In the 11 days between my turning 14 and my brother turning 17 our mom’s mom died. She had been sick for 9 days, she was only 59. The melanoma had returned and claimed her with a frightening efficiency that did not give my newly 14 year old brain enough time to comprehend the circumstances. My parents were in the middle of a divorce, my maternal grandfather, who was relatively unknown to me, had died 6 weeks prior, and it seemed unfair of life to have handed me yet another blow I was not equipped to manage.
At the time the loss was devastating to me, but with so much else going on, including my own struggle with depression, I didn’t know how to grieve her. I’m not sure that I did so much as I compartmentalized my pain and returned to my normal routine of self-loathing and passive suicidal ideation. So successful was my emotional detachment that to this day I don’t write or talk about her often. Partly because I only had her for 13 years, but mostly because as I age my memories of her fade, and that is like losing her all over again. An unpleasant reality I don’t like to draw attention to.
What I do remember I hold close to my heart and am especially greedy with. The only photo I have up of her in my home, one where she is standing next to me behind my paternal grandfather, face turned away from the camera, went up recently after spending years in a cosmetic bag I kept in my purse. As if I share memories of her they will no longer be mine and then what will I have? And I already have so little.
I started reading one of her journals once, stopping about a quarter of the way through when my heart could no longer bear her pain. Her struggle was a real one, and that wasn’t, isn’t how I want to remember her.
I want to remember how she had the softest hands, that felt like silk when they touched your bare skin. How she kept her cigarettes and lighter in a pouch with a kiss-lock closure. Something my child-self found to be the height of sophistication. How she seemed so small to me, having by 10 or 11 surpassed her in height. How she wrote the sweetest notes in cards along with underlining all the words she wanted to emphasize and signing off with a circled smiley face. She was a pioneer of the emoji. How at the VFW after my grandfather’s funeral she looked at a picture of him, a man she had long been divorced from and pronounced, “that’s when we were young and horny”. Something I found equal parts embarrassing and hilarious.
How the day after she died I walked into her house, my great aunt was standing at the stove, and for a brief moment I thought she was my grandma. I considered the idea that it had been a cruel joke and she had in fact made a miraculous recovery. How several months after her passing I sat in my grandparents’ kitchen with my gram, my dad’s mom, as we cried about how much we missed her. How all these years later it still pains me that my mom became parentless so quickly.
I have an old Guess watch of hers that I wear frequently, the only piece of her I take with me on a regular basis. The leather band is worn and has a faint scent of something that I can’t identify but that I like to pretend is her perfume. Her wrists were more slight than mine and I occasionally find myself rubbing my index finger over the indentation identifying that the watch was one she wore often. Back and forth, back and forth reminding myself that no matter how far away I packed my sadness that my love for her will always be right in my heart, and my connection to her will always be right on my face, that like my mom’s, looks so much like hers.