Saturday, January 19, 2013

Conflicting Memories

It has been 11 years since my grandmother passed. To this day, most of my family still talks about how much they miss her, how wonderful she was, how the world was so much better when she was in it, etc.

I admit, this is not the way I see it. My memories are actually quite conflicted when it comes to my grandmother. I do have some good memories with her. When I was a kid, it was my grandparents who took me to museums & zoos. My grandparents lived outside Chicago. They took me to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Sear's Tower, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Brookfield Zoo. I remember a night out with my grandma & my great-aunt. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, then saw a play at the Theater on the Lake (I think we saw Fiddler on the Roof). So, I do have some really good memories of my grandma.

However, I also have a whole lot of bad memories. My grandma didn't like me much. She did not like my hair. I don't just mean that she didn't like the way I styled it. She did not like the length, regardless of what the length was. She did not like the color, even before I started dying it. She did not like the way I brushed it, not the style, the actual way I physically ran the brush through my hair. She did not like the color of my eyes, as if I could control that. She hated all of my clothes. She disliked my book choices. She disliked my music preferences. She disliked my movie choices. How do I know she disliked all of these things? She told me, that's how. She complained about every single thing about me. Mostly, she complained to me, when nobody else was around, so there were no witnesses. This of course meant nobody believed me, because all they ever saw was the nice side of her.

My grandma's mom, my G.G., was the most important person in the world to me. She died when I was 9 or 10. I was crushed. I was lost. I was truly devastated. At the funeral, I had to be strong & help occupy the younger kids, while the adults got to grieve & cry. I couldn't cry, because I had to keep the little kids happy. My mom bought me a new outfit to wear to the funeral. It was a pink shirt with a black skirt. She didn't want me wearing just black, which is why I got stuck with a bright pink shirt. At the funeral, my batshit crazy grandmother, pulled me aside and told me that I was disrespecting my G.G. by wearing black to her funeral, because I was too young to wear black. What kind of psycho does that? How horrible a person do you have to be to tell a child that they are disrespecting the most important person in their life by wearing black to that person's funeral? Some of you might think this should just be written off as her being overtaken by the grief of her mother's passing, and saying things she didn't mean. However, she was always like this to me. She always pulled me aside to tell me something was wrong with me. After informing me that I would be in trouble if I didn't finish every bite of food on my plate (which she had over-filled), she would berate me for being overweight (even though I was technically within the healthy weight range for my height). She is a big part of the reason I was convinced I was fat, even when at a perfectly healthy weight.

As if her obvious dislike of every single thing about me wasn't enough, she also had expectations for me & my life, though it was never clear exactly what they were. It was clear that I never lived up to those expectations. I had my daughter my senior year in high school. Instead of dropping out, I stayed in school until I had to be pulled out, less than a month before my daughter was born. After having my daughter, I convinced all of my teachers to allow me to finish my work for the year at home. I did all the work for the last quarter of the year, in a week, at home, while taking care of a newborn. I took my daughter to the school, where she sat in her carseat next to me, while I took all the tests I missed. I fought against a teacher who tried to fail me for no reason, just because he didn't like me. If he had failed me, I would not have been allowed to graduate. I fought the injustice, got the principal on my side, and he was forced to pass me. My grandmother was so bothered by my having & keeping my daughter, that she refused to show up to my high school graduation. She freaking boycotted my graduation! She would tell everyone else that any job was fine, and you shouldn't be ashamed of working at some place like McDonald's. When I got a job at McDonald's, and was training to be a manager within 4 months of starting as a crew person (something not everyone can say), she insulted my choice of job & made sure I knew that she felt I should be ashamed to work somewhere so low.

Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. When I was accepted to a college in Chicago, she offered to let me live with them. They would take care of my daughter while I worked & went to school. They lived close to a train station, so I could commute to school by train every day & get a job at a store or restaurant within walking distance of their house. I turned down this offer. If I had accepted, they would have been the ones raising my daughter, not me. She is my daughter, therefore my responsibility. I didn't want to visit with her a few hours a week, I wanted to raise her. So, I got a job at McDonald's and worked my butt off to raise my kid entirely on my own. Did my grandmother commend me on being a responsible mother? Was she proud of me for putting my daughter before myself? Was she proud of how hard I worked at being a good mom, taking care of my child, making the ends meet, etc.? No, of course not. She bitched about how I threw my life away, at Christmas, and told me my daughter would throw her life away, too.

So, eleven years after her death, I still have to bite my tongue every time someone starts waxing nostalgic about how great & wonderful she was. Truth be told, I have far more bad memories than good. I would love to just focus on the happy ones, but I can't. Someone will say something about how great she was to her grandkids, and the first thing that pops into my head is generally a memory of the museum or zoo. However, that is followed by a memory of looking out at the crowd at my high school graduation & knowing she wasn't there or hearing her voice say "You are disrespecting G.G. by wearing black to her funeral," or "Why, so she can throw her life away just like you did?"