Monday, September 21, 2015

"Bitterness doesn't age well"

I've been working on this entry for a long time.

On Sunday, May 31st, my Grandma Wilson died. My dad's mom. Otherwise known as the woman who decided she didn't want a relationship with my immediate family and cut herself out in 1996.

Let me backtrack a little. And I may not have all these facts perfect, since I was a kid and probably didn't get all the information. But from my view, this is what happened: When I was little and my mom and dad were still married, Nicole and I spent a lot of time at my grandma's. We would lay in the living room with my grandpa (he died in 1990), running a sandbox rake along his back and watching cartoons. He would record cartoons for us all day while we were at school. It was the best. We would do that while Grandma was in the kitchen, either cooking dinner or sitting at the table working on her puzzle books. Sometimes when I would run through the kitchen to go to the bathroom, I would catch her nodding off while sitting up. She was the only person I knew who could sleep sitting straight up.

Dinner was always plain jane, which was (and still is) perfect for me. Spaghetti with only tomato sauce. Pork chops and potatoes. Sometimes we would have toast and eggs, with the toast cut perfectly into fourths. It seemed, at the time, that she loved us so much and all these little details helped to mold my childhood. I remember how much I loved it when my Aunt Juana (she is only 8 years older than me) was home, and she would play dress up with us in her room. Grandma had the best toy box, which was crammed full and lingered into another cabinet in the kitchen. As a child, everything seemed loving and happy. I'm really glad I have those endearing memories, especially now that she is gone.

Somewhere things fell apart. My mom and dad divorced and Dad made his relationship with Peg official. We combined families, and it seemed like things were okay, at least from my end. Not great, or even good, but okay. I remember Grandma coming to our trailer for birthday parties. I remember her buying all of us (not just her "real" grandkids, but John and Amanda too) Glenwood sweatshirts with "Wilson" on the back. But then at some point, she decided she couldn't handle it and quit us. She didn't like Peg, and I don't know if she thought maybe Dad and Peg would break up or what, but she couldn't deal anymore and that's when everything fell apart.

This was around 1996, because I remember, until then, we had always had family birthday parties. However, when I turned 16, I asked my dad if we could skip the family party and if I could just go out with my friends instead. He of course let me, and then the shit hit the fan. Grandma must have thought Peg had decided we weren't doing a party? It was totally my choice, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Grandma was out.

My memories of Grandma from 1996-2015 are scattered and bad. She and my mom kept in contact, mostly to hurt my dad and talk shit about our family. I know Mom would send her pictures and keep her updated on our lives. Grandma would call dad sporadically, and Dad would try to stop the madness and make things work with her. But those instances would only last a few days, and then Grandma would be out again.

In high school, she came into the grocery store where I worked. She went through my check out line, and I needed a guy to help me bag my groceries (at Kaiman's, girls were checkers and boys were sackers). "Will you call my brother to sack these groceries?" I said to Alysia, who was at the checkout lane next to me. Grandma looked at me pointedly and said "he is NOT your brother." I just kinda stared at her dumbfounded and then Alysia said "He's more family to her than you are," and called him to the front.

Why would she say that? And why, when she hadn't wanted anything to do with our family, did I find piles and piles of newspaper clippings about us in her apartment? Every single time one of us were mentioned in the paper, she saved it. She even had articles I wrote in the Omaha World Herald in her piles. How did she even find those? And when my dad turned 50, she put a "happy birthday" message in the Glenwood newspaper. What was that?

Nicole, Dad and I were at the hospital with her when she died, along with my aunt and two cousins. We stood around her bed, holding hands as one big family as a priest came in to read her last rites. And when they shut the machines off, we stood and watched her last four minutes of life. It was bizarre and scarring.

It's just hard to understand why someone would go to their grave harboring such terrible feelings about their family. I always just assumed the problems with Grandma would get fixed someday.

None of us really knew how to act at her visitation or funeral. Everything was at the Catholic Church in Glenwood. The place where she talked horribly about her family and everyone thought she was a saint. Or so we thought. The lack of people in attendance and the warm embraces we all got seemed to prove that maybe more people saw through her than we thought. At one point in the evening, I was standing at her casket just looking at her, wondering why this woman did the things she did and wondering if I will someday find traits in myself that mirror her. An old family friend came up to me, wrapped her arms around me in a warm embrace and said, "Take this as the example you need that bitterness does not age well." Those words have stuck with me, and I am trying to live a life where I don't hold things against people just because I don't agree with them. Everyone in my life is there for a reason, and I never want to feel like I am not showing them that I love them. My grandma died, leaving me on earth thinking that she did not love me. I don't want anyone wondering that about me when I pass. 

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