My maternal grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. She scared me when I was a child, and she lives in my head now. Don’t get me wrong, I have pleasant memories of my grandmother. This post is not about pleasant memories though. It is about torment.

I wanted to take up space, to be noticed and appreciated.

I was helping make macaroni and cheese for my oldest brother’s graduation party. It was his favorite food if it was Mom’s recipe. Three macaroni noodles dropped to the floor while stirring, so I bent to pick them up and wipe the floor. This was apparently not helpful because I was in the space my grandma wanted to be at that very moment, macaroni noodles on the floor or not. She gave me a smack with a shove and told me to get out of the way if I was not going to help. But I was helping.

It was not really about the misunderstanding if that is what it was. It was not about being hit and then shoved. I wanted to be helpful in the kitchen. I wanted to learn how to make my mom’s famous mac n’ cheese. I wanted my mom to stick up for me. Maybe I even wanted my mom to stand up to her mom. I wanted my brother’s graduation party to be perfect. He was going to be leaving for the Air Force soon, and he would not be around anymore. There were many thoughts and emotions crammed into one little brain with no ability to express any of them.

I excused myself from the kitchen and went outside to play with the neighbor’s black lab. True, I was feeling sorry for myself, but I was also generally emotional. Fifteen minutes into play fetch, my grandmother came out to find me. I pretended not to see her as I readied myself for her apology: “Rebecca Jo get your ass back in the house and start helping.” There it was. That was my apology. And that was all the space, noticing, and appreciation I was going to get

I wanted to be free to be a kid—to be who I was and accepted as such.

My brother Keith and I found out the hard way that my grandmother slept naked (please do not strike me dead for this one). We were lying awake in the spare bedroom at my grandmother’s house one morning waiting for her to wake up. Aren’t old people supposed to get up with the sun? Her door creaked open around 8:00 AM, and we waited for her to come out. I pretended to be asleep as she walked by, but Keith watched the door with anticipation. Wrinkled flesh walked by the bedroom and closed the door to the bathroom. My brother whisper-screamed at me with some amusement and told me I needed to confirm what he saw. With eyes trained on the crack in the bedroom door, I did in fact confirm that she was fully unclothed.

Unfortunately, the “streak” to the bathroom was only a short break from her beauty sleep, so Keith and I remained trapped in our room. For well over an hour, we imitated her snores. A friend of mine recently likened his wife’s snoring to that of a water buffalo. I can wholeheartedly say that my grandmother sounded like a water buffalo. Please do yourselves a favor and look that up. Keith and I had a purpose behind our mocking. We were afraid to wake her up or leave the bedroom until she was up, so we had to make her believe she woke up on her own—from her own snoring. It worked, eventually. But why couldn’t we just be courageous enough to be kids who got up, played, and made noise? Why couldn’t we just be who we were?

Even now I am a (slightly defiant) rule follower. I go along with what is normal and acceptable when maybe I am not always interested in another’s definition of normal and acceptable. A goldfinch sticks out like a sore thumb (It is bright stinkin’ yellow for crying out loud), and it still has a place at my bird feeder. A sparrow is dull and generally quiet, and it too has a place at my bird feeder. Hummingbirds and orioles prefer not to come to my seed feeder. It’s okay. They have a place at the nectar feeder and Morning Glory flowers creeping up my porch. Each is welcomed and accepted. 296286250_980210466114573_6961698852865660962_n

I needed to choose my experiences.

Once every summer, after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother would load up her Cadillac with food, supplies, and suitcases of clothes and take Keith and me to the cabin in Manistee, Michigan. We would fight over who would sit in the back rather than the front. It was terrifying to ride with her. She would speed up on someone and then hit the brakes to back off again. Hours of this bad driving can really wear on your nerves. By the time we arrived at the cabin and unloaded the car for my grandma, we were both ready for a nap to decrease stress and tension headaches.

I am not certain why her driving worried us so much when we once willingly inflicted ourselves with joy/terror from my aunt and uncle’s driving. They came to the cabin one year and stayed with us for the week to enjoy time with all of us. They were fun, but probably because they were fun drunks. And they were always drunk.

We drove to a nearby creek that emptied into Lake Michigan to enter the beach and hopped over the gate. Actually, my aunt fell over the gate (once she got unstuck from it). We spent the afternoon and evening swimming and playing in the sand (and clay) until almost dark. Before hopping in the car, my brother and I asked if we could ride in the trunk. Let me clarify here. We wanted to ride in the trunk of my aunt and uncle’s car while they drove (very drunk) down two-track roads with trees and bushes tight against the vehicle and at top speeds. Yet, we could not tolerate the highway drive to the cabin…

I am tormented because I still struggle to take up space. I struggle to share my needs – or even recognize them sometimes. I am tormented because I still struggle to be the unfiltered and unapologetic human that I could be. I have a much larger personality and broader perspective on life than I personify. I am tormented because I still struggle to choose my own experiences.

What I am most tormented by though is this: I wanted to be somebody.

As my grandmother lay dying of cancer in her home, I would come to visit and talk or read to her. Much of the time, she did not seem coherent or even conscious. She rarely acknowledged I was there or responded to my questions or comments. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading, so I would swab her dry mouth and read on.

One day, maybe a week before her passing, she opened her eyes and grabbed my hand. She looked in my eyes and whispered air out of her cancer-soaked lungs, “You are going to be someone someday.” She died a few days later without ever speaking another word to me, and I never spoke a word of that incident.

I was sixteen or seventeen at the time and had my entire life ahead of me. I had a dream and vision for my life since around fifth grade that was entirely my own, and I was going to run full send toward it all. At the age of eighteen, all the pieces were in place to start college. At twenty-two, I found an apartment off campus and started graduate school. At twenty-six, I was married and pursuing my licensure in Couseling Psychology. By thirty I had a child. Each of these was a big milestone, but the in-between was dark and really messy. The seams had been splitting, and I was crumbling piece by piece. I will likely never be a somebody. My grandmother gave me false hope, and I am tormented by the nobody that I became.

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