Please note: This is a fictional piece I am working on for a contest. Although, in full disclosure it is inspired by the loss of my own grandmother, about eight years ago.
It’s 9:30 am. The clouds are as dark as my heart and there’s a forecast for rain. Not just a little drizzle of rain, but a downpour, with a chance of flash flooding. The weather is an outward expression of the mood inside my soul.
The somber, clouded atmosphere envelops our limo as we drive down the historic boulevard towards the Catholic Church. The vigil was last night. I lost complete composure in front of my family, and grandmother’s friends, during the eulogy. Now, here I am holding back tears that need to be shed, just to keep the ugly cry from bothering my mother.
I know this must be hard for her. Grandma was the glue of the family. She was the most loving, endearing individual in our entire hometown. Whenever someone needed something, they could always count on Nonna to come through for them. Her generous heart was unmatched. If giving was a sport, she would receive a gold medal in Extreme Giving. If she had something and you needed it, it became yours. If you didn’t have a meal to eat, you were sitting at her table that night for dinner. That’s just how she was.
My mother, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of Nonna. She is so frugal it makes your eyes water. When I arrived at her doorstep a few days ago, I could sense how hard it was for her to let me inside, to even share her space. Once I sat on the couch, I could barely breathe. She must have found a way to extract the oxygen from her home and stock pile it somewhere for emergencies. Sometimes I wish I would just suffocate. Right in front of her.
I shift in my seat, look around the limo, and notice everyone staring at me. I say, “What?” What I get in return is a coordinated procession of shrugged shoulders, a few “Oh, nothing,” comments, and a look of disgust from my mother. Even my silence irritates her. Before I look away to stare out the window, I notice her twitching. Opening and closing her purse, once, twice, three times; just as she’s done my entire life.
My mother: Homecoming Queen 1975. The once most sought after woman, who could make any man’s heart melt, is now this feeble woman, disgusted with life and obsessively fixated on using sanitizer to clean her hands and surroundings. GERMS. You might get germs! We must kill the germs. All day long, kill the germs.
My childhood home was full of air purifiers and near-empty rooms. Today this is referred to as minimalism, but back then, it was called insanity. Mother swore having less knick knacks made it easier to keep things clean because there were less nooks and crannies to collect germs. It sounds logical, but those ‘germ collecting things’ are what would have made our house feel more like a home than an asylum. The white, sterile rooms and halls with the bright lights shining over our heads — it was either a hospital or an interrogation; and many days, it felt like both.
As you can imagine, growing up in such an environment was hard on the psyche. Every time I walked through the front door, I expected a siren to start blaring, and lights to flash around the entryway. I wouldn’t have been surprised if some loud announcement came over an intercom, “THE AREA IS NOW CONTAMINATED. SECURE THE ENTRY AND TAKE THE HAZARDOUS SPECIES TO QUARANTINE.”
It’s at this point I imagine my mother slipping on some latex gloves, a white lab coat, those ugly hospital shoe covers, and putting a plastic runner over the carpet to safely escort me to the shower. Nothing was too extreme to save herself from a speck of filth!
Okay, I’m getting a little carried away here. She wasn’t that crazy, but her actions had the same effect on me, regardless. Instead of a blaring siren, I listened to my mother yell from the kitchen:
“Don’t sit there until you bathe.”
“Take off your shoes before you walk on the white carpet.”
“Clean your room — it’s filthy.”
“Look at you, go wash your hands.”
“Don’t touch that — you’re dirty.”
And, the hardest one of all to listen to—
“No, your best friend can’t stay the night. I don’t know how clean her family is.”
We reach the church. I take one more glance at my mother and almost smirk at her discomfort. Out of her domain, out of her controlled environment. Trying so hard to remain calm in a limo she couldn’t clean herself. I know exactly what she’s thinking, “How the hell did I forget to grab the disinfectant?”
Until next time –