What Kinds of Things Do You Have a Right to Know?

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.

Dancing with my cousin

I was thinking on the way up here about this idea that there are some places that don’t exist any more, at least not how you remember them, and I was thinking how tempting it is to just go ahead and indulge in visiting the place that exist only in your imagination instead of visiting the real place.

I don’t know if that makes sense.  I’m tired and hung over and I read it and get what I mean, but I’m not sure if it’s clear.  I’m just saying that I’m never not thinking about these people and places; I’m not often sure if I can bear to really come here, yet I feel like I’m never really able to leave.

This is what I want to tell you, that I was looking through pictures that my cousin A. had set aside for my dead cousin’s son and they were full of dead people in rooms we used to spend all our time in, rooms that belong to other people now.  And looking at those photos, seeing those people I’ll never see again in those rooms I’ll never walk through again, but people and places I know so well I can feel them in my bones, I can shut my eyes and hear their voices just as clear as day, made me feel, for a second, kind of out of time, like I was the ghost–the person with no place, hovering around the edges of the warmth of family.

And I looked up and my cousin A. has this huge smile on her face and she’s singing “Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand” and her hands flit around her face like small birds and then climb and dive around her body in time to the music, her arms like gentle waves.  One foot moves behind the other and she scoots across the kitchen floor, hips gently swaying.

“I loved Duran Duran when I was little,” I say, my hands flying upwards, two more creatures in flight, two more arms rolling like lapping water, two more hips swinging in time with the music, two more feet shuffling across the bright linoleum.

She smiles even bigger, looks me straight in the eye and says, “I know.  I remember.”

“You’re not checking your email, you’re blawging.”

Well, it looks like access to the internet is going to be spotty and, as long as I’m trying to blog here at my uncle’s, I keep getting interrupted by relatives shouting questions and smart aleck comments and telling stories about returning prostitutes to their rightful places of business.

So, all this is to say that you should, of course, check in often, and I will try to sneak you notes under the desk when no one is looking.