My grandma died yesterday. The last time I saw her was Christmas, 2009.
Growing up, I was unusually close to her. Because my mom left us when I was four or five, I’m only familiar with my dad’s side of the family (though with over 20 cousins, I don’t feel like I missed out) . When my mom was out of the picture, I was sent to live with my grandparents. I loved it, because Grandma would let me get away with murder!
Perhaps it was because she felt bad for me since my mom ran away. But whatever the case, she became my maternal mother. Sometimes I’d hang out with Grandpa in the backyard playing with my My Little Pony collection, while he tended his herbs. Other times I’d cause trouble with the neighborhood kids (we lived in a huge duplex). I remember one particular time when I hid out in my grandma’s closet, because I had gotten a New Kids on the Block film stuck in the VCR (back when DVD and Blu-Ray had yet to see the light of day). I was obsessed with them and would watch a particular concert video so many times that the tape couldn’t handle it anymore and rebelled by trapping itself within the confides of my grandma’s VCR. I can’t recall whether it was my dad or uncle who had to fix the VCR, but I do remember my grandma telling me to hide in the closet so they couldn’t punish me. Her closet was often my safe place.
After my dad was remarried, I moved back in with him. I’m not sure of the reasoning, but when my grandparents and my aunt Thi moved to Missouri a few years later, I was moved with them (from then on, I moved every year, sometimes twice a year, between them and my dad). In Missouri, we lived in a three-bedroom mobile home. I loved it! My grandma was a bit more strict there, which wasn’t so fun, but it was only to protect me.
It was in that home that I discovered my love for music. I would watch music videos and emulate the choreography or sing karaoke for hours. Often times, my grandma would sit in the living room and watch on as my cousin Kenny and I pretended like we were rockstars. Those were some of the best times! When I had wanted to take dance and voice lessons, my aunt would give me an unequivocal ‘No’, but Grandma always encouraged me to explore my talents. (Oddly, I had forgotten about her support until yesterday. The no’s and discouragement I received from others growing up, overshadowed the one supporter I had, which is a shame. It’s difficult for me to pursue the things I dream of, because I’ve rarely been shown support. A lot of times family would laugh at me when I told them what I wanted to be when I grew up and being so sensitive, coupled with being a people-pleaser, I let it keep me down. Now I wish I had kept those memories of my grandma encouraging me, in the forefront.)
If it hadn’t been for my grandmother, I might not be so fluent in Vietnamese. And I definitely wouldn’t be familiar with Vietnamese cuisine (even eggs and hotdogs had “asian” spins on them). Until my grandfather passed in 2006, she had always treated me differently than the other grandchildren. I got away with things my cousins would have definitely been lectured for, and in turn, got in trouble for things they probably would have gotten away with. Unfortunately, I’ve had very little contact with her the past few years.
When my grandfather passed, it’s like my grandmother’s personality took a complete 180. It was probably a combination of grief, loneliness and plain ol’ “old person” syndrome, but she hasn’t been the grandmother I remember in a very long time. The past few years, her home has changed more than mine had growing up. She’d live with one aunt/uncle, quickly be displeased by something, move in with another aunt/uncle, be displeased again, move in with someone else, and so on and so forth. Stories were contrived and feelings hurt. One aunt would be upset with another aunt because of something my grandma invented, and an uncle would hate another uncle because of whatever it was Grandma told them about the other one. It all just became one massive headache.
Drama makes me feel icky, so I try to avoid it as much as I can. I’ll admit though, I was very angry with my grandma for a long time because of things I’d been told she said behind my back. Maybe she had run out people to make up tales about, but whatever the case, she’d set her sights on me a few years ago. Stories were strung together telling of things I’d supposedly done and habits I supposedly possessed. The family has always been addicted to gossip, so I’m not new to being a victim of rumors and flat out lies, but for my GRANDMA to be the one to start something…that was a huge blow.
She’d also had no problem (supposedly) trashing a scrapbook I had created of the grandchildren for her. When I was around her, she’d act as if my existent in her life didn’t matter one way or the other. It’s like I had been demoted. So that, coupled with the rumors she started, completely caused me to distance myself from her. I just didn’t care anymore. She obviously didn’t love me, so why should I show love to her?
Reflecting now on the past few years, I see a lot of hurt, pettiness, ego and loneliness. There’s so much secrecy in my family, you rarely hear the full story, so it’s difficult to figure out what’s true and what isn’t. From the time I came out screaming from my mother’s womb, the foundation of my life has been cracked and unstable. I had had to grow up very fast and be my own parent for a very long time. My grandma took on the role of ‘mom’ for a while, but there was always a thin wall between us. We were close, but complete strangers at the same time. There’s a lot she didn’t know, but probably should have. And there are things I would have liked to know, but now never will.
I see now that she wasn’t a very happy person. Her shift in personality most likely had to do with my grandfather’s passing, as well as exhaustion. I don’t think she had ever found true contentment, and for that, I am sad. Her words and actions hurt me, but usually, when people intentionally hurt others, it’s because they themselves are hurting. I forgave her a while ago, but I regret not telling that to her. For years, I thought that she didn’t love me, but perhaps she thought the same about me. I don’t know. But I do know that I miss the times in that living room when she would clap on as my cousin and me did synchronized dance moves to New Kids on the Block. Her smile then was genuine, and that’s the way I’d like to remember her best.