisexual AF (surprise, Grandma!)… but she sighed and shook her head at me on the regular, telling me I looked like “a sad little lesbian.” She thought I should find a man to take care of me.
She glared and glowered at my grandfather, and from the time I was born, I don’t remember them sharing a room. When I was young, I thought she hated him, and I didn’t understand it. I loved him so much.
I don’t think she hated him. I think most of the time she hated herself. She punished herself all of the time: starving herself, retreating to bed for days, taking Ativan like candy. She swung between extremes. She was depressed, or she was grandiose, but she was always dramatic.
Eventually, as an adult, I recognised that she was mentally ill. I forgave the pain she gave me, but I still carry the scars. I look back at pictures of her as a young woman… when she was glowing, vibrant, strong. Every single day, I wonder if there is something broken inside me the same way. If there is something in my cells that will fester over time and make me grow bitter and twisted with the weight of years.
She was a force of nature, and I loved her. But I also hated her. For her cruelty, for her ignorance, for the way she blamed everyone else for her problems.
The woman I knew died years ago, before dementia left her a shell of her former self. But today still hurts, a void inside me that I didn’t expect.