She spits out her words toward him with seething contempt. “You are a bad person. You wasted my life”. Her grandson braces himself as the scene unfolds directed entirely at him. Sadness is seeping from his eyes while he waited for her wrath to cease.
“I cooked for you. I did your laundry. I stood by you loyally for all those years. You humiliated me. You shamed me every day. I didn’t deserve it. You are evil.”
Her grandson cringed slightly but responded in a calm voice. “No. You didn’t deserve that. I am sorry. I am evil.”
Infuriated even more “Don’t be so condescending. I waited on you hand and foot. You called me lazy and made me feel like I am stupid. You beat me. Blackened my eyes.” She had made a very good living using her words and she was using all of them today.
“Yes. And I am sorry.”
Her voice now loud and angrier, “It’s too late. You never apologized all these years. And now you think you can just waltz in here and say you are sorry. No. I don’t accept that.”
Her daughter sat by her side holding her hand, watching her son’s face with every verbal assault. Empathy touched the corners of her eyes, and she nodded her head for him to continue.
“I was wrong. I should have told you I was sorry a long time ago”.
Silence grants release for her grandson for a few minutes, not permanently. “You made me take food out of my mouth because you said I was eating too much. You said I was fat, and I was ugly, and you couldn’t stand to look at me. That was how I felt. Ugly. You did that to me.”
“Yes, I know, and I am sorry”. It went like this for hours. Her berating him, him finding infinite ways to apologize. She was special to him. His grandmother had taught him everything about surviving in this world. He was closer to her than his own mother at times. While he was growing up, they would spend hours on end in deep intellectual conversations about anything from politics to current events. She was adoring and formidable—unwavering in her strength. She was one of the most influential women in his life. He could endure this day. He owed her this.
For the last several years, her family had watched her regress. As if her entire life was being played in reverse. The final viewing of this powerful matriarch that commanded the family. Each scene held her in a specific point of time for sometimes hours and sometimes days. The reel would randomly stop on only the most private, painful moments of her life. She lost a child 30 years ago and for days asked for her baby.
“When can I go to the nursery?”
“Why are you keeping my baby from me”
“I want to see my baby”.
Agitation cycled to anger and then to grief over and over.
“They told me my baby died”
“My baby is gone”
Sobbing and grieving until the memory reel finally started up again slowly moving her and her family out of this agony. For her family, it was like having a front row seat to every awful moment of her life. Playing out as if it were in real time and it was. For her.
Each time the horrible scenes finally passed there was a bittersweet feeling for her family. Relieved she was no longer living in that particularly devastating moment. Knowing she was slowly retreating into herself—knowing someday soon she would no longer be with them.
Today she was facing off her husband of 25 years. They married when they were young. They were poor but happy. They started a family. His career began to take off and she dedicated her life to running the household. Her contributions to their mutual success. Power and greed began to take hold and he changed into someone she didn’t recognize. The more money and affluence they had, the more he began to focus on her. She was a reflection on him. Her weight, her age, her independent nature. He didn’t want her to work but she loved to write. She was a high school dropout and had aspirations of her own to go to college. But this was not in his plans. He wanted subservience. He even criticized her for tending to their children—she wasn’t worshipping him.
He spent the better part of their marriage finding ways to change her. To force her into being a person she wasn’t. She tried hard to be that person for him. And when her essence would accidentally show through, he would beat her. He would injure her and mark her and break her bones all while telling her she was the problem. She needed to try harder. She needed to look and act the part of an impossible interpretation of what he thought his wife should be.
Her daughter recalled moments of violence scattered among the normal childhood memories of birthdays, holidays, school dances and ball games.
They could feel it coming on for days. Tension rising and silent dinners. Their dad would start drinking and they knew the inevitable had arrived. The children all huddled in the upstairs of their house trying to stay invisible.
“You are nothing but a fat ass. Look at you. You make me sick. No one can stand to be around you.” Sudden sounds of fists hitting their mother. Windows and floors echoing their impacts. “Get up. Stop blubbering like a baby. Look at you. You are so fat you can’t even get up.” Small sounds of pleading, crying, then yelling, then sounds of a human hitting walls and floors—fading in and out throughout the night until he finally passed out.
Their mother sometimes could not walk for days. Other times, large, dark sunglasses were worn from morning until night while she dutifully cooked and did the dishes. The children would pretend it was normal to save what little dignity she had left. Taking extra care to be good and not put any more on their mother. Their father was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t face the monster he had become. He would return in a few days when marks could finally be covered with make-up and injuries were less obvious. They would all go back to the way it was again.
Today, many decades later, was a day of reckoning. As near as her daughter could tell the memory roulette wheel stopped somewhere shortly after the devastating divorce that left her poor again, raising her children by herself with no way to support herself. His new wife was younger than their two adult daughters. She was angry today. And she was fully entitled to this day.
“But you didn’t apologize, did you? You have this great life, going on extravagant vacations. You have your boat, your plane, and your fancy house while we live hand to mouth every day. You have your young wife. And you flaunt her. ‘She is skinny. She is young.’ You told me she is everything I am not.”
“I did that. And I was wrong. You were better than her in every way. You deserved better than me.”
This seemed to quiet her down. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. Her daughter, seeing her mother had fallen asleep, looked at her son carrying the weight of the world, his grandmother’s world, on his shoulders.
“I know it’s painful. It’s not you she is talking to.” She whispered.
“I know but it’s hard. She thinks I am him and I don’t want her to see me like that. What if this is the last time, she ever talks to me.” It wasn’t a question.
“I think you are helping her heal. She has carried this around for many years.”
He closed his eyes as if in prayer “This is the only thing that is getting me through this.”
“I feel badly for you but there is something quite amazing about watching her finally tell off our dad. When he died she never got the chance. I don’t think I have ever heard her talk about those days like this. Today is an important day for her. I am so proud of her. And you. She knows you love her.”
As if on cue, she opened her eyes again and searched her grandson’s face. He thought she was back from beyond, but she hadn’t been “back” for months. Her face was tender for a moment, and he resisted the urge to call out to her and say “Grandma, it’s me. Do you remember me?” From experience, he knew this would only upset her more. Her eyes narrowed once more, and he could see the anger rise. Seeing the remnants of his grandmother he loved so dearly fading away as quickly as she had appeared, her grandson panicked and reached for her hand. Longing for this to be over. Willing her mind to move her beyond this pain. He held her hand tightly even as she started to pull away.
“Please forgive me. I treated you so badly. You were the best part of me, and I was always miserable without you. You are strong. So much stronger than I was. Thank you for this beautiful family and for being such a wonderful wife to me and mother to our children. I failed you. I failed all of you” suddenly waving his hand toward his mother. Transcending beyond this young man and placing salve on the open wounds neither woman was aware existed.
“I love you. I will never hurt you again. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry.”
She stared at her grandson for a very long time, not the blank stare he had become accustomed to, she was intensely focused. Her eyes began to fill with tears of resolve and in a small drifting voice, he heard the words he knew would now give her peace.
“I forgive you.”