She took me upstairs to talk.
I now realize Edna merely wanted to calmly express her hurt: I didn’t mention anyone from his original nuclear family in the Eulogy. Not once. (You know what's awesome? Irony. People my age
learned what it means from Alanis Morissette so our grasp is tenuous at
best, but when it plays out over life-and-death situations it can get
pretty trippy. Listen, I want to be sorry for it, even in the present.
Yet, while I can see it as a grievous social error filled with pointed
animosity and bluntness, I admit: I am not sorry I did it. Or perhaps,
did not do it…) I was so done with them I simply could not see or honor the nature of her anguish (for even the cruel and selfish can be bruised).
Once, I drew a portrait of her— a crude pen and marker drawing completed by a seven-year-old, wrinkles and all. I gave it to her hoping she would like it. But she looked down and saw the way a child saw “wrinkles” and had drawn “age” and was hurt. I hadn’t intended to mar her vanity or break her heart in any way. Still, she took me aside, “One day you will have wrinkles and be old too, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
I wanted to tell her that I knew that. I was just trying to draw a picture of my grandma. But I don’t know that she ever forgave me for it. I now see that I had challenged her greatest (and perhaps, in her psyche, her only) commodity.
Yet, I thought: this is the woman who, despite grave warnings from her overbearing husband, flew to San Francisco to talk to Deborah face-to-face after she came out (in a vitriolic letter that arrived one day in the mail), and tried to be enthusiastic about PFLAGG.
The woman who heard I loved an authentic 1930s cocktail dress from a vintage store and went out and bought it for me.
Who wanted me to discover the “thing” it was that I liked so she could actively look for things to help build a collection of (and how I sort of wish I could tell her now that it was owls). I always felt she forced this collection business on me— nutcrackers, spiders, lobsters, but in hindsight I think it was her way of keeping me in her mind, of her fragmented form of connecting.
I saw the repressed artistic soul— the musician with a flair for jewelry, the best sculptor I have ever met, unable to fulfill her longings, possibly envious that I was afforded every freedom to do so.
The woman who tried to teach me to play the piano, and failed. I still have the books from the 1940s that she used to teach all those children on the block in Detroit. I wish I had been less intimidated by both her and her piano.
The woman who tried to reach out by taking me to the Fisher to see the tour of Jekyll and Hyde when I was fourteen. We had a wonderful day, a matinee and dinner after the show. I see now that she wanted to connect with me on a level that she knew I would appreciate. No more forced collections or wading through false histories, just the two of us in a theatre. It felt like home. That was probably the best day I ever had with her. We actually spoke, like people. She told me stories about the family, revealed some of the darker corners of her true feelings about everything and everyone, spoke to me more and more like a woman as the day progressed and I have to say I think the connection she longed for with me as a child actually sparked that day. I think it was the best couple of hours we ever spent together.
The woman who taught me how to play “another form of solitaire” called Thirteen (where you match all of the double cards that make up thirteen), and would patiently watch me assemble and disassemble the pyramid over and over again. It wasn’t until today, as I am sitting here writing this that I realize her whole life was another form of solitaire.
All these stories aside, I would never be able to forget how profoundly she screamed at Rabbi Syme on Tuesday, even as her unvisited son’s body lay upstairs. How ferociously she protested that I “didn’t even know him.” How her small, weak, once beautiful face transformed before my eyes to the face of a demon; maggots crawling from the crevices, rot at every corner like a frantic, desperate, ghoul, before returning to the world again.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know him.
It was that they didn’t know me.
And that was more threatening than anything.
“You know what Grandma? Let’s just say it.”
It was okay that she didn’t like me. It was alright that this was true— because first, I didn’t think much of dishonesty and she was rife with it, and second and more crucially, I wasn’t very likeable. Not to her.
“Let’s just get it out in the open—none of you have ever really liked me.”
She looked at me, thunderstruck.
Her hands lay over her face impaled with horror.
That was when I saw it:
Back then, when my extended family was still speaking to me, people were always coming up to me and remarking upon how greatly I resembled Edna. I suppose I’m aware now that that is no small compliment.
But I don’t see it.
Perhaps because I don’t want to, perhaps because I can’t see the beauty in myself that others do (demons that have nothing whatsoever to do with Edna), or perhaps because I never really knew her so cannot see her face in mine.
But we have the same hands.
There they were, covering her horror-struck, once beautiful face, completely in awe of the fact that her granddaughter had just taken it there.
Small, with large palms and fingers prone to swelling, nail beds like a child’s, dry cuticles, skin baby soft, and subtly expressive. They looked as if they were created to work hard, to milk cows, to cook, freeze, and scrub. They were not long and lean, they were not what you see in magazines. They were the hands of a feminine warrior— the kind of hands jewelry looks out of place on, rings laugh, bracelets scoff, the hands too humble, too common looking to support the grandiosity of adornment. When I look down at my hands now it is undeniable— I see her clumsily cutting onions, I see her coaxing immaculate, expressive birds out of marble, I see her wrinkles and age and know that “there is nothing wrong with that.”
Oh Edna, I did not know you, and there are terrorist cells more nurturing than you.
But I have your hands.
And that is the possibility of something.