My grandmother’s house has some unwelcome intruders this year. Recently, she and I discovered a bee hive in her basement. Since it’s gotten colder, the bees have begun to climb up the vents to her upstairs windows. Here, they sluggishly crawl around and then drop to the wooden panels beneath them. I remember reading somewhere that some bees hibernate. I figured thats what these bees were doing since they eventually ended up in piles on the floor. I explained this to her and then called an exterminator to solve the problem.
Grandma did not take this lightly in the least bit. Every time she got on the phone she mentioned the bees. She told her banker, store clerks, family members, and strangers about them. She even got her neighbor interested enough to bring an ancient encyclopedia over to identify the mysterious creatures. Several times throughout the course of this bee infestation, I’ve been startled by an enthusiastic, ”Megan, I found another sleepy bee!”
As I watched her excitement and wonder while examining a “sleeping” bee one day, I realized how much her raw curiousity reminded me of the 3 and 4 year olds I used to work with on a daily basis. It’s not that her mind has regressed at all, but I am catching glimpses of an innocence that wasn’t there before. She is beginning to surrender to vulnerability. Not only does she want me to google things like, “What does escarole look like?”, she also lets me cook her dinner, do her hair, and help her pick out daily outfits. She enjoys celebrity gossip and swoons over the likes of Ryan Gosling and George Clooney. She even comments on Justin Bieber’s choice of briefs over boxers and watches Youtube videos of bands playing live music with a brightened fervor of someone who just discovered a new treasure. I know that she has fought giving into this for quite some time, but as I watch her live her days now, I can see her coming to peace with herself. She is beginning to look at the world through the eyes of an innocent as she did when she was young.
I can see now that time maybe isn’t as cruel as I originally thought it to be, and I hope that I can be lucky enough to get excited over sleepy insects when I am 82.
I watch my grandmother as she shuffles down the aisle of the church, her walker creaking with each step she takes as if it’s trying to prove a point. My grandmother was married in this church in Brooklyn, New York 60 years ago today at exactly 11:30am. I look at my watch. The time is exactly 11:25am. The walker’s entrance causes the scattered members of the congregation to raise their heads, which, moments earlier were bowed in silent prayer. I look around the cavernous space. It was clear that it had, at one point, been beautiful, but the hands of time had marred its once breathtaking features. The hand painted statues, carved exquisitely out of wood, appeared distorted due to the chipping acrylics. The stained glass windows, once spectacularly detailed, were dull and dark from the dust and rot accumulating from both the outside and inside of the building.
A train rumbles by and the vibrations cause a large chandelier above me to swing in a slightly diagonal direction like a confused clock pendulum. This adds another sound to the walker’s initially solo attempt at revealing the age of its owner. Now it’s turned into a chorus of creaks and groans, echoing sorrowfully into the space around us.
My grandmother spots a statue of Mary and slides over to the pulpit that stands before it. She sits down upon the padded seat on her walker and bows her head to pray. I can hear her crying and I bow my head too. I am sitting in an aisle a few rows back from the statue to respect my grandmother’s space. I try to hold back tears to remain strong for her, but grief overcomes me and I surrender to it. My grandfather passed away two months prior and the sorrow of the loss is easily unearthed whenever I feel my grandmother missing him. I realize that at this moment I am not crying for my loss. I am crying for hers.
My grandparents had a love for one another that was beautiful to watch. I often found myself trying to catch secret glimpses of their interactions because I knew from a very young age that their relationship revealed something special and rare: love in its truest form. From the tenderness they shared to their brief and often humorous tiffs with one another, the glow of love never left the two of them. And, long as you were nearby, you could feel its warmth too.
Each night before my grandfather would go to bed he’d blow two kisses to my grandmother and she would say, “Say goodnight Gracie!”
Because his voice was deep and his speech eloquent, everything he said sounded stately, even when he was being funny.
“Goodnight Gracie!” He would bellow with a joyful chuckle.
It never got old.
I think about this before I let my thoughts give into hating the unfairness of it all. Time and death are cruel. The present state of this church and my grandmother’s increasingly frail frame are evidence of this. But, as I watch my grandmother wipe away her tears and rise up from her makeshift seat, I realize my grandfather is here with us. Not in physical form, but in the preserved state of my memories. I can still hear his jubilant laughter and its echo is much louder than the creaks and groans of the present. My grandmother lends me a smile as she makes her way back down the aisle where she once walked toward a future with my grandfather 60 years ago today. This time, she’s walking in the opposite direction without him by her side. I hear her sigh as I open the door to lead her out, and then as if she is thinking the same thing I am, she quietly says, “Say goodnight Gracie.”
We both smile because we can hear his voice as clear as day momentarily abating the sting of his absence.
At the wedding of my grandparents: October 6, 1951 Brooklyn, NY
My grandmother walking down the very same aisle 60 years later.
For those who were curious, here’s the 411 on my sudden disappearance from the 303:
(Thanks to Ms. Vinizzle who inspired my initial confession :)
I had been getting unusual ‘hive-like’ bumps on my chest and shoulders since June of last year. It started with typically only one or two at a time and if I didn’t bother with them they went away on their own. Since the hives were sporadic I really didn’t think there was any cause for concern and I pretty much ignored them. Simultaneously, I had noticed as the year progressed that my energy levels were abnormally low. I typically struggle with this when the seasons change each year and either learn to up my exercise or go to bed earlier, but this was different. I could barely keep my eyes open and was somewhat short of breath for no reason. My lymph nodes were also extremely swollen and I was getting oddly profuse nosebleeds on a regular basis. I was diagnosed with Epstein Barr (mono’s evil cousin) and was told to wait it out. Honestly, if that’s what I had it definitely lasted much longer than 6 months (the average Epstein Barr bout). There were periods of time where I barely found the energy to take a shower much less leave my apartment. I thought I was depressed because of work related stress but I had never experienced it this severely before so it made me wonder if there was something else going on. After two ER visits and no clear answers (blood tests showed no signs of further infection in April), I went the holistic route and began to see a chiropractor. This seemed to help a bit though the malaise sometimes grew worse after my treatments. I plugged along determined to survive the rest of my school year, but in retrospect I should have quit in April because things were about to get much worse. On a morning in early Spring I woke up to a slew of hives across my chest covering my collar bone and shoulders. The hives themselves were not painful at all, only slightly itchy and uncomfortable at first. When they began to burn and swell I went to the doctor and was put on antibiotics for what they thought was a secondary infection (cellulitis) though they did not culture the locations for Staph or Strep. They did, however, take a biopsy of one on my shoulder to rule out Lupus. The test results only showed negative for Lupus and the doctor diagnosed it as severe eczema. I was prescribed a topical steroid and a topical antibiotic to address the infection after these test results. The steroid seemed to work almost immediately at first but the infections never seemed to go away entirely. A few weeks after I was finished with the first round of antibiotics I got another ‘flare up’ - a series of small bubbles and this time I noticed that the lesions that were turning into scars were bubbling up as well. Where they had taking the biopsy on my shoulder was almost completely healed into a shiny pink scar - swelled and felt like it was ‘burning’. Back to the doctor I went. This time I was diagnosed with neuro dermatitis, and NOT eczema, but they cultured the lesions which tested positive for staph. I was given doxycycline (a stronger type of antibiotic) - a month long regimen. After this there was not much more information I could get from the doctors other than the fact that I had to ‘stop scratching what was not there’. In so many words they had resorted to telling me that I was creating the blisters due to a neurotic tendency to scratch. Because I knew that this diagnosis basically went against the law of physics, I began doing research on my own. Going to the doctor had become a bit unbearable needless to say. I tried everything from bathing in bleach to taping chunks of garlic doused in oregano oil to no avail. Besides smelling like Italian salad dressing, the homeopathic remedies were tame at best. Drinking tons of water seemed to stave off outbreaks and exhaustion but I had a difficult time determining what helped and what definitely didn’t help. Between flare ups ‘the scabs/scars never seemed to heal entirely. Up to this point I had never felt more helpless or hopeless in my entire life. There was nothing I could do, no one had an answer, and my skin was beginning to look like something out of a horror movie. When my grandfather passed away in August, I visited with my aunt whose sister is a diagnostician out here in NY. My aunt was convinced that she could help me if I could somehow pick up and move out here. I knew the moment she mentioned this that it was something I needed to do. So, I packed my apartment, gave away my cat, threw some clothes into suitcases, and dragged myself onto a plane looking like crap and hoping a scarf would cover up the damage enough to convince other passengers I wasn’t a walking biohazard. I had been a shadow of a daughter, sister, teacher, friend, and human all year, and all I know is that I immediately maneuvered into survival mode the minute I realized I couldn’t handle things on my own anymore. Luckily, one month after my move to NY, I’m on the mended side of my path to recovery. No one was able to give me a straight diagnosis, and it’s unclear as to what it was exactly as I am still getting hints of an impending hive or two. I’m struggling to regain normalcy in my day to day routines, but I know that I can never go back to feeling like ‘myself’ again. I’m an entirely different person now, not only physically but emotionally. I’ve got some rather hideous scars to prove it. I figure I can look at this two ways: I can either choose to remain trapped in wreckage or push myself through it. It’s black and white. I can agonize over the series of scars on my chest, or I can stop hiding them and myself from the world and accept that they’re now a part of me; for better or for worse. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I know how lucky I am that I am not dying, didn’t lose a limb, or get the hives on my hands or face. I am eternally grateful for my health. I know things can be much worse and I probably seem shallow for complaining. It’s simply going to be an adjustment is all. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see an unfamiliar version of yourself especially when an area of that version is mangled and distorted where it wasn’t before. Among the thousands of deep varied lesions on my chest during the flare, there was one location that caused a terrible infection and left a large quarter sized scar in it’s wake. As scars go, this one belongs in the ‘How the hell did that thing conglomerate in that manner on that location?’ category. It is an ugly mother of a scar. Since it’s fairly new it’s still sort of otherworldly to me. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that this sucker, no matter what I do, it here to leave it’s mark and make a freaking point. It’s angry too, because it knows I don’t like it. I’ve decided that in order for me to take the steps necessary to regain my life back, I need to make friends with this thing somehow. I’m not saying I’m going to embrace it and don a v-neck to expose my décolletage for all the world to see (not yet anyway), but I definitely need to let it know that it doesn’t have the power to control my thoughts or behavior. As superficial as this all may seem, I realize that this is the first step I have to take before any other. I have to make nice with this new version of me. Sometimes you have to break - crumble into pieces - in order to become something more than you were before you were broken. Things are better now where I thought they might never be. I think the scars can serve to remind me of this.