The 2,700 words of lockdown/pandemic journals written between May and Dec 2020 and posted here, are removed because I don’t want them here anymore. Except for this piece of it. I’ll be reposting the rest somewhere else.
Friends can be like family, but it is also not quite the same thing. I find myself thinking about my mother, and other people’s mothers. I know the multitude of reasons why I didn’t have a family of my own, which is why I have this lifestyle now. To begin with, my childhood family story is a bit of a riot. I still turned out ok, but harboring such a story has its consequences, that take a long time to escape.
I have two wonderful grandmothers who are still alive today so I’m very lucky in that way. When I was a teenager I think, a younger teenager, I remember visiting one of my grandmothers. I walked in to the big kitchen and felt nervous being there. She said, “Would you like a tuna sandwich, honey?” Her voice so calm and tone so sweet but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if I was hungry. I probably was but couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I didn’t want to make her make me the sandwich, but maybe she wanted me to eat it. I didn’t know.
“Ok.” I agreed to the sandwich. So I sat down on the long polished wood bench at the gigantic kitchen table made of the same polished wood and I stared at the colorful woven oval placemats and felt awkward. The dining room table was even larger than this one and it had its very own room. The silverware solid, heavy, shiny. When she set down the clear plastic plate with the swirly designs popping from its surface in front of me, something about the experience felt alien. I think I was supposed to feel comforted. The sandwich looked cute on the plate. Fluffy. Carefully centered. Placed so as to avoid crushing the bread or patting down the mini peaks and valleys of tuna salad, so that the whole thing puffed up and out a little. Grandma knew how to make it special. How to make something so simple look like it had a personality. I stared at it, and I didn’t understand something but I wasn’t sure what. I ate it amid a mixture of odd and uncomfortable feelings. I ate it; even though I am not so wild about lots of mayonnaise, tuna was still a favorite.
I wasn’t feeling that great though. I think I was supposed to feel at home. But I didn’t. I felt bad. The adult word for that feeling is guilty. Grandma was doing all this, for me. Grandma works so hard all the time, for everyone. But I didn’t know that I deserved to be cared for. I actually did not know.
She’d have to do the dishes, I thought, so maybe I should do them instead. But there are a lot of dishes over there, from some other meal. Should I do all of those? I do not know what to do as I sit eating my sandwich. I want to be a good kid. But I am tired, so tired. So tired.
Grandma’s beds so poofy like white and beige clouds I don’t know what will happen if I try to sleep in one, would I sink in too much and feel weird. Anyway, nobody should be sleeping right now. I shouldn’t fall asleep on the couch. I shouldn’t be rude.
There is a concept of what family is “supposed to be” like, in a general sense of at least meeting and maintaining a certain standard. If your concept of family is warped by tragedy, your concept of love may also be warped for a while. For a while, but not necessarily forever. Old wounds can heal. Other people teach us things beyond the scope of the original family.
Ideas start changing, shifting, and feelings also. Occasionally in leaps. You might’ve managed essentially alone for a very long time, in the same way you’d always done because you did not know any different. Until you do not want it to be that way anymore. And know that it doesn’t have to be, and it won’t be. Change might be too scary to welcome without a fight, but it finds you anyway because that is what is supposed to happen. Especially if that’s exactly what you aim for.
I do not blame my mother, with whom I grew up, for the flaws she found impossible to overcome. The alcohol, the violence, the homelessness, the intermittent chaos. While she is accountable for certain things, I do not blame her for anything I could not do now, either, as the present is what I am accountable for. I was the oldest child and things were harder to hide from me. I do not know what it is like to be my mother. Despite everything, she did give me gifts for which I am grateful, most of them unintended gifts. Just because someone does not know how to love properly, or “normally,” does not necessarily mean that they don’t love. Just because we do not get what we want from someone, does not mean that we should look down on them, nail them to the cross. Even when it feels needed, it’s probably not even worth it.
Writing and reflecting about Grandma, her house, her homemaking, I realize I feel a different emotion than the way this whole situation has made me feel, even a different emotion than the way I used to feel during some of our visits. Comforted.
Everyone is dealing with this crisis in their own way. Some people want to be alone. But we have to keep in mind that others need us too.
We must keep in mind that it is one thing to say to someone that you are there, but it is another thing to actually be there.
It is also another thing to genuinely want to be there, but truly not be able to. And this is really felt, or not felt.
Who is present?
Who is listening to us?
Who is holding us dear, in a crisis?
And who are we holding dear? I recall some wise words Dad had shared. He said, “Somebody told me once. You know what, man? If you want a friend, BE a friend.”
Connection is probably more important than ever, and we probably ought to insist on it above and beyond all else in whatever way we can accomplish it. Even as I too struggle to live up to my own ideals.
May 16 – May 17, 2020