I feel her bones in my bones. She’s always been there. I was born with the knowing. Her story has always been on my lips, her thoughts have always been in my head, her mistakes have always been my perdition. I’ve felt her presence in my body but her absence from my life. Dead two years and two days before I was born; she was 52. Inside but not here. Grandma: Abby. The center of my being, like she is in the center of my name. Middle name: Abby. When they tell me I’m so much like her, I know already. I know because I’ve grown into her, not on purpose.
I couldn’t help it.
When I read her diaries my mind recognizes itself. Its oscillations are the same. Something from inside me comes up to meet her words and happenings with understanding. Previous knowledge. I know you. The tears that I cry are not tears for her. They’re for me, for the part of her that is me. They come reverberating out of me from a chasm that holds secrets that are not mine—inherited agony. Things which were not yet set right when she fell to the earth on the Las Vegas strip that day in February, on her way to get things for her Super Bowl party. The Redskins versus the Broncos.
They say her death made way for me—that we would not have been able to be alive at the same time. As if the universe did not have enough space to hold us. That’s always seemed like a cheap over exaggeration of a consolation—two souls with so much understanding of each other, separated by the cold, steady hand of time. If I could come back or she could go forward, we could walk together hand in hand, facing these plagues of confusion with laughter.
I tried to write stories about her before, but the world shriveled up on the page and became uninspired flecks of an untrue portrait. I would get it wrong. I wouldn’t quite capture the feelings right—truth through a stained glass window. I know the events were untrue, stacked in a way made up by me, with only my knowing without knowing to guide me. Then I found her diaries, and I conjured up the strength to look at them. It came one day, the resolve to delve into the woodworm holes of my past lives. I read her entries and felt their emotions heavy on my hands, feelings welling up inside me to meet the words on the pages. Everything laid out in front of me. Her words seem hollow for the moods I know live in them. If anyone else was to read them they might say something like, “She seems quite cold,” or, “She kind of misses the point, doesn’t she?” But I know what these cocoons hold. I know without knowing. I know because I feel the ice-cold burn of that confusion.
The events of her life are the ground from which a garden of humor and pain and love and strife and gaieties grew from. Then they were ripened and cooked in the hot sun of time and delivered to me in a sweet ancestral juice cocktail of DNA. The events are not that important to tell because the past never really is. It’s the juice of the human spirit that is worthy of communicating. It’s those things which all of us share, those pains and joys that come free with every bout of humanity. Those things that come with us, trailing behind us as we make our ways from Event to Event, shading each and every one of our interactions with whatever bits we’ve picked up along the way and projecting out into the future for our offspring to ponder.
So, I will write a book about her. I will do my best to lay her story to rest. For her, for me.
Watch a video of me performing a lyrical essay about my grandmother here.