Since we moved every couple of years, on average, I never really thought that I belonged to any place we ever lived. The consistent house I loved was my Grandma A.’s house.
That’s where I felt most at home.
It’s funny because I dream about that house all the time and the dream basically has to do with me feeling threatened by something (last night it was a serial killer dancer) and running to the house and trying to lock all the doors only to find that the threatening thing is already in the house with me.
Anyway, I loved to go to my grandma’s house when I was little and a couple of times, I even stayed up there by myself for a week. Boy did I think I was the shit then.
It was great to visit because so many of my cousins lived in that same town and growing up, I was very close to one particular cousin, who I can’t think of a good nickname for. But when we were growing up, I thought she was so cool.
We’d spend long afternoons playing Barbies. Usually we’d play Adam and Eve Barbie where all the Barbies would take their clothes off and hang out by the pool and she’d take a few of them and show me what she’s learned about sex from watching soap operas.
I always looked up to her and thought that she was the coolest person ever and that no matter how bumpkin-y I was, if I had her to guide me, I’d be all urban sophisticate in no time.
So, one day, when we were both at my grandma’s house, she was in with my grandpa and I was out wandering around the yard talking to the trees. I don’t know why. I was a weird child.
Still, my parents knew I was a weird child, just like they knew the recalcitrant brother could charm the dollars out of Scrooge’s pocket, just like they knew that the Butcher ought not to be left alone with cake, and they never said anything about it. I was allowed to flourish in my weirdness.
But after spending a nice afternoon talking to the trees, my cousin came out and said “Grandpa and I were on the porch. We saw you talking to yourself. And you know what Grandpa said? ‘That kid is so weird.'”
That really hurt my feelings. I mean, my grandpa was a grouch and he used to beat the shit out of my dad and so what the fuck did I care if he thought I was weird? But I did, of course. A little.
What I cared more about was how my cousin said it, like his pronouncement had solidified some irrefutable truth. That hurt me to the core, the way she smirked when she said it.
This is one thing way fucked up families play out. People scramble to ally themselves with the most dangerous person, playing this game where they believe that their alliance with that person gives them value and assures them safety, and that to keep that position, you have to pick on the people on the outs.
This is one of the reasons my parents moved to Illinois: if they were going to be on the outs, they were going to be out far enough that they didn’t have to be around for the scapegoating.
When we were in college, I went to visit my cousin at her school. She got very drunk and hauled some guy home from the bar and did her thing with him so loudly that I couldn’t sleep. Then, she got up in the morning and told me tearfully about how she was helping to have the Wesley Foundation chaplain removed because he was advocating for the Foundation to accept homosexuals and how she just could not believe someone she liked could embrace something so evil.
This was the second time I knew that she was a stranger to me, that even though we’d grown up together, I wasn’t around enough to not be blindsided by that.
At my grandma’s funeral, she and her husband were carrying around a cooler for most of the proceedings. At only one point did they leave it unguarded, later at my living uncle’s home. My cousin A., who had been sitting next to me most of the day, ran over, opened it up, and turning her back to most everybody, looked over at me, and held up a huge, now mostly empty bottle of Wild Turkey.
She put it back, came over, and said, “Well, I guess we now know it takes a lot of liquid courage to work up the ability to think you’re that much better than everyone else.”*
Which caused me to start laughing, hard, and not just because I was relishing being on the inside, even if that inside were just A. and I, but also because of all the cousins, I thought A. and I had the least in common, and yet, there we were, thinking the exact same thing.
Before my grandma died, I crocheted her an afghan in her favorite colors–dark lavender, light lavender, and off white. At the time, I knew she was frail, but I don’t think I thought she was dying. I crocheted it for her and thought about all those nights I slept next to her when we went to visit and about how much I loved to watch her get dressed and make breakfast and talk about how glad she was to have things like microwaves.
When my grandma died, she was lying under my afghan, which my aunt gave back to me. Before Grandma died, the cousin under discussion slept huddled next to her one more time while I was here in Nashville begging every night for her to have a painless death, for her to slip off in her sleep. And she did.
What was my point?
I don’t know. I guess I was just thinking about the other Reverend’s kid and how he said something about not having any idea what it was like to have cousins. And I’ve been thinking about all thirteen of us on our dad’s side and how we don’t really know each other all that well anymore.
And yet, there are still ways I see us all repeating similar patterns, as if the world thrives on slight variation.
But none of us are that close and, since my grandparents are dead, there’s not a strong enough personality to keep bringing us all back together. So, after this, even though the patterns will go on, this piece of it will fad. No one from the next generation will get how we all felt so fiercely loyal to the people we loved, who were also the people that hurt the people we loved.
I used to think that we all felt implicated and that feeling of being the cause of a problem that existed before you were born was what tied us together.
But now I think all that tied us together was our adoration of our grandma. Other than that, we had nothing good in common. That’s not to say that we don’t all have our good things, but just that there’s not a lot of common good between us.
* The Wild Turkey is even funnier if one stops to make a guess about how many of us were actually not on any kind of drug the day of my grandma’s funeral. I’m going to say me, the youngest cousin, and probably A., but I wouldn’t bet on anyone else. One cousin’s drug dealer showed up at the visitation, hoping to get the money he was owed.