Browsing Tag

grandmother

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Nothing Fancy

August 25, 2016
grandmother

By Sheryl Rivett

I watch, face pressed to glass, as the rolling hills of Miller county Missouri give way to breathtaking glimpses of sandstone river bluffs. A cloying sweetness wafts through my parents’ open windows, and I watch my mother hold her hair back from the wind, her manicured fingers shiny and smooth. I feel as if we, my mother and father and brother and I, are adventurers traveling the world in search of twilight sunsets and golden apricots, not the mere four hundred miles that lie between our home in Northern Illinois and my great-grandmother’s home in Missouri.

Addie greets us, rooted in St. Elizabeth like an ancient tree with hardy, sprawling branches.

We relax into small town life. Days inch by in the way that summer days pass. I play on the lawn in front of Addie’s clapboard house, while my father packs and lights and cleans his pipe and talks to farmers and neighbors passing by. The dolls I assemble on the lawn were once my mother’s, Addie their caretaker. She keeps them tucked away in a cedar chest, only unpacking the dolls for a special occasion. She lifts the top of the chest to reveal their shining faces, excitement lighting her own face. There is a magic in playing with the dolls my mother’s own hands once tended, a magic that opens a portal to her girlhood, and it’s as if I am playing side by side with another little girl, a girl with perfectly curled hair and wide, questioning eyes. The little girl frozen in the black and white photographs in an album that sits on a bookshelf back home.

2008. In the middle of the night, chest pressure and a feeling of suffocation. My diaphragm is locked tight. I leave my four daughters in the middle of the night when I ride by ambulance to the local hospital. The swoosh of the blood pressure cuff, the cool oxygen in my nose, blood snaking through the plastic tube. An xray. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Losing the Grandmother I Didn’t Know I Loved

August 10, 2016
grandmother

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Reyann Shah

We have always called her “Moti Mummy” and for as long as I can remember I’ve known exactly why. “Moti” is the feminine word in our language for “big” or old”.

Hearing my grandmother referred to as “Moti Mummy” always did well to remind me that she was the eldest woman in our family’s house in India. It garnered a certain amount of respect in that way. But it also had a way of making me giggle when I heard it. It’s the dumb humor that comes with alliteration. It was fun to say and it made me smile.

Hearing it from Mama today didn’t have the same funny effect that it usually did.

At 10:48 AM:

“Moti Mummy is very sick right now. She wants to leave and not go on anymore.”

At 5:20 PM:

“Moti Mummy passed away.”

As terrible as the initial news was, I had what at the time I thought was the benefit of simply reading the former in a text message. I didn’t have to bear the pain of seeing Mama’s crying face as the horrible news sank into both of our hearts. But it’s interesting. Upon getting home from work, I endured the latter in person with no keyboard or smartphone screen to protect me from seeing the pain in Mama’s eyes, and yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The reason was simple. With seeing Mama’s crying face, it was the opportunity to hold her in my arms that followed.

It was the opportunity to let her emotions pour out onto me without a shield or a boundary in sight. It was one of the very first truly authentic moments between us.

“I never got to be as close to her as I wanted to be,” I told others-through my tears- about my grandmother for most of today. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

Grandmother

August 20, 2015

By Michael Price

John was my boss and he was very boss-like about it, significantly more managerial than I had ever known him to be.

“Leave the bar,” he said softly but firmly–and in extreme contrast with the din of the night’s shenanigans–looking me straight in the eye, not a smile on his face, which was decidedly unusual.

I thought he was kidding.

“Now, Mike.”

He wasn’t.

“That man over there says he’s your uncle,” he said, pointing.  “You need to go talk to him.  I’ll watch the bar for you.”

I hardly remembered my uncle Bob, it had been so long.  But that was him, most assuredly, standing at the far corner of the bar, behind another guy and his lady friend sitting in front of him, waving timidly.  He looked old from that distance, still a head taller than most people, but older than it seemed like he should have looked.

John is a great guy, I’ve always liked him.  And, being Saturday night, dinner hour, he knew what he was stepping into; the bar was three deep everywhere.  John had tended bar—we all knew that—and was probably very good in his day.  But that had been many years prior, several thousand margaritas past, and he had to know he was about to get slammed, and real bad.

It was a very busy night.

Uncle Bob was…I had very little recollection, really.  He was a relative, a very tall relative; I remembered that.  An army doctor somewhere, I thought.  Used to move around a lot; I vaguely remembered that, too.  Who I hadn’t seen for twenty, twenty-five years.

And he had my grandmother in the passenger seat of his car.

“She wants to say goodbye to you,” Bob said calmly, softly cupping my shoulder in his bony-fingered hand, leading me out the door, past the waiting list of wanna-be diners, and out into the parking lot.

It was about ten-below, and I was dressed in the my work uniform–black high-tops, cut-off jeans shorts and the company logoed mid-sleeve T-shirt, twice rolled up at the sleeves–but I don’t recall being the least bit cold.

Bob was my grandmother’s son, my mother’s brother.  I may not have remembered him much, but I certainly remembered his mother.

I loved my grandmother, the most spiritual person I have ever known.  And I’m not even sure what that means.

“I’m taking her back to Colorado with me,” Bob said.  “It’s where she wants to be.”

I knew what that meant.

“Here, you get in front.”  He unlocked and opened the driver’s side door for me.

The car was parked in the back row of the parking lot–engine running, heated defrost hard at work–facing the restaurant, just to the left-front of the main entrance.  There wasn’t another available spot in sight.

Like I said, it was packed.

I remember bumping my head getting into the car, but I didn’t feel that much, either.  I sat down and turned to her.

“Oh, honey,” she said to me.

The high, overhead parking lot light beamed down through the front windshield, directly onto my grandmother’s face, ineffective, for the most part, in concealment of the deeply drawn features that had crept over her face since the previous time our paths had crossed.  She had always had gray hair, ever since I could remember, but that night the bright light from above shone down on a head of almost unbearably phosphorescent white curls, tightly spun and immaculately brushed, as if Bob had just picked her up from the “beauty parlor,” as she still called it.  Her heartrendingly weary and doleful eyes looked happy to see me, somehow, contented, at the very least—we both felt it, a stronger connection I had and have never sensed—eyes that were smiling somberly through moistness, and her body was shivering from only, I hope in recollection, the cold.

“Oh, honey.”

“Hi, Grandma.”  Then, with a deeply lodged lump in my throat and desperately at a loss for words, “How are you?”

“Oh…”  She looked far off, past me and out the window, her head tilted skyward, as if she were searching for a divine answer.  “…fine, I guess.”

She gently shut her eyes, deep in reverence, it seemed to me.  I assessed her appearance; I all but stared right at her, it was difficult not to.

Much too much white facial powder and blue around the eyes; that was my initial impression.  A character straight out of Ghost Story.

Except, excluding a little carefully applied red lipstick on Sunday mornings, my grandmother had never worn make-up in her life.  Of that, I was all but certain.

I wavered but held on.  “Good.  That’s good.  It’s good to see you,” I blathered.

I didn’t know what to say.  Five minutes earlier, from behind the bar, you couldn’t have shut me up.  And glib stuff, too, not that conversationally appropriate drivel you get from a lot of bartenders.

“It’s been a long time,” I trifled.

“Oh…” I was so sure she was scrolling the highlights of her life across the top of her memory.  “…yeah,” she finally answered, smiling wistfully at me.

We—my parents, older sister, and I–enjoyed several Christmases with my grandmother in North Dakota when I was a creature.  Those early memories are few but precious: the wondrous aromas emanating from grandma’s kitchen–krumkake, pfeffernuesse, and other family holiday delicacies–while watching football on TV with my father and, before he died, my grandfather; playing Go Fish with my older sister and, sometimes, when she wasn’t cooking, baking, or vacuuming, my grandmother; listening to George Beverly Shea sing his Christmas tidings and other generic praises from the big brown stereo console I wasn’t allowed to touch; playing with the across-the-alley neighbor kid’s basset-beagle puppy, Samuel (not Sam, I remember that distinctly; I forget the kid’s name), an animal that stepped on his drooping ears about every third step, which I thought was the funniest thing at the time; and assisting my grandmother with the Sunday crossword puzzle–in ink, no less.  Although I’m quite certain I knew very few answers, if any, she always had a way of making it seem like I was “a big helper” to her.  Sometimes she even let me help out in the kitchen—I was “a good little stirrer”–to my father’s mild dismay.

“How are you doing, honey?”

Incidentally, she and my mother are the only two people that have ever called me that.  I don’t know why that seems important, but it does.

Insipidly, “I’m fine, grandma.  Really.”

If my life ever reaches the stage where the end is nigh and I know it, when I’m cognizant of the fact that I don’t have long to live and am fortunate enough to be able to articulate a final goodbye to my family and best of friends, it is my sincerest of wishes that I am able to look at my loved ones the way she looked at me at that moment, that night.  I have never felt so treasured, so cherished, in my life.

Who am I kidding?  I’ll never come close.

In my dictionary, the word spiritual has five definitions, at least three of which can be directly or indirectly associated with religion.  Certainly, being the loving and devoutly supportive wife of a Lutheran minister, with whom she ardently and faithfully helped serve multiple parishes sprinkled throughout both Dakotas for over forty years, my grandmother was most certainly the very model of a spiritually religious being.

But it wasn’t just that.  In her presence, spirituality was more than that. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

Can You Turn Off The Light?

July 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Kristi DiLallo

My grandmother always wore nightgowns around the house. Most of them were the kind that looked like knee-length tee shirts from airport gift shops with cartoon buildings or bridges or taxis on the front.

“I’m going to change into my robe,” she used to say when she got home from work, referring to one of the nightgowns folded up in the dresser near her bed. I never understood why she called them robes when they were nightgowns and I always argued with her about it.

“Betty,” I would say, because she didn’t allow me to call her Grandma to her face, “It’s not a robe! It’s a nightgown!”

We always disagreed about things like that. We would argue during dinner and over bowls of chocolate pudding we made from a packet of powder and a pot of milk on the stove, looking things up in the dictionary and on the internet to prove each other wrong. My mother and my older brother, Nick, were usually not home during our arguments, so we would go on and on, yelling across the house about something that would eventually become irrelevant. Sometimes we would go for weeks without talking because we couldn’t agree about the spelling or meaning of a word. We’d tiptoe around the house and avoid each other in our respective rooms until one of us gave in.

“I’m the one wearing it so I can call it whatever the hell I want,” she’d say out of the side of her mouth with a cigarette pressed between her lips, and finally, we’d agree to disagree.

The nightgowns in Betty’s closet might have been the only thing she had in common with other grandmothers. She was different, as my friends used to say when they came over to our house. When people met Mom, they always stared at her, saying they couldn’t believe she was old enough to be a mother. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

A Modern Woman

July 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Ruth Deming

iPhone. The “I” stands for idiot. That’s me, the iPhone idiot, taking lessons from my son Dan and his four-year-old daughter Grace. Yes, I want to be one of those people who look down when they walk. I want to bump into telephone poles and fall off the curb. I want music to soar, like the Eroica Symphony, from the barely audible speakers. I want to check my emails every two seconds to see if anyone is thinking of me or if they’ve all forgotten that I exist.

I hate being lonely. I want to be a modern woman and know the meaning of “apps” and learn how to text. If Grace Catherine can text, then so can I.

Is the iPhone a thing of beauty as the late Steve Jobs claimed? Mine is an older version. A hand-me-down. As heavy in the hand as a small slice of peach pie, with no whipped cream on top. An indention like a chin dimple turns it on and off. Since both indentation and the frame around the phone are black, I paint the dimple with pink nail polish so I can see it.

On its no-slip back is the logo of the Macintosh apple with a small bite that Eve has taken out of it. But is an apple just an apple? Turning it over I discover a baby’s bib with a slash of sunlight entering the kitchen.

I have also pasted my phone number onto the back. This is in case I lose it. My late friend the poet Elaine Restifo taught me how to do it. Postage stamps come with extra sticky strips you can peel off. This I do and print in two strips:  784 and 2009. The 215 area code of Philadelphia is unnecessary.

The first thing I notice when I press the pink dimple and the phone switches on with nary a flourish or a sound is:  the time of day. This shocks me. I do not like to be reminded. I am sixty-nine years old – can’t figure out how I got so old already – and almost died four years ago from faltering kidneys. My daughter Sarah rode in like Sir Gallahad and donated her left kidney to me.

Ouch!

On Facebook she cheers me on. “Mom,” she says. “You can do it! You can master the iPhone.”

My granddaughter Grace comforts me. I have gone over this evening for a steak dinner. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

It Can’t Wait

June 3, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Dina L. Relles

“Just raise your children,” my grandmother barks, “raising three boys nearly on your own is enough for now. Save the writing for later. It can wait.”

I look over to where she’s sitting in the Prius I take to pick her up most Saturdays. Her lipstick bleeds into the cracks fanning out from her mouth. She’s worn that turquoise velour shirt three days running. Her voice is raspy from the cigarettes she smoked when she was younger that she finally gave up for her second husband. I’m not sure she considers it a fair trade.

I briefly wonder what it’s like to be at the end of a life.

***

It’s 3am. My legs are tired from chasing after the children, eyes ache from endless articles read by phone while the TV drones in the background.

I woke to meet the blank page, where I can stand still.

From the next room, I hear his little body, heavy with sleep, roll from one side of the bed to the other as he heaves a waking sigh. I shift to the backspace key instead of the mouse because the click is quieter. I wait, silent, thinking maybe he’ll settle back down. He doesn’t. I throw a glance at my emptied bed as a text comes through on my phone: “Alive. Crazy night. Three cases; didn’t sleep. Loving you.”

This was our choice: he would work around the clock; I would parent the same. But even a life chosen can weigh heavily. And foresight is only as good as the distance you can see ahead.

Save. Exit. Good morning.

***

A recent closet purge uncovers early journals—one in pale purples and teals with its tiny silver lock that my father brought home from Israel. Another—smaller, magenta with “My Diary” in gold lettering—details an eleven-year-old’s heartbreak at overnight camp.

Tiny, tightly folded papers in yellows and whites—passed in French class or high school hallways—are carefully stowed in a rusting tin box with a black handle. Next to it sits the “novel” I penned as a preteen, handwritten in fading pencil on college ruled loose leaf pages, bound with fraying yellow yarn.

I’ve been writing all my life. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

295 North Toward Baltimore

April 16, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lexi Weber

I want to tell you to stop being such an asshole. For all you know my hands are white knuckled around the steering wheel and I am sucking in tiny breaths in rapid succession. For all you know the height of this hill, the sharp turn around the corner, and the anticipation of Baltimore traffic below have paralyzed me with fear. For all you know taking the exit for 295 today feels like cliff jumping. Maybe if you knew, you would stop honking, stop yelling, stop riding my bumper around this narrow bend.

What if I told you that my grandmother is one of my earliest memories of love? I don’t remember what it was we were doing, but I remember that I was small enough to fit in her lap. Her long fingers were clasped around my back, my face was buried in her sweater and we were rocking back and forth. She was singing. That is one of the few memories I have of feeling safe. Now, nearly thirty, I still cling to the sound of her humming.

As we inch along toward the exit I am sweating through my fleece jacket and cautiously tapping the brakes. I want to tell you to just back off a little bit.

You only know that I have stopped my car on the Beltway and proceeded at 12 miles per hour. You only know that you have had the terrible luck of being stuck behind this white Jeep Cherokee at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I bet the lime green sticker reading Island Time really pisses you off. But I want to tell you that there is so much you don’t know.

You don’t know that I buried my grandmother yesterday. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

Mars Street Girl.

March 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melissa McMahon.

In January of 2010, it was a brisk sunny Wednesday when she said “I love you.”

***

I’m not sure when the dementia started or when we noticed, but I had been making weekly visits for the past six months to relieve my dad who was my grandma’s full-time caregiver. He lived with her, but he didn’t have a life outside of her, except playing with Sadie the Doberman and tending to his Sonoma garden. He was usually in the garden when I would arrive, and we rarely exchanged greetings.

The days began to blur; dementia was stealing our lives. Some days were better than others, but better is a relative term when it comes to someone’s mind and body deteriorating and betraying them. I’d be lying if I said I never wished for her death. She was 84, and I feared she might live as long as her mother, my great grandma Helen, who died at 98. It seems like a cruel and unfair sentence; to force someone’s body to stay and only allow their mind to drift out of memory. For me, she was already gone, and I had already said goodbye.

Today seemed typical. As I entered the house, Sadie’s nails clicked along the wood floor bounding over to greet me. The screen door slammed, and her tongue kissed my cheek as I turned to avoid her halitosis. I first learned the word halitosis from grandma. She used it to describe the bad breath of a black lab from my childhood. “Ok, Sadie, that’s enough,” I said pushing her paws down and wiping away the spittle. Continue Reading…

death, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

New York Times Crossword Puzzle Book #50.

January 18, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Sonia Greenfield.

Three summers ago I found myself socked into my grandmother’s bed with my infant son sleeping next to me in his Pack-n-Play. The old, dusty air conditioner churned and wept down the slumped front porch, but the room was cool. The groan of this window unit was the only sound, this and the click and scratch of my mechanical pencil as I filled in the book of New York Times crossword puzzles I picked up at the airport in Seattle. All around me I saw the sad accumulation of old age—pill bottles, ointments, stained sweatshirts, and a thick layer of grime—but underneath these mounds, if I dug deep enough, I could find the gold piping and flounce of my grandmother’s stylish years. This is why I felt socked in. Nothing was ever thrown away; it was just buried. The new on top of the old, which was really like the old on top of the less old. And this made my grandmother’s room, her whole house, a bit of a burial ground with nothing more than narrow paths to travel between the heaps of purses, VHS and eight track tapes, old make-up, shoes, costume jewelry, books, newspapers, diabetic snack bars, and so on. There was something about retreating from the emotional to the cerebral, something about shrugging off the weight of lost years, of lost youth, that made me fill each puzzle, turn the page, and start the next one. What’s a seven-letter word for “tremendous” beginning with m? The answer was massive.

I received the call— well, calls— a few days before. My stepfather who lived in the upstairs apartment with my mother found my grandmother unresponsive in her bed, which was the same bed I was, by necessity, sleeping in just a few days later. Even though I spent the last half of my childhood in the second story apartment with my immediate family, there was no room for me, for us, now. I got the call in Seattle from my brother’s cell phone while everyone was gathered in my grandmother’s room at Hudson Valley Hospital, and I was put on the phone with my grandmother, who could not talk or move most of her body, who could not swallow or smile, who could not respond when I began to cry in her ear. I was told, though, that tears ran down her face, and that she bit her lip on one side as I said how sorry I was that I could not help her. Even when you know that the cruel discomforts of old age will be alleviated, when you know that death is inevitable—especially for an eighty-three year old woman who has been in decline for years— it does not mean that when the time comes, a cool stoicism will settle on you. It does not mean you will feel relieved. What’s a six-letter word for “smooth” ending with e? The answer was stroke. My Nana had a massive one in her bed, and my baby and I flew out for what I came to understand was a vigil as we waited out the two long weeks it took her to die. My grandmother’s name was Rose. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, healing

Gramma in the Slamma (or Granny is the New Junky.)

November 18, 2014

By Jenny Gardiner.

We were expecting my mother for a visit, her first in many years. She was on the overnight train from Atlanta. My daughter had a starring role in her high school play, and mom was coming to see it. I’d arrived around dawn at the farmers market that morning to stock up on food for a busy weekend of houseguests before heading to the train station, when my pocket buzzed — a text from my brother that read: It’ll be the difference between Ambien and Ambien PM whether mom gets off at your stop. Good luck.

I wasn’t hip to the world of sleep meds, but I was well aware that my mother had succumbed by then to a severe addiction to all sorts of other legal drugs. The ask-your-doctor-if-this-is-right-for-you drugs. Years back, while a chipper Nancy Reagan was blithely advising us to “just say no”, her husband’s deregulation-of-everything was ushering in an era of direct-to-consumer campaigns by Big Pharma urging us all to say “yes” to the “good” drugs. The legal ones. Eventually my mom heeded their bad advice.

My mother was a smart woman, with more academic degrees under her belt than your average tenured professor. An educator, a lawyer, a reformed alcoholic, she should have known better. She hadn’t had a drink in over twenty-five years; she wore her sobriety like a badge of honor, with good reason. She’d reinvented herself after years of drinking and a marriage gone bad, picked herself up, earned a law degree (top of her class), and remade her life. She’d succeeded beyond her wildest dreams in her private law practice, focusing too much of it, in hindsight, on what seemed like a sure-bet: real estate. She lived in a beach community during the glory days of the industry, and her hard work as a highly sought-after settlement attorney had paid off, with a beautifully-appointed home on the sound and a spectacular view of the ocean. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

24 Hours After Someone Dies.

October 3, 2014

By Saul Seibert.

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

24 Hours After Someone Dies:

Someone will ask you if you would like paper or plastic and the phone will ring because someone doesn’t know that someone has died or maybe they do and you think you know what they’ll say so you silence the call through your blue jeans and feel for your lighter…..it’s always in the last place you check.

The hymns that were sung moments ago are filled in with made up words that you can’t quite make fit.

One of your relatives says something stupid like, “It’s just a shame.”

I’ve said some dumb things before so I nod my head and look for an easy exit out of the small talk. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

Hoarders.

February 11, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Jen Pastiloff.

 

I’ve ben thinking about the stuff we hold onto, the stuff we hoard as humans- the lamps and the photographs and the people, and the little pieces of paper everywhere (me, specifically. I do this.) I found this jotted on a paper tonight: She doesn’t let me put my hands in the potato chip bag or anything- I have fake nails. My one extravagance. And I’m wondering who is she, and why I had fake nails, and what kind of potato chips and why is this piece of paper on my desk in between a Virginia Woolf library book I never returned from 1997 and a bottle of sleeping pills. Hoarder! I want to yell at myself but don’t because who listens when you yell at yourself? The you that is yelling hoarder or the you with her hand in the potato chip bag?

Let’s say I am the chick with her hand in the bag and let’s say they are salt and vinegars. Let’s say I have my hand in the bag and my fingers are kind of wet because maybe I’ve licked them to pick up crumbs and the crumbs are stuck to my fingers and I suck them off. (Let’s say that.) So I hear hoarder! being yelled but still, I eat the salt because it’s so good, addictive really, and there’s no way I can not not lick my fingers to get that goodness off of them. I want it all. The chip crumbs in the bag’s skin and every goddamn remnant of broken chip itself.

An old friend has had a birthday party recently and didn’t invite me. I found out and felt hurt. It dawns on me that we aren’t really friends anymore, not in the immediate sense anyway.

I think about the letter I got from one of the guys I work with. He’s trying to get/stay sober. I work with a bunch of recovering addicts who pretty regularly blow my mind. This guy gives me a letter, and one of the lines says, “I remember how many friends I have neglected as the years have passed.”

I think of this old friend who didn’t invite me to her party and I recall what a shitty friend I was to her during my shitty years. [1] And I wonder if this is payback or my karma, (if you believe in such a thing.) I’ve seen too many “bad” things happen without any retribution, at least not in this life, to really know if I believe in karma or not. But really, what it comes down to, I think, is hoarding. Knowing when to let go.

My grandmother, before she died, had this lampshade wrapped in plastic. For as long as I could remember, that lampshade was wrapped in plastic with the price tag dangling from it. It was never dusted, so although it may have originally been white or beige, it had long since become brown, and the price tag hanging from it reeked of despondency. Like she’d given up somewhere but couldn’t muster the strength to dust the lamp or at least to take the price tag off. And it wasn’t an expensive lamp, it was some cheap K-Mart thing, some hideous thing that had probably been on sale in 1987. She sat and did her crossword puzzles, oftentimes all day. Just sitting there, only stopping to open a can of salmon or to go to the door and blow smoke out. She offered me salmon salad once as an adult, and I was naïve enough to think she meant a salad with lettuce and maybe a piece of salmon on top.[2]

But back to the lamp. That fucking lamp made me want to scream. Take off the pricetag, Gram. Throw it out. It’s hideous.

She didn’t listen. She, in all honesty[3], couldn’t hear. She didn’t have hearing loss (I’m the lucky one with that trait) but rather she couldn’t take in anything anyone was saying. She’d ask a question and talk right over you. After a while you didn’t answer and you all just sat there while she did her puzzles and the price tag dangled. Her sofa had plastic on it too. Anyway, that just gives you an idea. It’s not a character bashing. I didn’t like my grandmother and most likely she didn’t like me so don’t feel too bad.

These ramblings are mine. Locked in my head or on page, they are mine. Hoarding them, you can say. Although my attempt at sending them out into the world is the opposite of that. Here, take them away from me.  Take the price tags and the time she threw a towel on me while I napped because she didn’t have a blanket. Take it all!

How do we know when to let go? Well, the signs are all around us, aren’t they? [4] Your friend doesn’t ever reach out, but rather you are always the one to reach out? Why do we hold on to these things?

I think on some level we think that by letting them go we will cease to endure- our potato chip fingers will evaporate into notes on our desks lodged in between books and pills and then what? We won’t have mattered- we will never be the impossible beautiful things we imagine ourselves to be. But if we hold on to it all, every last friendship and memory and price tag on a lamp, then we will have somehow survived what it means to be human and the fleeting moment we get. What’s that line from that Eminem song “Lose Youself”- You better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance.

There’s a bit of truth in that.

Another guy I work with wrote: I remember my first girlfriend. Suzanne. She was Hispanic. She was beautiful. I wanted to sleep with her. We never did. I was in seventh grade.

I bet he holds on to that, that memory of Suzanne. Of course he does, he wrote it down all these years later and when he handed me the paper I could see there was a hesitation, like he was giving his Suzanne away. As if she would no longer be only his. In his imagination, in her seventh grade body and broken out face. He clutched the paper for a moment too long until I gave him the nod that said, “I won’t take her from you. You can keep her.”

They sustain us. Why else do we hold on to price tags on lamps and dead friendships? They trot us down the street when we feel like we have nothing. They pop up in our imagination and say, “Oh, but you do have something. You have this and this and this and this,” and even if you are completely deluding yourself- you haven’t talked to your friend in months or met her baby born last summer, you think, “this defines me, this keeps me in place.”

Well, I guess I’d like to call bullshit. Hoarder and bullshit! I’m calling it all. Why not? I’m  getting ballsier and less human and more human and all the things that aging does to us and I think about how pretending I loved my grandmother so people will think I am a good person is a façade. And holding on to every single thing that has carried me to this moment in time[5] is a like stealing. At a certain point, none of it is mine anymore.


[1] Shitty years: years between 21-31. Horrible self-deprecating, self-involved miserable years. Not a highlight in any friendship. Shitty years for friendships and for existence (mine.)

[2] but she meant a can of pink salmon, mashed with mayonnaise, split between three of us- her, my grandfather and myself. It was okay. Better than I expected.

[3] fact: she never once listened when she asked a question. This is not for sake of storytelling although it makes a good story. It is fact. I am hard of hearing but my grandmother never once heard a word I’ve said in the entire time I knew her.

[4] That’s a sign. Stop being ingnorant.

[5] Many things carried me here. Death, loss, joy, trauma, friendships, starvation, stupidity, creativity, balls, fear.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

 

click to order Simplereminders new book.

click to order Simplereminders new book.

courage, Guest Posts, healing

I Sleep With My Buck Knife.

January 27, 2014

By Alma Luz Villanueva

It all began with my full-blood Yaqui Indian grandmother, Mamacita, from Sonora, Mexico, who raised me in San Francisco. I was five years old and used to the living situation being mainly her and I; with my mother going to work, coming home late after playing piano bar (her second job). She was a trained classical pianist, but as she put it, she could also swing. My mother, Lydia, was a young Mexican woman during the racist 1950s, playing piano in a bar to a bunch of drunk men. I can’t even imagine, but with her out-going, playful personality she enjoyed the attention, and the tips. And so, my uncle from Mexico was visiting- a judge. My other uncle was a professor. They both went to university, but their sister, Mamacita, stayed at home with her curandera/healer mother, and trained as a curandera, midwife. My great-grandmother, Isidra, owned a boarding house and a laundry, and was known as a curandera. She was married five times (all of this pretty rare for the late 1800s, Mexico), and her favorite saying was, “Each time a better man!” The matriarchal line in my family bred strong, rebellious women, it seems. That Yaqui Indian blood.

The visiting uncle played a game with me- he’d begin to quote a song, “Luna, luna, come la tuna, hecha la cascara y come la tuna!…Moon, moon, eat the fig, peel the rind, eat the fig!” When he’d catch my five year old self, he’d tickle me until I screamed and cried. I hated it and now I realize he was also touching me all over my little body. Mamacita would come and rescue me, telling him to leave me alone; that I didn’t like the game, stop it. Then I would hear the song, “Luna, luna, come la tuna…” He was very huge and fat, and I dreaded those big, fat hands tickling me, touching me. “…hecha la cascara,” so I ran to the large dining room table covered with a tablecloth, which was my secret hiding place. I kept all of my art supplies there: crayons, paper, coloring book, my baby scissors. His big, fat hand reached for me, “…y come la tuna!” I was ready. I stabbed him with my baby scissors.

My mother, Lydia, took me once to the bar where she played the piano at night. She sat me in a booth with a coke and a sandwich. I was around seven, taking in the darkness of the bar, mostly men. I remember thinking it smelled really bad and there were no windows. Mamacita always had an open window for the wind in our apartment, as we were on the second floor. I watched my mother walk to the piano, a light shining on her black hair, making it sparkle, and her red lipstick smiled. I used to wake up, at that age, to her playing beautiful music on our rented piano. My favorite, Moonlight Sonata, she told me. I used to love to sneak up and watch her because her face was so peaceful, not rushed, worried, angry. In the dark bar, full of men, she began to play Moonlight Sonata and they began to yell things at her. She said, “This is for my daughter, then I’ll play whatever you want.” So they shut up and she played, and some of them clapped and yelled. She was peaceful for those moments, and then she played something fast and her red lipstick smiled but I knew she’d rather play her morning songs. During the day she was a medical secretary and once in a while she had a doctor boyfriend, but no one married her. She was a hot tamale. Who played Moonlight Sonata. Trained as a classical pianist by her minister father; Lydia played for church services. But she was still a hot tamale.

When I was ten she married an Irish guy who sang My Wild Irish Rose whenever he got really drunk after payday. I didn’t live with her because he was so mean, abusive. My grandmother and I lived in a room with a little kitchen, but it was home because she always had her altar, fresh flowers, pan dulce still warm from the corner store, in the Mission, San Francisco. My mother was pregnant. He was drunk. I was visiting. He locked me in the bedroom; the door made of glass panels. I heard and saw everything. He began to beat her, ripping her clothes off, her huge belly exposed. She screamed like a woman fighting for herself, and her child, as he started to choke her. The wise voice (I call it) said, “If you don’t do something, you will always remember this.” I was a skinny ten year old, but I thought I was tough, beating up boys who called me ‘spic, dirty Indian’ (they saw my grandmother). The girls wouldn’t talk to me, but the boys tried to bully me, and I beat their asses up, laughing. I remember. So I put my skinny fist through the glass, not one scratch, opened the door, grabbed his favorite marble ash tray and knocked him out. I was really trying to kill him and as my mother ran to him, worried he was dead, the wise voice said, “Look well.”  It was after midnight. I put all of my stuff in a paper bag and left, taking three buses to my aunt’s place in the projects. My grandmother was staying there for a few days. I think of one of my four children out at midnight in the city, taking three buses to safety, and I’m reminded of that ten year old’s courage. Mamacita used to say, “Tienes coraje, niña…You have courage, child.”

When my first two children were three and one, we lived in the worst projects in San Francisco. I was eighteen and fully aware of the nightly dangers. My Jamaican neighbor told me, “Girl, you never be out there bringing in your wash after the sun goes down, they be raping women here every damn night.” I rigged up an alarm system with empty cans on the window sill downstairs. The bedrooms were upstairs and I slept with my biggest butcher knife. The cans crashed to the cement floor. My babies continued to sleep. I slid down the stairs, knife in hand, and saw a hand reaching through my window. I stabbed it, blood, scream, gone. I called the police, they came, and one of them returned demanding to be let in. I refused. I stayed on my couch all night facing the broken window, waiting for the cop’s hand to come through.

Fast forward to the high Sierras where I lived for five years in my mid-thirties, giving birth to my fourth child. My youngest, beloved son.  During the summer months I backpacked out with friends to the most beautiful, glacier lakes. Once in a while I went by myself, with my wolf dog, Zeke, a true companion. My oldest son gave me a Buck Knife for my birthday, telling me, “Carry this with you for bears or whatever, Mom.” And I did, strapping it to my belt. I put it under my sleeping bag pillow, touching its leather casing once in a while, Zeke curled at my feet, aware. During the night I’d climb up to the Mother Rock, as my friends and I called her, taking my sleeping bag with me to sleep in one of her crevices. It felt like a cradle. The stars floated in the wide, silent lake, as earth/sky held me. This was the first place I felt no fear to be outside, alone, in spite of bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes. If they harmed you it was for self-defense or plain old hunger; there was no cruelty involved. This was the first place I heard the silence and the sound of the sun rising, a deep hum.

I remember my seventh grade gym teacher telling us girls, “If you’re ever attacked, don’t fight back, you’ll get hurt worse, maybe killed.” I remember how angry that made me, but I didn’t say anything, to the teacher. Later I told my best friend, “I’d rather die than be raped, so I’m fighting back, fuck that shit.” She laughed, thought I was being funny. Before I moved to the Sierras, I took kung fu lessons from a five foot woman from China, June, in Santa Cruz, California. She always paired me up with the biggest man in the class to do the exercises with. I finally asked her, after three classes, to be paired with another woman. June looked at me, smiling, pointing to him, “That’s you, inside.” Later she taught me killing blows for a week, just her and I. I’ve traveled to many places by myself and her lessons make feel a little safer, as I don’t pack my Buck Knife for Paris, for example. I do pack my Swiss Army Knife, so maybe I could open a bottle of wine to calm down an attacker (haha).

Now I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, by myself (with its challenges, a woman alone), returning to teach and visit family, friends. My Buck Knife rests on my night table, its handle poking out of the leather case. When I stabbed my pervert uncle, his huge hand reaching for my five year old self, I drew blood. He yelled angrily as my grandmother ran into the room, and I ran to hide behind her skirt. “Give her to me, look what she’s done! Give her to me!” (This is all in Spanish.) “I told you to leave her alone! Now you will!” “She’ll be a bruja like you, is that what you want?”

I felt her body quiver, with silent laughter, as I held onto her skirt tightly. He never followed me with that song again during his last days, and I stayed close to my grandmother. If she had given me to him, I would not have become who I am. A woman who sleeps with her Buck Knife, and a woman who would use it if I had to. That gym teacher was wrong- fight back. As June said, while teaching me killing blows, “You and I, we are eagles.” We are whole human beings, willing to fight for our lives, and willing to love so deeply. Those we choose to touch us.

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www.almaluzvillanueva.com

Alma Luz Villanueva’s fourth, newest novel is Song of the Golden Scorpion. Eighth book of poetry, Gracias, to be published in 2014. Teaches at Antioch University’s MFA in creative writing program, Los Angeles. Lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past eight years.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.

And So It Is, courage, healing

Pieces.

January 23, 2013

There was this card. We Met At Pieces, it said. I picked it up on our way out of the bar and giggled. I’d never seen anything like that at a ‘straight’ bar. My friend and I had gone there with a gay male friend of ours.  He’d told his friend, the bartender at this bar called ‘Pieces’, (who kindly gave us free drinks with rubber cherries in them) that he was so late because he’d been in Straightville with us two. BO-RING, they sang. 

As we left I said Now don’t you fall to Pieces thinking it was way funnier than it actually was. But then I kept thinking, Pieces, pieces, pieces.

Pieces of what? Pieces Of who? as if I had possibly cursed him. Or myself.

Before the bar called Pieces, we’d heard some blues at a different bar where a man had said to me, Can I touch your hair? You have beautiful hair. 

Pieces of what? Pieces of who? No, you cannot touch my hair.

The next morning my car radio got ripped off. My sweet little Volkwagen Fox. Right on Jones Street in front of my friend’s apartment building. I thought only of the word pieces as I sat in the car pounding my hands on the steering wheel. The more I said it, the more wrong it sounded. Like it wasn’t a real word anymore. Pieces Pieces Pieces. My car was now in pieces. Something was missing that wasn’t before.

I must have cursed myself.

I’m falling to pieces. I’m falling to pieces. I made a song of it since I no longer had a radio.

I hated silence and I had to drive all the way back to Cherry Hill, New Jersey from New York City in it. I stopped at a farmer’s market to break up the quiet. A bald man wanted to sell me eggplants, kiwis, new potatoes. I bought them all. Boy, you sure like to spend everything, he said looking at my breasts as he bagged my vegetables and fruit.

Yea. I guess I do. 

Later my grandparents came in a storm and brought me more produce. I was anorexic back then and everyone knew that the only things I would eat (and barely eat) were vegetables and fruit and they’d be damned if they wouldn’t make me eat them while they watched to see if I chewed and swallowed and repeated. My grandmother complained. How will we get home in the rain, and that the whole house smells like basil. 

It annoyed her, she said even though they brought the basil.

They’d brought me a shopping bag full of fresh basil from a garden I just had to see. As big as a block. They talked of friends from thirty, forty years ago like it was last week. My grandmother said her French friends had been beautiful. It struck me as impossible, her even knowing anyone French, let alone having French friends, yet she did. They’d worked with her at the casinos, my grandfather said with a smile. He remembered the one who was a stripper from Atlantic City the best. She’d tried to hit on him when he was staying at a motel across from the casino where my grandmother had worked. He couldn’t remember her name, he said, for the life of him, but that was way back when he was in the Navy.

My grandmother’s voice was deep from smoking too many cigarettes. It was probably always like that, I used to think. She was probably born smoking cigarettes, puffing away in her crib, one after the other. The image made me laugh. 

I had hated her. 

She softened a little before she died last year but it was too late. I no longer hated her but there was nothing except I wish you’d been happy because I worry that I am destined to become you.

She was the most miserable person I’d ever known and my fear that I was going to become her swallowed me up at night or when I sat on her plastic covered sofa. I will not become you. I will not become you.

She would say that she didn’t eat meat. Only chicken and fish. This always cracked me up as I ate my kiwis and eggplant. Gram, chicken is meat, I would say to her not-listening smoking hair dressered-head. 

The night my radio was stolen I’d dreamt of two men listening to it in a dark alley. Laughing at me: the fool. I was a fool. A falling-to-pieces-fool. 

I imagined they would sit and tune it into a station they’d wanted and then listen all night to my stolen car radio. Maybe it would make them happy. Or maybe they’d realize they made a mistake. That it was a crappy old radio and they should have left it in the old 1988 Volkswagen on Jones Street because the girl they stole it from was breaking.

My life started to break up into pieces before that night at the gay bar, but that was the moment the word got planted in my head like some kind of virus that would sprout up on your face, right there on your lip or chin right before a date or the prom. You can pretend to ignore it but it’s right there, red and pus filled, right there on your face. Your face! The word got trapped in that kind of way. It was unavoidable and unpredictable. Pieces. Pieces. 

Less than a year after my car radio was stolen in New York, my mother sold her house. Our house. She sold it to a woman for far less than it was worth because she wanted out so badly. We somehow had this setup where we were to stay there for a while, even after the woman took over the house. It was a depressing situation where my mother and I moved into what had been my sister’s room. Oh, there’s my bedroom which I can no loner go in because it’s not really my room anymore even though we live here.

The woman was rigid and mean and I felt like I was in the movie Mommie Dearest all the time. My mom and I shared a queen bed in my sister’s old room and we’d quiver at the sound of this woman’s voice like we might get beaten with wire hangers if we misbehaved.

I was home from college for the summer and I would just lie in my sister’s old room and cry. Why did you sell our house, Mom? As if I wasn’t an adult at this point and had some say in the matter or that I would ever actually live in the house again. I just wanted it to stay whole and mine. I wanted it to be available to me forever in case I needed refuge.

The house had been broken into pieces and here we were hiding out like prisoners in what was once our own beloved home (with a porch swing!)

We stayed a shorter time than was expected because it was awful and because my mom ended up moving back to California sooner rather than later. That woman eventually ended up selling the house to two gay men, one of which was an interior designer. I drove by the  last time I was in New Jersey and the place looked better than it ever did when we had lived there. I did wonder where the mean lady ended up but was happy someone I imagined as lovely got our house in the end.

It took a while until I completely came apart into a million pieces, but, it did eventually happen. 

My mother and sister left New Jersey one final time (to this day neither have moved back) and I stayed in New York.

It’s like one day you just crumple.

Right there on the sidewalk and a hundred people walk by and don’t notice, and you want them to. You do! You want them to maybe pick you up and ask you if you are okay or if you miss your house in New Jersey or if you need to eat something or if you miss your father but no one does. You lie there on the cement for some time before you realize that no one is coming and unless you want to get stepped on, you better get up. So you do get up but once you get home you realize you’ve left pieces of yourself all over the city. And you don’t know how to get them back.

Pieces of what? Pieces of who? 

Of me! I’ve lost myself. Somebody help?

Until one day somebody helps. Whoever it is, someone does help and you start to find little traces of who you were all over. You pick them up and as you put yourself back together there is an Oh Shit moment because the pieces don’t fit anymore. 

The car radio is in some junkyard and that car is long gone. The old body of yours has been replaced with something fuller, bigger boobs and thighs. Happier. The grandmother has died and you will never become her but you will hopefully no longer hate her because why would you? The damage is done. She is dead and you are here and you have finally realized that pieces are all there ever is.  

There has to be pieces of us or else we’d be screwed. Imagine if we were not able to reassemble ourselves. If we were stuck as one immovable thing our whole lives?

The pieces that were never found are so long gone that they will only resurface as dreams. As men dancing to your stolen radio under the moonlight, whispering your name over and over and how thankful they are for you because you gave them the music.

The pieces of us may never be put back the way they were but they are making music somewhere out there.

They are a gold mine, if you want to know the truth. Every single part of you.

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