26: Texts To My Dead Grandma

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New phone who dis?

Just kidding. That’s just something we say, us kids these days.

Sorry I haven’t messaged you sooner.

Been super busy.

I just found out it’s your birthday! Happy birthday! Can you still have those? It’s so crazy. I was JUST thinking yesterday about messaging you today. Are you sending me angel texts, mind vibes, secret messages from the stars? How much can you tell me about the secrets you have learned?

You share a birthday with some real bitches I know. I say that lovingly. I love bitches.

Bitches?

It’s just something we say, us kids these days, Grandma. The world is all flippity-flopped since you were here.

It’s so strange to me that you’re offended by the swear words I say. You don’t like the words fuck or bitch or damn but are more than OK with others.

For example, after your funeral we found a black and white photo of a hound dog in your boxes of photos. His name penned in perfect cursive on the back: ‘N*****’.

I think I like my world better than one like yours. I’m sure not “everybody said it back then,” per the excuse made for you or whomever owned and named that dog or kept that photo.

But back to these birthday coincidences.

I can see who of my friends or acquaintances have matching birthdays because of Facebook. I like when I can pick out similarities between the people who share a day. They always seem to share at least one defining personality characteristic—shy, basic, mouthy, kind.

Like the girls I know born today: Bad (which means strong and cool now) bitches.

Birthday coincidences have always been so fascinating to me!

You know what I’m talking about. Your first son’s first and last child were born on the same day as your last child and your oldest sister, respectively.

Spooky! What does it mean?!

Or, like, my mom and her sister, my other grandparents’ only children, both married men born on the same day.

It happens with death days, too. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, hours apart.

Do you remember my birthday? 3/15. I see the number 315 everywhere. I wonder if it’s related to something I’m supposed to remember (other than my own birthday, of course).

I once read a story about a man whose sleep was being ravaged by a number. Yeah, he kept having nightmares and this number would always appear before something terrible happened. He’d wake up in night sweats, unable to go back to sleep.

Dread chased him like a tiger until it was time to sleep again.

So, he did what anyone ransacked by something mentally irrational did and saw a past life therapist. During a “regression,” he went back to his life as an American soldier fighting in Vietnam. The number that haunted him now was the serial number of the gun he used in war. If he lost the gun, forgot the number, certain death was almost guaranteed.

Before he was shot and killed by an enemy soldier, he recited his gun’s serial number.

Knowing what the memory meant (or, yeah OK, having a placebo memory to rationalize the fear) helped his anxiety pass. Brought him back to life. His real one, the one going on right now.

Why do we remember what we remember? Is there agency in memory? Can we choose to have better memories or interpretations as such? Is that honest though? Or a histrionic way to sweep something we’d rather not remember under the rug?

The rug is four inches high.

Can I tell you a secret? Don’t tell anyone we know. No otherworldly vibin’ to others.

My disappointment in some of the people who raised me makes me not want to have children.

Remember that night you told me about your parents?

Or, well, I guess you didn’t really tell me about them. I got the distinct impression you didn’t really know them—but you knew their rules.

“No climbing in the apple tree. That’s for boys.”

“Put your stockings on. Be a good girl. Don’t embarrass us.”

“How dare you use that bathroom? That’s for servants only. Don’t act beneath your class.”

Hmm, perhaps I’ve deduced who named that hound dog…

However restrictive, however boring they made your poor little rich girl life, their rules prepared you for the even harsher ones of the world.

At your funeral, the priest gave a homily about your kindness, your devotion, your love. He was right about all of that.

What he was not right about was this: He said it was a shame women like you were a dying breed. A lament that they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

He meant subservient. Docile. Self sacrificial at the altar of His (and his and his and his) truth.

But I know a truth. My world’s truth. That women from your world who were “subservient, docile” were just playing the part. Being their real selves could mean social death. Or even physical death. Whether they admitted this to themselves or not.

It’s not that there are “fewer good women nowadays.” It’s that we women now get to define for ourselves what “good” means.

And to me, good means bad bitches. Women unafraid to speak the truth.

You told me a truth once. On that howling night I came to interview you for a writing project. We sat down at the dinner table in the farmhouse. It smelled of manure and tin and the musty closet where you kept your plastic aprons. A real conversation accessible only through the excuse of work. (We Manteys are good at that, huh?) I asked you about your life story, about why you left work, left your art, devoted yourself to raising a family and a sleepy husband.

“Well, Jackie, back then it was face down, ass up.”

You said that.

You did!

I don’t think anyone will ever believe those words escaped lips that learned so long ago to stay silent.

I wouldn’t believe it, almost didn’t when I heard you say it. I wish I hadn’t been so surprised. I would have asked a better follow-up question. Whatever I came up with next, I don’t remember.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately, this you I thought I knew and the one everyone else seemed to know and the real version—somewhere in between, unknowable and illuminated like dancing water flecked in a full moon’s gold.

When I make these ridiculous artworks, I think of you. Honestly, probably more than I ever did when you were alive.

You were so crafty. Always handmaking gifts for the people you love. After you died, my chosen inheritance from your house was an artwork you made by polyurethaning a dishtowel with an illustrated map of the Bahamas onto a wooden canvas. Along the frame you glued seashells, plucked from a Bahama beach you had visited.

It’s hideous and I adore it.

Gaudy. You and me both, Grandma. Like the red lipstick you always wore. That always got on your teeth. That memory makes me smile. I always have lipstick on my teeth. I’m more like you than I think my mother would ever want to admit.

I also asked for the shag carpet wall hanging you made. The one with the name of our family farm on it. I gave it up though to a sibling who wanted it too. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. Since I never really liked being at the farm it represented.

It’s not that I didn’t like where I was growing up, I just wanted something different with my life and knew that very early into it. I was deeply afraid I would never taste the things I truly wanted, so I was anxious and itchy to get out. How can you possibly enjoy something when all you can think about is what it will be like once you leave?

Like that time I can over to try and learn how to crochet. You were going to teach me. Perhaps a genuine relationship was possible.

But it was summer. And I was distracted and anxious to go back to my dreamland. And there was no air conditioning in the house. And it was fucking hot. So hot, there was no way I could concentrate on making scarves for winter.

In hindsight, that was probably the earliest indication that I would have been first to volunteer as tribute on the Oregon Trail.

“Jesus Christ, how many more rivers do we have to ford? How many more miles to walk?”

Haha

I’m strong in other ways.

Can I tell you another secret?

We had a mutual family member who used to talk a lot of shit about you to me. When I was just a kid.

That’s why I didn’t talk to you very much and tried to find excuses to get out of your grasp, tried to hate learning from you, tried to find ways to ensure you disappointed me. Every time.

Because I didn’t want to disappoint the other person.

I’m sorry.

I think it was pretty unfair. For both of us.

But you know, people get hurt and feel justified in what they do in response. You hurt her. And I guess that’s a life rule that will never change, passive aggressive revenge.

Why do we remember what we remember?

When I think of this and its relation to you, I think of my nose. (Thanks for that, by the way.)

My nose looks different when I try to spy it with one eye closed. Different than my nose looks when I try to look at it with the other eye closed.

Over this mountain of cartilage and genes and family history, another eye sees things completely different. But those eyes both belong to me. Both are attached to the nose attached to the brain attached to the heart attached to the sinews that keep it all together.

And then when I see the real thing in the mirror, I learn neither way I saw it was correct.

How it truly curved, I never could have guessed.

Recently, my sister gave me a cookbook she found at our parents’ house that you must have made for me when I was a kid.

This “cookbook” was really one of those flimsy plastic albums made for film photos (how the mighty have fallen!). On the front, you wrote my name in cursive, capsuled with a hand-drawn heart. Inside, you’d placed a few recipe cards in the photo sleeves. There were only five or six recipes total, though there was room for 50 or so.

With the exception of one or two, all the recipes you did include were microwave recipes. Microwave chocolate chip cookies. Microwave casserole—cook on high for an hour and 10 minutes. Ha! I think that’s hilarious. You were no Martha Stewart, but you didn’t care. Innovation gave you micro waves and you were damn well going to ride them.

That’s what I’ve been considering. That’s why I texted you.

The gaudy lipstick. The childhood longing to be somewhere else—me in the city, you in apple trees. The chintzy art nobody gets but you love making. The shitty cooking.

Maybe we could have actually had interesting things to say to each other?

God only knows.

You should ask.

 

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