My first memory of my grandma: throw up
I’d be lying if I said this is my worst memory of her.
Beto and I walked into the house, cheerily gabbing on about the day we’d just had with our father. He got us every week or so, and on days when Mom had to work a double.
This was one of those days, though we didn’t know it yet.
“That’s not for you.” My brother always got the good toys, “it’s not made for girls”.
He always was the favorite. Always got the best of everything.
“Yeah, huh,” though I knew it wasn’t a toy for me. But cause I’m a fighter and I’m sassy, I questioned everything. I wouldn’t embrace that about myself until well into my twenties though.
Whatever it was, that toy had captivated our attention. I was only four; Beto was six. But we knew then we had to take it up the chain of command, straight to momma cause we were gonna keep on fighting about it.
We also had to ask her if we could stay the night at Dad’s house. We’d had so much fun that day. And she’d probably be tired from work and have to work again in the morning. Why not?
We looked back. He was just sitting there in his car smiling, waiting. We smiled back at him and waved.
“Where’s momma?” We couldn’t contain ourselves, we were bursting with energy.
“In the room,” go get her, the pointed finger demanded.
We burst through the door and dashed through the house.
Gabi closed the door.
I could call her grandma, cause that’d be easier for you. But I’d be lying if I said I felt that kind of familial attachment to the woman.
She always was, and will continue to be Gabi, or my mother’s mother. But never “grandma”. That label is reserved for Mia, the good one.
When you have two of something, anything, that are so unforgivingly opposite, you can’t help but want to call them different things. Gabi and Mia don’t belong in the same category. It’s as simple as that.
But I digress. This isn’t about comparing the two women. I think we all know how that would go.
This is the story of my earliest memory of Gabi. The woman who should’ve been one of my favorite people in the world, grandparents are supposed to be great. But she wasn’t. Isn’t.
She closed the door and turned the deadbolt the moment we were safely inside.
We ran to the back room, excited. Our eager little selves teeming with energy.
Gabi hated that kind of energy. Hated kids, probably. To be fair, it’s safe to say there isn’t much in this world that Gabi liked at the time as much as she liked money.
I hear she’s a different person now. But I couldn’t tell you if that’s true.
When we got to the room, it was dark and quiet. If Momma was in there, she was asleep. It’s not likely though, cause Momma always liked to be up before us in the morning and after us at night. That’s just the kind of mom she is.
We turned on all the lights. Checked the bathroom. Nothing. Momma was nowhere to be found.
“I thought you said she was here?” Beto could get away with talking to an adult like that.
“Oh, no? I’m sorry. I thought she was,” by this time we’d grown accustomed to that tone. Gabi had lied to our faces.
She knew it. We knew it. But we couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
“Ima call her at work cause dad wants us to sleep over tonight,” and he was already dialing.
Momma made sure we had all the numbers memorized where we could reach her. It’s funny how that’s a thing you did with kids in the eighties, sat them down and taught them phone numbers. Then there were beeper codes. What do we teach them now?
“Can I speak to Caro? It’s her children,” we were a packaged pair, you see. We were back then and still are now. We’re different, Beto and I… kinda like how Gabi and Mia are different. We are polar opposites. But we still have managed to become best friends as adults.
“Are you guys okay?” There was worry in her voice.
“Momma, are you working tonight?” Of course, we were calling her at work. But we both waited, ears glued to the phone, for her reply.
“Yes, sweety.” She took a deep breath, “I told your grandma I’d be out all night.”
There’s that word again.
“Is something wrong?” She was wondering why we were calling her at work. When you’re that young, it doesn’t occur to you that you’re not supposed to call your mom while she’s working.
“Momma, can we stay with dad tonight?” We looked at each other, nervous. Gabi was watching us, listening for the answer.
“Of course,” she was tired. In those days, momma was always tired. She worked her butt off. But that never stopped her from playing with us, taking us out for ice cream, or staying up all night watching terrible movies.
And she never stopped us from spending time with our father. Even though they were divorced and it was clear the split wasn’t friendly.
“Don’t forget to pack your toothbrush.” Ah yes, we’d need that.
We looked at each other and smiled. We looked at Gabi and smiled. Nani nani poo poo, game over. We didn’t say that, of course.
“I have to get back to work, I love you,” she still says that every time we talk.
“We love you, too,” and we still say it back.
We packed clothes into our backpacks. Cause when you’re a kid, it’s that easy. You just ram the next outfit into whatever space you’ve got. And you grab your toothbrush.
We got whatever toy seemed important and headed out the room. We all shared a room then. Our little family fit perfectly into one giant bedroom.
Gabi always got her own room because on top of everything else, she was a hoarder. And needed space.
By the time we got to the living room, she was already there. She was waiting for us. Her large body filled the doorframe. She knew we wanted out.
We stood there with our backpacks and waited. She wasn’t moving.
Past her, we could see out the window… my dad was in his car. He was checking his watch. Probably wondering why we were taking so long.
“We need to go,” my brother asserted. I hid behind him, urging him to press on. “Mom said we could stay with my dad tonight.”
“Oh? She didn’t tell me that.” That was her signature move.
We knew we couldn’t call Mom’s job again. And we knew we couldn’t reason with Gabi.
Beto did the only thing he could think to do. He bolted straight to the door and tried to ram past her.
I followed heartily behind. We were gonna fight our way out.
It’s a cute thought. But as I’m sure you can imagine, the execution did not work out so well. We pushed and forced our tiny little bodies against hers…
And nothing. She barely moved an inch. We were no match for her. She was old but she was big and sturdy and determined.
Determined to make our lives miserable.
We didn’t get out that night. We ended up climbing on top of the couch, pounding at the window, tears and snot coming out of our tiny, sad faces.
We looked on as my dad decided that this was not a fight he was going to win and started up his car again.
He waved at us.
We cried. And waved. And cried.
And I threw up from crying so much.
All the while Gabi stood at the door, body firmly placed against it, hand at the deadbolt.
This is my first recollection of what it was like to have her in our lives.