Last week I was cleaning my uncle's house and reflecting on life. The house itself throws myriad little sparks on the fire of thought. I vacuum, I dust, I find myself consumed. This was the house that Kennedy built. People laughed and loved and lived and died here.
In 1992 I sped out of the driveway late for psychology class. My grandpa (to whom I refer as my dad) was a dying psychologist, and I wanted to comfort him by making good grades. Education was important to him. I didn't want my grades to slip and him to blame himself. And I wanted him to leave this earth without having to worry about my future. I took the important psychology test and told the instructor that I had to leave. He advised against it. I told him, "Look, my dad has cancer and I think he just died." I got home, my gramma (see: Mom) met me on the front porch with pink eyes and hugs and said, "It's over."
Four years later I angered people with a three-day death prediction when they swore Gramma had much longer. I saw her, I knew her; she was slipping. I kissed her sweaty, freezing brow, told her I loved her, went home as my fiance grumpily suggested, and received a call an hour later. It woke me up and plummeted me into darkness. I rushed to her side, cleaned her dead, snotty nose, held her empty hand, and refused to let them take her for 4 hours. It was January.
My first child died in a second trimester abortion the following year, in January. I miscarried my second child at Christmas the following year and wouldn't let them take the baby until January. Visiting thoughts brush their feet on the welcome mat of the mind while doing laundry. Shake, shake, brush, fold.
Much to think about in a hollow house whose golden, wood floor shines rich with memory. I can't help myself; it reflects a nearly tangible timeline of my little life. Scrubbing the tub reveals flash images of youth... bath time "tea parties" with my gramma kneeling beside the turquoise tub pretending to drink Earl Grey from the fine bone china of a Dow Scrubbing Bubbles cap... memories of standing on the "potty" and getting my "T-hiney" powdered with a puff full of Emarude... the sights, sounds, smells of that house; it's all there.
We moved away for Granddad's job in Tennessee but came back at his retirement. In college all I wanted was to be out on my own, to build a life for myself... to have children and "tea parties" of my own. Virtually, the day I moved out they diagnosed my Gramma with aggressive terminal cancer. She said she would miss me and told me she was glad to have lived long enough to see that I would be OK. I'm glad she didn't live long enough to see how OK I am not. Sweep, sweep, sweep.
In the hall I noticed spots on the ceiling around the attic door. I remember Gramma finding Great Gramma's quilt up there and crying literal tears of joy after thinking, for over a decade, that it had been lost in the move. I remember her instinct to call cousin Doris. Joy turned to grief when she remembered that her "sister" had died a year earlier. It was the same feeling I had when I picked up the phone to dial her number and tell her about my first little baby who was "on the way". Spray, wipe, wipe.
Each of my birthparents had custody of me for a few years here and there, but I have no contact with them now. My grandparents were the only ones who ever really cared about raising and loving me. They put my needs ahead of their own; no one else ever did. However, it's not as sad as it sounds. Some people never have parents who care about them. I did; I had my Gramma and Grampa. I have been loved.
I must admit that when I observe my husband's family and the whole dynamic that goes on there I get lonely for my own family. If he has a birthday or a new job or something they contact him and wish him well or congratulate him and the like. If he has an opinion it becomes their opinion; there's a loyalty there, a closeness, the family of his childhood. Sometimes it's easy for me to feel that I'm on my own and that no one cares about me anymore. I try to cling to what my grandfather said on his deathbed: "I love you forever." That kind of love goes on. It's good to know.
It helps to understand that love is bigger than death. Sometimes it's so big, so pure and real that it's almost palpable. When I don't know who I am anymore and life is dulled by personal sadness, I remember my grampa's Pledge of love. It somehow polishes the veneer, and I can see myself in it. I know who I am; I am the only grandchild of James and Elise ******. Well, the only one they knew about.
Mopping the floor I found myself, not only grieving for what my son will not have, but wishing that I had someone close to me, someone that I had "growing up" experience with, someone I didn't have to explain myself and my life to (because they had been there), someone who got my jokes and understood my family culture. Mop, mop, mop. Why don't I have that? Mop, mop, mop. Why don't I have that? I busted out crying, because all at once I remembered the sibling my birth mother aborted when I was in fourth grade. I have enough to deal with, so I usually don't experience powerful sibling grief, but it really hit me unexpectedly hard, and I just started pouring like rain. And then I got so angry at my birthmother for taking my sibling away. And then I remembered who I am and what I've done. In such a situation, emotions snowball... but the regulator clicks on and the valve floats shut. "What the hell is this?!" you demand to know of yourself. "You have a day to get through here!" So you shut yourself up; you put the stopper in, and you finish the floor.
With the house completed, I gathered up my son. Thanks to the Playstation 2, he was oblivious. My long stretch on the internal roller coaster was his day of video entertainment with a bachelor's refrigerator on top (yummy delicious junk food). My child is four, and he thinks I'm normal. When will he know better?