This February marks eight years since my grandmother passed away. There are things everyone wants to say if there was one more chance to speak to a loved one. I was, and still am, no different. I had said goodbye when she moved six months prior, but as a kid, it wasn't permanent. I would see her again, at Christmas perhaps, or after school let out. I had said I loved her, and I did, I had loved her more than anyone who wasn't in my house. But now she was gone, and I was angry, at my aunt who had taken from me, at my uncle who I believed hadn't tried hard enough to save her, at her, for leaving me in North Carolina and dying six months later.
The funeral came, and there were family members that I felt had no right to be there. These countless cousins, and their families, my grandmother's siblings, and those related by marriage- they didn't belong near my grandmother. Everything about the funeral was a farce, even the eulogy was a cruel joke. She was buried in a blue suit that she only wore once and seemed to despise. Her coffin was shiny, like rose gold, and fancier than she ever would've wanted. Her customary smell of cigarette smoke, Taster's Choice, and crumbled oatmeal cookies was completely gone. The only part of her there was her name and her face.
Afterward, there were only a few people I talked to about it. When it stopped hurting to think about her, or that I wasn't going to her house for Easter, that spring break was just going to be spent at home, I did what I deemed logical. I stopped thinking about her. If I didn't think, it wouldn't hurt.
Because of that move on younger me's part, I've forgotten a lot of small details about her. I remember the way she had her hair permed and the particular blue of the cigarette packs. The way she always had a package of cookies in the fridge, the same amount missing every time I visited, so it seemed they were four years old. But I don't remember the taste of her food. I don't remember how it felt to hug her, or her voice. All I remember now is her cigarettes, her dresses, her dark eyes that always seemed to light up when I came. I remember how much she loved to hear me sing, and bring my art projects from school. She was the only one undaunted by my ambitions, to be an actor at Julliard and never come back to rural NC.
She saw my early childhood, but I can't help but to feel that she missed the important part of my growing up. She witnessed my first steps, my excitement after my sister was born, and the dramatic haircut in third grade. But she missed the discoveries I made about myself. She never got to see me write a short story. She never heard me play piano, or harmonica, or very rudimentary guitar. She didn't get to see my debut as a lead actor, or the standing ovation because of it. She wasn't there to see me graduate high school. She didn't get to hear my adventures of college applications, and then college life. I always thought that if I visited her grave again, I'd sit with flowers from her house, and tell her everything. So, to the grandmother who never saw me grow up, here are the highlights.
I had to repeat eighth grade. Not something I should brag about I know, but it let me meet some really cool people. During second eighth grade, I got to be in three drama productions, make some really cool sculptures, write a rough draft of a novel, and befriend a magician. I built an entire model city out of only cylindrical blocks, I found out about thermography and surprised more than a few people when I actually spoke.
Ninth grade I joined the chess club, was deemed a witch, was the official history nerd of the entire school, and then I self-published a novel. It's not the best novel, but no fourteen year olds writes amazing literature on the first try. I think you'd recognize me in a lot of the characters. And even if you never read it, you'd show it off to everyone, or even better, you would've sent it to everyone you had an address for. Merry Christmas, you'd write. Look at what my granddaughter wrote.
I went to an aviation academy for the rest of high school. I was supposed to learn to be a pilot, but instead, I learned to build rockets and boats out of cardboard. I did copilot once, and you would've had a heart attack watching it. I switched to the college track instead of getting my license, and graduated with a high GPA and acceptance to eight colleges.
My first year of "real college" was at a women's school in Roanoke. You would've loved it there. There were horses we could learn to ride, internships every January, and a place where I was safe from anything you would've been paranoid about. You would've thought it was a fancy school. I spent a lot of my time in the theater there, doing research and performing in shows, and learning stage makeup. I found out I was on the LGBT spectrum and made some of the best friends I could've asked for. You would like all of them. Margaret would've cooked with you, and Elizabeth would watch movies and sing to Disney with you.
I got sick my second semester there. Fainting, and hospital trips, and looking like a terrible zombie. I wasn't overly concerned, but if you had known, you would've marched to remove me yourself. We found out it was something like seizures, and that I had a chronic illness that made me overly tired. I've gotten better since having only passed out once since I left there. I didn't return in the fall.
I was in my first paid gig as an actor over the summer. It was in an awful dress from the Civil War era, with wires that stabbed and a hat that would make it hard to see the audience. I played a southern belle of sorts, and dad was the sheriff. While it hasn't been my favorite show, it was one of the best. I think you would've liked to watch it. I made friends there that have become my companions in several odd adventures. Doris is the main one. She has bright hair and tattoos, and she sews and does costumes. She's a bit brash, and it works with my habitual silence. We go on road trips and discover things, and she's the best friend you always told me to find. I also met Nick, who's an actor and a man of science. Had you ever met him, you would've teased me for years to find a way to marry him quick.
I have a tattoo now. I remember in elementary school, you completely freaked out over my temporary one. Now I have ink permanently on my body, words that mean a lot to me and are pretty besides. I know you'd fuss about it, but in the end, you'd say 'as long as you enjoy it and aren't a vagrant' and it would be well. I think you'd be more concerned about my changing hair, from scarlet to green to oil slick purple.
This May, I graduate with my AA. I'll be attending a four-year school this September, to get my degree in history, a minor in theater. I wish you could see the papers I've written, and the performances I've done. I wish I could show you all the makeup I've learned how to do, and all the people I've met, including lovely friends in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Australia. I wish that you could've somehow been here to see it all. I don't know if I'm the woman you had imagined, although I'm still the scrappy kid who loves to climb dogwoods and pretend to be Robin Hood.
It's been eight years since you passed. You haven't missed my entire life, but you missed the unfurling of the flower. Now I'm taller than you were, and short curly hair that looks like a blonde tornado. I speak a minor French, write poetry, and dream of one day doing something great. If you were the sort to believe in god, you'd say I've been blessed. I'm more confident now, saying my opinions and sharing ideas, and not letting people talk over me like I used to.
I miss you. I'd be heartless not to. And I miss everything about you, including the fog of cigarette smoke that used to make my mom cough, and the coffee that was nastier than anything I had tasted. I have the handkerchiefs you gave me, and the music box that plays Beautiful Dreamer. There are a million things to do, and I know somewhere, you'd be proud of me doing them. You didn't get to see me grow up, but I think in the end that's okay. Now I'm doing it as a way to make you proud.
I love you. I miss you. And I know that if there is an afterlife where you can see me, you'd be proud of who I am. Thank you for believing in me, letting me sing when I was surely off-key, write things that made no sense and ramble about school. Thank you for being clever and kind and teaching me that no matter what, if I was educated and wealthy and brilliant, or a dropout, poor and making do with almost nothing, I was someone who mattered. I'm glad you were my grandmother, even when others thought it was strange.