My mother called me tonight. I had just gotten back to the hotel room, and selfishly as soon as I answered the phone I took over the conversation. I told her stories of business dinners and awkward admissions experiences… When she didn’t laugh I became offended. And like most self-involved people my age, I became defensive.
“What’s your problem?”
She began to choke up. I immediately broke into a sweat. I might be sensitive, but my mother is the strongest woman I have ever known. She was the head nurse for a hospital 6 months after graduating nursing school. She went through labor with me alone because my father walked out of the delivery room and didn’t come back (for two years). Literally he stood up, walked to the elevator, passed my grandmother on the way down and never looked back. Did it phase her? No. She raised me by herself. Last year, even after being out of the unit for 12 years, mom pulled over on the side of the highway, and was a first responder to a terrible car accident. She literally had to search for a man’s arm on the ground while holding pressure to the remaining limb to stop the bleeding. One of the paramedics told me later that she was the reason that man is still alove today. I’m telling you. If the woman in V for Vendetta hadn’t have been a pansy ass whiner in the beginning of the movie, that would have been my mom. She was an Idgie Threadgoode if I’ve ever seen one. (Fried Green Tomatoes.)
Yet, here she is crying muffled tears on the phone with me tonight.
“It’s your grandmother.”
Now I referenced this woman a few seconds ago, but here’s the truth. My mother’s real mother died right before mom turned two years old of cancer. My mother was raised by her aunts and grandmother, along with her father occasionally. She had two older brothers, one of whom married pretty early on. His bride was the most beautiful real life Barbie doll my mother had ever seen. Her name was Glenda. You know, like the good witch on the Wizard of Oz. And good she was. She bought my mother (who grew up in rags picking cotton) beautiful dresses and toys. Not often, but when she could afford it. Before she and my mom’s brother, Robert Grant we’re engaged, Glenda was pursued quite often. When she finally agreed to the engagement she had to give back 2 class rings and one bracelet to her other suitors. R.G knew how lucky he was. They’ve been together now for 47 years… That’s more than most people can say in a lifetime.
Fast forward back to my mom’s pregnancy. She knew I wasn’t going to have a grandmother, so Glenda offered to be that for me. From that point forward they were Granny Glenda and Papaw Robert Grant, and god did they love me. I was their Grandbaby. The light of their life. Neither of their sons had children so I was it. She made sure to tell me every time she saw me that I was her favorite and how special I was.
I remember as a kid going to stay with them during spring breaks and things. She would take me to dinner, then to the Y. We would walk for a while then she would go swim while I’d go shoot around. She made sure to stop everyone to point out her precious grandchild. They never knew that I wasn't really hers.
As I got older, she did too.
When I came out as a Lesbian, they we’re the only two people I wasn’t allowed to tell. My mother was certain they would both have a heart attack. I used to get so frustrated.
“This is stupid. If they love me they won’t care.” I would say.
“Casey, they just grew up in a different time.” Mom would reply.
When I began driving I went all over the place. When I went near my grandparent's house, mom would suggest I drop by. I was actually a pretty good grandkid so I went fairly regularly when I was home from school. At least once every visit I would pick her up at home and take her to dinner.
“Helllloooooo Da-hling.” Granny would answer the door. “Where are we going today?” She would ask in her sweet southern drawl. She always knew the answer. She had a favorite Mexican restaurant where the waiters knew her order and would playfully tease her when she would ask them to teach her Spanish. I used to laugh so hard at her.
“Let me get those Fajita’s. And honey, bring me some Peek-o Day Gal-Oh. (Pico De Gallo). The men would roll laughing.
I loved her, but I hated how stubborn she was in her beliefs. No tattoos, No piercings, No drinking, No Gays. If you broke one of these rules "God was frowning." It was how she was raised. My Junior year she finally noticed my tongue ring. She nearly flipped out of her chair. Slowly, one by one my tattoo’s showed themselves and before long she was asking my mother if I was on drugs. Have no fear though. I was still the favorite. I wondered what would happen if the gay thing just happened to fall out as well.
I think I had rather have faced that phone call than the one I received tonight.
“Casey, it’s Granny Glenda. She’s sick.” Mom wheezed through ragged breaths.
I knew this. She has been having dizzy spells lately so she hasn’t been able to walk on her own. She gets a little confused and flustered, but it was because of her blood pressure. So we thought. Last week my mother was giving her a bath and she began screaming at her all of a sudden.
“Get out of here! Only my sister in law June gives me baths! You have no business seeing me like this! Leave!” (June is my mother.)
Then when she couldn’t close her lipstick mom tried to help her. Granny threw a handheld mirror at her and it shattered across the wall.
My mom thought maybe she was just under a lot of stress until my grandfather called her crying. This man never cries. I was pretty sure if he ever did the tears would be made of melted iron. He took a ragged breath and began....
“We were standing in the bathroom. I was helping her brush her teeth and she looked me dead in the eyes. She was so sad and lost. She asked me longingly, ‘Have you seen my husband?’” He whimpered.
He has been fighting emphysema for two years now and spends most of his days in a wheel chair. Slowly, day by day they are withering away. I hate to say it, but in a way I guess they’re doing it together.
She has Alzheimer’s. You hear about the disease. How it ruins lives and breaks apart families. How the gentlest soul becomes a terrified monster overnight. You never think it could happen to someone you love, until it does and then you never think you’ll survive.
My mother told me that by the time I got home she probably won’t recognize me. It just increased this badly over the last three weeks, and I’m stuck at work for the next two. The tears are rolling off my cheeks as I think about it. They’re not made of iron. Nothing about me is. I’ve cried over every episode of Undercover Boss and Extreme Home Makeover, so how in the hell am I supposed to withstand this? I’m angry. Why her? I need her. PaPaw needs her… And my Mama. How am I going to walk into a bleached cold nursing home and feel normal? I won’t. Things will never be the same again. I’ll never be the same again. A little part of me died tonight. A bigger part of me is still dying. We still have her, yet she’s not herself. I don’t know who this woman is. I want so badly to climb up in her lap, my hands on her beautiful porcelain cheeks and beg her….
“Please Granny. Come back. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten the tattoo’s. I’ve pulled out all my piercings. I’ll be better. Just come back.”
I can see myself 3 years old sitting on top of the tractor in her back yard. Papaw is holding me up as Granny is clapping alongside us.
“See that pretty baby? That’s my baby Casey.”
Yes. I’m your baby Casey. I’ll always be your baby Casey… And you will always be my sweet, sweet Granny Glenda. As I lay my head down tonight I can feel the grass between my toes. I hear her laughter in the distance as she calls me inside for a snack. My pink and white sippy cup on the kitchen table next to her can of 7UP. On my way through, she scoops up the seashell on the counter and puts it to my ear.
“Do you hear that? That’s the ocean. Isn't it beautiful?” I wanted to tell her that’s silly. The ocean can’t be trapped in a seashell. It makes no sense. But here I am, my grandmother trapped in a withering mind, which makes no sense either. I want so badly to go back. I want to stop everything for one moment and hold her here. Just to tell her I love her and it make sense one last time. To tell her I hear the ocean. I hear it loud and clear.
I want to see her eyes and not her confusion. Her smile and not her tears. I want to see my past…. Yet the past is passed, and now here I am. Crying in a hotel room like a little child, Little Baby Casey longing for her Grandmother. Alone.
"If It's The Beaches"- Avett Brothers