In the standing room only memorial hall, my cousin stood up and said, “Grandma wrote me a letter that I found from when I was a baby. In it, she said that she wasn’t sure, until she held me, her first grandkid, that she could love me like her own.” Bloodlines: grandma, daughter, granddaughter. Olive skinned, dark haired women, mistaken for each other in photographs. Mistaken for sisters in person. A cycle of pregnancy and birth, raising and loving.
But me? I was loved as her own.
I wasn’t asleep, anyway, with achy shoulders and a toddler smushed up against my side, hand on my chin for comfort. The text read: “My wife and the girls haven’t seen you in 2 years.”
My little sisters.
Four and nine when we first met.
“How has it been two years,” I thought? Defensiveness surged through my body, as I set the phone on the secondhand nightstand to shuffle my six month heavy belly to the bathroom. In the early morning light, my mind was spinning. What is my responsibility for facilitating relationships with my still-minor sisters? Do I just invite myself over to their house? Do I invite them all up here? Why does it feel like I’m being blamed for something that clearly he could have planned. He used to invite me to things several times a year. I looked in the mirror. Mascara smudged beneath my right eye. Hair loose from the messy sleeping bun. I tiptoed back into bed, scooching my son over for a few more inches of pillow to myself, picked up the phone, and texted back, “whoa, it’s been that long? We should plan something.”
There’s not enough of me to go around. Nobody ever seems to get enough of me. Truthfully, I’m exhausted from the expectations that follow me around like ghosts of relationships that were dead upon arrival.
I’m labelled angry. Too many people want a piece of me, so I lash out, trying to keep them from wanting any piece of me.
Unable to fall back asleep, I rolled over and scrolled through my Facebook messages.
“Maybe I should have waited for him to contact you again, but just so you know, I got a call from your grandma, and your grandpa died last night. He wanted to go. Last month when I saw him, he gave me a gut busting hug, and now I’m the only one left in my childhood family.”- Great Uncle D.
Shit, he died. Both sides of my biological family inserting themselves into my morning. It’s been four years, since the baby shower, when I saw them him. Saw my other siblings last. Shit. Shit. What do I want? Why is this so hard to navigate? Why is it so strange to try and create relationships with family once we’re already all adults? Fuck, I can’t even manage to keep in contact with my siblings I was raised with. Or my in-laws who live five minutes away.
Tears surprised me, dripping down my face. Bare chested, my son sat up in bed, startled grey eyes looked into mine, as he said, “mama, are you sad? What’s wrong mama?” He reached his pudgy preschool hands out to wipe my tears away. “‘s okay mama. You feel happy now?”
Tears for my grandma. The gaping hole in my heart. Because, in the morning tug-o-war between all the unspoken expectations, I realized that what had died with her, was unconditional love. No strings. No guilt trips. Just love.
Jenna Fox is described by her community college students as “sympathetic, but with a blunt sense of humor.” She writes from her home in Seattle, where she’s raising two boys, and a co-existing with a twitchy dog. Her website is: http://www.thejennafox.com