Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
A “Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James played melodiously in the background as I listened to my parent’s fight. I sat on the edge of my bed and tried to concentrate on Etta’s love stricken voice.
My mother’s words always tasted of venom as she took a bite and allowed it to seep into my father’s skin, the response never imminent death. It worked more like cancer. It took its time to drain you of all your strength and by the end of it all it made you mean. Meaner than her.
My mother wasn’t an ugly woman. Her anger was warranted, as her venom sunk in over “a love to last past Sunday night.” Her venom protected. But my father was probably now quickly drained of all of his strength. It was probably now when he dropped his passive attitude, it was probably now when his voice finally heightened to her level. Sometimes it was easier this way for them. It was probably now that he’s had enough because…
“No one even ******* wants you to come back home!” she screamed over the phone, and I can almost hear the vein in her neck pop, a famous feature she adorned that always warned me, my brother and sister to stay clear of her.
“Can’t seem to find somebody…someone to care…”
A “Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James played melodiously in the background as my parent’s fought and I got up to leave.
This would be the part of the movie where the actress started running dramatically to nowhere in particular, or took out a pack of cigarettes and started to chain-smoke aggressively. This is the part of the movie where the actress would pull a set of cumbersome headphones over her ears and the angst music of Sonic Youth would louden the scene. The colors would be gritty and gray and if it’s really banal there would be rain soaking through her clothes, making her hair wet.
I’m not lucky enough for my life to be a movie, to always be guaranteed a beginning, a middle and an end. I walked outside and instead of grit and gray its winter and beautiful.
Sometimes winter is crisp enough to be beautiful, it sharpened your five senses and made you appreciate the world around you.
Outside it’s the kind of cold that you don’t mind, that you welcomed with open arms and that you made sure to breathe in because it was too hard to resist the bitter welcome.
When I was a little girl and my parents used to fight like this my grandma would somehow always know that she needed to come and save me. I carried with me loose images of a small me running down the stairs of my old apartment, her figure right behind me as she whisked me away to her house.
Everything about my grandma always felt safe. Her car. Her house. Her hand in mine. She would buy me frozen yogurt and banana bread and I’d forget about my parents fighting back at home. I’d sleep to the sound of the quiet night, her warm body next to mine.
I made sure to breathe in the cold air now, closing my eyes briefly, letting the season fill me with cold reminders of being alive. A tough shoulder shoved past me and I stumbled backward forcefully.
“Watch where you’re ******* going, dumb *****.
I opened my eyes, always brought back to reality.
When my grandma died, I woke up confused. My mother gently touched my shoulder, her tired eyes full of tears. I heard her say the words but they didn’t register for a good two minutes.
Two minutes seems like a short amount of time, but in that moment it tasted like days, weeks, months, years.
Sometimes when people lose their loved ones they wake up and the absence of that person’s soul is so palpable, they understand right away what happened.
With me, it took me two minutes to understand what was happening.
Two minutes seems like a short amount of time, but it felt like I was struggling to grasp onto something so out of reach. I fumbled, my fingertips slick with sweat as they tried to wrap around the news tightly.
“But I have work,” I said, my voice a croak. The first words I spoke that morning.
My mother started crying softly and that was when my heart finally took the hint.
“I’ll call out of work for you,” she said, as she fumbled for her phone. I stayed in bed, silent, as I watched her dial the number to the beach club. It took two minutes until someone answered. I heard her describe the situation, something I knew must have been hard for her to do.
“I hope they understand,” I whispered softly, laden in bed.
I didn’t really remember much else after that.
Sometimes my time feels like broken fragments. I think my mind chooses to block out a lot of the bad things that’s happened to me to protect my heart, to help it mend.
But then I’ll be sitting in my bedroom listening to Stevie Nicks, or I’ll be sitting in the front seat of my mother’s car, or I’ll be in the back of a classroom doodling in my notebook, and I’ll suddenly remember sharp details of the bad things that have happened to me.
Those sharp details are a stab to the soul. Not the heart. The soul. I figured stabs to the heart are more in the moment feelings, sharp, imminent. A stab to the soul is warm and spreads slowly, and leaves you numb for a few minutes. People forget how much feeling numb weighs you down. But when you’re at the dentist and they numb your gums for the needle to go in painlessly, you feel the weight of one side of your mouth droop. People forget how heavy feeling numb can be.
And when you feel numb you could lose yourself, sink into the weight it creates.
These moments come and go, and last a few minutes or last from the moment I wake up to the moment I find myself struggling to fall asleep.
When these moments wash away I’m left with a homesick feeling. Homesick for something that isn’t there anymore. For someone who isn’t there anymore.
I understand now that the loss of someone is with you forever. Even if I don’t think of her every day, the loss of my grandma is embedded in my bones and I feel it in every movement I make. And when I do think of my grandma, I think of her hands. Her crooked smile. The veins in her legs. How her hair turned white after she lost it all the first time. I think of her voice too. I check my voicemails, wishing I didn’t delete them all back then. I think of her voice, full of love and singing…
“A bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck
And a hug around the neck…”
Once I started thinking about her, writing about her, it was hard for the tears not to come. So I let them come. I always let them come. Here they come now.
It was the first winter without my grandma’s warmth. The first winter I felt hurt. The iced wind closed its fist over my heart so tightly that at times I thought I would die from it.
It was winter where her absence was felt the most. It was the first of December and I was counting down to the 16th.
December 16th, her birthday. It’s funny how birthdays are always important even after death, a mental note always made, tacked carefully in your head.
Even when you forget, you’re reminded. Like how your mom would say “Remember to call Aunt so-and-so, it’s her birthday today,”. When someone you loved died it quickly transitioned to, “You know today your Aunt so-and-so would’ve been turning so-and-so.”
What do you even say to that? The answer is nothing. You nodded as your mom’s eyes flashed with soft tears that she would try to hide from you and you nodded again and turned your face too because you’re ashamed that your tongue fell flat, no words of comfort able to be given.
What were you supposed to say to a dead person on their birthday?
My grandma was born in December and I was supposed to be born on her birthday. Instead, I stubbornly voyaged into the world two weeks earlier. I’ve always been bad at timing.
It hurt, her dying four months before her birthday. A big ***** you!”, an angry red finger being jabbed in your face. It hurt, even more, her dying four months before Christmas.
It was Christmas at her house that was always special. When I closed my eyes and thought of Christmas it was my grandma I thought of. Not the gifts underneath the tree, or Santa Clause and his reindeer. It was my grandma.
And it was my grandma’s house I thought of, that famously lit up. It was the kind of house that people stopped in front of to let their mouth hang open for a minute before they began to take pictures in front of it.
It was my grandma who gave me the gift of magic and my grandma’s house where I first felt it.
I kept walking now, my feet frozen because I didn’t wear sensible shoes on the way out. I looked down at my wet sneakers, squirmed my toes inside my wet socks and cursed gently beneath my breath.
Sometimes when I went on my walks, I didn’t know where my feet would take me. I walked slowly, my body massaged with constant aches that had no sensible reasoning, and where I ended up was welcomed as long as I wasn’t in that house anymore.
There wasn’t really any place for me to go now that I lived in my grandma’s house, in my grandma’s old neighborhood. Everything was reddened with memories.
There’s the pizza place she’d walk me to. The park we saw concerts at. The pastry shop she’d let me stop and smell. It was harder, in the winter time, to try to find a place of comfort and reassurance in when everywhere you went made you feel homesick for a person buried in the ground.
I usually just winded up walking around in a loop, until I found my feet taking me back to the house I used to feel the safest in, where the magic used to shine off the shingles.
I never used to want to grow up. Being 3, 5, 7, 9 always felt permanent in the moments of carefree happiness that occurred so often at the time. In this moment I knew I would never feel 3, 5, 7, 9 years old ever again. Alongside my cold toes, I feel frozen at the age of 16.
I found myself walking home now, to a home that didn’t feel quite like a home. I’m am 16, with wet feet, walking home. To a home in December, bare of any Christmas decorations.
My mother was sitting on the edge of my bed when I came home. My eyes instantly rested on her figure and my heart pulled a little.
This was the skinniest I have ever seen, all jutted out bones and sunken in cheeks. Her eyes were tired, beneath them dark circles that puffed out. She rested her chin carefully in the cusp of her hand as if the weight of her head was too much to hold high.
Her eyes were closed, but upon hearing me walk in they opened quickly and her body jumped.
“Oh!” she cried out, surprised. “You scared me,” this time her voice softer, as she allowed her heart to catch up. I rolled my eyes slightly, dropped my sneakers to the floor and walked slowly to sit down on my bed next to her. I rested my head on her pointy shoulders. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable position for me, but it was still my mother’s body and it still felt safest and comforting.
“You get scared far too easily,” I remarked, as she pulled her hand free from her chin and rested it in my hand familiarly.
I remembered a time in my life, briefly, where all my mother and I did was fight. I must have been around 12 or 13 years old, and I don’t know what sparked this rebellion against my mother. Everything turned into an argument though, and the night of my 8th-grade graduation I remembered speaking the words “I hate you!” painfully and her crying in response. Of course, I didn’t hate her.
There was nothing my mother could ever do to evoke hatred in me. I guess it was hard for me to realize how much I loved her until it was all I had left to do, until she was all I had left to hold onto.
“What were you and dad fighting about this time?” I mumbled. I didn’t want to ask this question, but my curiosity got the best of me. She sighed, a true sigh, and I watched as her whole body performed the act.
“Your father is convinced he did nothing wrong,” she said tiredly, and I didn’t blame her. It must have been exhausting performing the same argument over and over again and it not getting anywhere. “He think’s everyone’s out to get him.”
Silence. What did I say to that? I knew all of this already. I knew how unapologetic my dad was, how he believed he was innocent and how he didn’t see the hurt he deeply embedded in my family.
“Did he ask about me?” I finally said. My mother coughed loudly and I waited for her fit to pass. Cigarettes calmed her anxiety.
“Yeah,” she said, her voice back to normal. “I told him you were at a friend’s house,” she said. “Where did you go anyway?”
“I just walked around a little,” I shrugged. “I wasn’t in the mood to speak to him anyway.” It was exhausting talking to him. The same conversation over and over again:
“How are you, baby?”
“I’m okay and you?”
“I’m alright. Just can’t wait to get out of here.”
So on and so forth. I knew that it was the same with my brother and sister because we always argued who would pretend to be in the shower to ignore this inevitable conversation.
It was hard to forgive someone who never said they were sorry in the first place.
“Baby are you okay?” this time the question was asked by my mom. I didn’t look at her, even though I heard her voice break when she asked that question. “I worry most about you,” she said, touching my arm gently.
I recoiled at the touch, quickly pulled on my sleeve, stabs of paranoia prickled my entire body.
“I’m fine,” I responded quickly, my throat dry. It was easier to lie than to talk about how much my heart hurt, how much I passed through each day and felt like I wasn’t there or felt my presence too much.
She knew I wasn’t fine. She was the only one capable of seeing right through me, a glass house that she didn’t have the courage or strength to knock on the door, the doorbell broken.
“No you’re not,” she cried. “I wished you would just talk to me,” her body heaved alongside the tears that started to spill from her eyes.
I wrapped my arms around her as she curled up into me. All I could feel were bones and I was afraid if I hugged her too tightly I would break her in half. But I held on tightly anyway because I knew she needed it. I held on as tightly as I could until her tears resided. Until her body stopped heaving.
Until she walked away, figuring out which way to position her fist the next time she planned on knocking on the glass house’s door.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.