Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Knee-deep in the pound

It's been awhile.
Sometimes, I get a little tired of putting it out there.
Lately, I've been a little overwhelmed.
When I was in 6th grade, in Mrs. Booth's English class and Mrs. Booth was probably the age I am now, my class read "To Kill A Mockingbird". It made a big impression on me. Not the racism. Not Boo Radley. Not bustin' up chiffarobes. Or children being saved from stabbing by chicken-wire ham suits. It was Atticus Finch, and not him directly. More what was said about him by Miss Maudie. He was, she said, the same man at home that he was on the street.
When I read that, at 10, I knew I was being instructed in how to be. Just be. Without duplicity or facades or games, weird and endless. And somehow, that worked for me. I didn't get a lot of home instruction in how to be an actual person. I put it together piece by piece, some of it.
Mostly though, I learned from my grandmother, who waited her whole life for me. Once she got me, she didn't let go. Time spent at her kitchen table was like sun, water and compost for me. She was amazingly honest about people and their limitations, but equally as amazing in her ability to love them in spite of themselves. And there was a lot of spite in her life to love around.
My grandfather, who was wonderful to me, was physically abusive to her. I never saw it myself. But one time, when she stood up to him the tiniest little bit, he drew himself up so tall and threatening and his voice coiled so cold and menacing, there was little room left for wondering about what went on when I wasn't around. When I was there, he dogged her fairly constantly. She spent a lot of time avoiding him in their tiny house. She'd staked her claim on the kitchen. She and her sister, her good friend and I would gather there. He'd slink in around the edges to the refrigerator and back out the door again.
That's not to say he was a bad man. Just a sad one, whose sadness was expressed in anger and resentment. My grandmother's life wasn't the best, but his was worse. She managed to live with someone that hurt her and still have joy in her life. He had to live with all that ugliness in himself.
I guess they loved one another, in their way. They were certainly used to one another, even if what they were most accustomed to was mistrust and unfairness. As terrible as it may sound, I always wished that he'd die first. Because even as an old woman, my grandmother held ideas of leaving him. I tried really hard to talk her into it. I offered her my home. I found other places for her to go. But it was just too ground into her. It was too much a part of who she was at that point to contemplate letting it go.
And like she taught me to do, I loved her even with all of her limitations. Even when those limitations surrounded her ideas of herself. I knew she was infinite. I knew she was wonderful, luminous and bright. Smart. Capable. And packing a wit so dry, despite painful, shaking laughter, tears dried before they could even escape the eye.
It killed me to watch her submit and surrender. Even though I loved my grandfather very much. It was like watching the greatest, grandest willow get topped so as not to disrupt a power line. I know electricity is important, but never again will there be a tree so fine as that one.
I managed to save her life more than once. When she had a series of strokes before my eyes, I insisted she go to the hospital, even though my grandfather insisted she was fine. And later, with her body failing, a lethal combination of medicines had been prescribed to her by accident. And as her liver failed and her skin turned the most appalling yellow I have ever seen, she laid on the sofa, dying, as my grandfather sat two feet away in a chair watching television. He knew what was happening. He wasn't stupid. He just didn't or couldn't care.
It was hard standing up to him and insisting. My hands shook. My voice trembled. But I planted my feet and for my grandmother, I stood my ground. She got to live a little while longer. And I got to visit her in the hospital and put pig tails in her hair. And she got to meet her first grandchild. Pointing back at him was one of the last things she did before she died.
And even after she was gone, my grandfather couldn't stop putting her down. And eventually, I had to stop seeing him very often. Because she wasn't around any more to represent herself to my children and the vision they have of her will be mine, not his. And honestly, I just couldn't take it. I was still too angry.
As long as I live, I will never understand how two people can live together hating and being hated by their spouses so much. "Don't get married like I did, Jennifer," is what she said. It wasn't the institution she was warning me against as much as she was cautioning me about her situation. And I listened.
I listened to a lot. I took it all in. All her love for me. I drank it. I bathed in it. I built houses and towns and streets. I survived the misery and the terror and the tumult because she taught me that I was worth it. And she believed it. So I did. She lived for it. For me. And I will not let her down.
So, bring it. All you troubled, lonely, sad, misaligned, broken and miserable people. Single file, make a line. I've got love for you like you've never ever known. Life, it doesn't have to be like this. You can look in a mirror and see yourself and love what's coming back from there. And if you can't, I can. And if I can, you can. Even if I have to Annie Sullivan it at you through a stream of gushing W-A-T-E-R.
Another world is possible. And it begins with a book by Harper Lee. And a man named Atticus. And a girl named Jennifer Elizabeth. And her grandmother, also Elizabeth, who loved her better than anything.


Christi said...

your voice is so amazing: sharp yet sweet, angered yet forgiving, and so very, very true. you move me, each and every time I read your heart's words. thanks for sharing them. I love you, your words, your whole wonderful family.

Norm Deplume said...

Sorry. I know that you wanted comments, but I can't do it. Sobbing too hard at the moment. Will try again after I've composed myself.

sabrina said...

You are amazing. Your words are beautiful. I am proud to know you.

David said...

Liz is proud of you.

Jennifer said...

And David brings the tears. I hope she is. I miss her every single day. I wish I could make it all right. All of it. Right and proper and pure. But then I wouldn't be here without that world of pain.

Lisha said...

Beautiful. I feel the love in your words.

Jennifer said...

Just wanted to add that I've had a few people write to me and ask what "knee-deep in the pound" means, so I guess I should explain my thinking. Or do a better job in the first place, but since I'm already past the first place, I'll qualify and do better next time.
I was thinking of "In for a penny, in for a pound" which is one of those crazy idioms that basically means, whatever your involvement, you're involved. So be involved. And right this day, I feel rather in the deep end of involved a lot. Thus, "Knee-deep in the pound". Make sense?
I looked it up on the google to be sure I knew what I was talking about and basically, I do. You can read about it here: http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/in+for+a+penny,+in+for+a+pound.html

Elise said...

That's beautiful. I'm glad you had her and she had you.

t said...

I got no words for you, but so much love.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Miss Jenny--