My cousin A. and I were talking about our Grandma A. who is both of our favorite person in the world–kind, generous, whip smart, good cook, esteemed business woman, loving, etc.–things I think that we aspire to be.
We were talking about my Grandpa and I was talking about how much he adored my cousin A. They babysat her a lot when she was small, she and my cousin J., and it was hard to resist her. She was darling and precocious.
And my Grandpa loved women.
He didn’t really care for men and growing up male in his house was its own kind of hell.
A. wasn’t really aware of that. She kind of knew, but not really. So, we talked about that for a little bit. And I explained to her that he really did seem to mellow towards the end especially towards his sons (I lied a little, having seen the video of him, even towards the end, berating my dad in a way that still makes me want to punch him). And I told her that, for me at least, you get to the ages you know those folks were at and you try to imagine yourself in their places and you kind of see how someone like you, but slightly different, could end up doing wrong.
I told her about how my dad’s aunt and uncle took him out to the farm a couple of summers just to get him out of the way of my grandpa. She told me how our aunt had told her stories of hiding on the roof, smoking cigarettes and trying to pretend like she didn’t know what was happening in the house.
And, after a few glasses of wine, she asked the question I have asked my whole adult life–my grandma had a job that made her a lot of money; she had a supportive family that knew what a problem my grandpa was; and she certainly knew what he was doing to those kids. Even if they never got divorced, why didn’t she leave him?
I really feel like, because that answer remains unknown to me, some fundimental part of who my grandma was remains unknown to me. How could this confident, gregarious, amazing woman…?
Maybe there is no answer.
We asked my aunt about our grandpa’s behavior, which she confirmed for A., who wanted to know why she was just hearing about it now, this far into her adult life, and my aunt said, “Well, we never told you about it because it didn’t matter.”
I’m not sure that was a satisfactory answer to A. She really loved our grandpa and yet, I can’t help but think that it does matter.
It seems to me that there’s a tendency among that generation of our family to want to make things as simple as possible. Surely, they didn’t tell A. because she so clearly loved him and telling her would have made her love for him much more complicated.
But isn’t familial love complicated?
And isn’t sheltering someone from those complications actually denying them the chance to really love you?
Or is it just another facit of abuse? Tell me the truth about how awful a person is (that monster) and I will prove my specialness by finding a way to love him anyway.
This is the other thing that haunts me. I’m not sure I know how to untangle love from fucked-up-ness.
I was thinking, hearing about my other cousin’s pending divorce and all the shitty things her husband did, that I don’t ever have to get married.
I felt such relief.