I remember a room in the 1950’s, upstairs on the second floor. With fifties’ style
tawdry furnishing, crocheted throws over the backs of chairs, arms of the couch and
so forth. Homey enough I suppose, or what you remember as home. My mother taking a cigarette from a case and lighting it. Relaxed, smiling. I was three. My only memory of her. Not that it matters.
Other things, my grandma who I always loved so dearly, showing up at school. The
parent-teacher conference or Christmas play or something. Always there for me, little
fat woman with smiling eyes. Kids ask me “why’s she so old.” Tell ‘em “she’s my
grandmother.” Ask me “where’s your mom.”
Don’t know what to say. Make something up, sounds like I just made it up ‘cause
I’m too embarrassed to say. Resenting Grandma for being there, she’s not my
mother. Not my real mother. Feeling ashamed. Ashamed to be me.
Summer at my cousins’ house and my fair Swedish skin. My mother’s in Sweden,
sends Christmas presents every year. Why would she do that? If she would just die, I
could say “my mom’s dead.” No more questions. No more shame. At my cousins’
lake house burning in the sun and water on my fair Swedish skin. Covered in blisters
my whole back, crying at night “I want my Grandma.” It hits me - the understanding
of it all at once, she’s their grandmother too.
Even through the pain of blisters, crying, their mom trying so sweetly to comfort me;
understanding at that moment what I’d said. You kids have mothers and fathers, I
don’t. Realizing they know that too. Feeling so small and worthless for pointing it out
to myself. Not even caring about the other hurt anymore. Just wanting my grandma to
be with me, to be mine.
It never changed, the childhood memories of a childhood I was ashamed of. Feeling
closer to my family than they could ever feel toward me. Because it was normal at
home. To sit home and watch tv or play cards or something.
Grandad crippled, walking with his cane, all bent over. Normal at my house, but
strange or odd to see him out in public like that, in church or some place. Different
from people who didn’t walk that way.
Me and Grandma and Grandad. We were all normal at home. But of course they
had their own kids - my cousins’ parents, and brothers and sisters. People you’d
hear about from letters, or from visiting. All I had was them.
Not wanting that, just wanting to be part of a real family. Or just wanting to stay
home, with the people I loved, who loved me. And didn’t ask questions about this
or that. But you get used to it, don’t even care anymore. Just that feeling for others
who are different, unwanted somehow.
Grandad scolding me, berating me for something I’d done wrong and talking back
to Grandma on top of it. “If she was your mother...” he says. “I don’t have a mother”
I cut in “she left me, remember?” Angry old man standing there speechless,
forgetting what he was yelling about. Me trying to look hurt, feeling so smug inside,
that I could pull one over on him like that. “I’m sorry” he finally says.
What do I care...shouldn’t have done that to him, I suppose. But it got me out of a
jam. Why did they tell me. Just say she’s dead, leave it at that. Little kids don’t
wanna know. Don’t wanna be told they were thrown away, abandoned. Make up
something; let ‘em find out later the mysteries of life. Just wanna be little kids, like
The neighbourhood kids were Cuban refugees and their fathers were all doctors at the
hospital across the street. Abandoning their home and living as exiles with more
stuff than we ever had. Feeling like I was no better than the Negroes around here.
All my life feeling a closeness to Black people. Like I knew what it was like to be
a nigger. Or to have people think you were. To be odd or different because of
something so simple as the color of your skin. And hating people for thinking that.
Or hating myself. Yeah, I love kids. Always wanted to be one.