"Nobody Passes," Make/shift, Fall/Winter 2010
I’m thinking about my grandmother in the hospital, and whether the doctors are sad that she’s leaving. I’m sad that she’s leaving. I’m not sad that she’s leaving the hospital: I know she doesn’t want to be in any more pain.
I’m crying because I’m a little kid and I want to talk to her about art. Or, I’m not a little kid, and I want to talk to her about art. I want to sit down and tell her about this work I make that she refuses to understand. None of that will ever happen now. She’s dying, and it’s happening fast. She refused the operation to remove fluid from her lungs, and tomorrow she moves to hospice. She doesn’t want any more operations; she doesn’t want to live if she can’t make more art.
When I was a kid, my grandmother showed me the way a foam animal could change into a sponge, a coin purse could open up into a duffel bag, a kaleidoscope could reveal jewels, trash could become handmade paper: when I was with her I could dream, and it wasn’t like what happened when I went to sleep, where I was always trying to escape the Holocaust. When I left the Ivy League college I’d studied my whole life to get into, left college altogether, because I knew it would make me into everyone I was trying not to become, my grandmother told me that if she could do it all over again, she would have finished school. She might even have said: instead of becoming an artist. I hadn’t realized she valued status and respectability far more than my autonomy. Later, I felt betrayed in many other ways too—she didn’t like the way people looked at me, which meant that I should change; she wanted me to make up with my father, her son, but never asked him to acknowledge sexually abusing me.
But what about those pale green leaves against the peach building, and the way the light almost makes me gasp? If my grandmother and I were closer, I would call her all the time and say listen, you won’t believe what I just saw! And she wouldn’t tell me that I must not want to get better from all this pain that surrounds me, otherwise I would try Lyrica.
I ask my mother for the number at the hospital, and she says: you want to call her now, before she dies? I say well it wouldn’t make much sense to call her after, right? And my mother starts this high-pitched nervous laugh that I haven’t heard in a while. When I call my grandmother, I tell her I want her to know that I love her, and then I start crying but I’m trying to stop myself because my mother told me my grandmother doesn’t like it when people cry, but why am I listening to my mother?
There’s an aide holding the phone at my grandmother’s ear; I’m worried I might be taking too long and so I speak really fast: I’m glad you’re not going to be in too much more pain and I want you to know how important you are to me, maybe you were even the most important person in the family because you helped me believe in myself and I’m going to miss you, I’m going to miss you so much and I wish you weren’t going to die but I know that maybe it’s time and I want you to know that I love you.
I stop, and the aide says: did I take the phone away too quickly? And I say no, I’m done, is she awake? The aide says something that sounds kind of like no, but not quite. I say I know she can’t respond, but do you think she could hear me? The aide says: yes, the hearing is the last thing to go. And: if you need to call again, you can call any time. And when I get off the phone, I don’t know if I said what I needed to say or whether my grandmother could hear me anyway, and then I call my mother back and she says I’m glad you could have some closure, that was a good idea, and I wish she didn’t tell me that my grandmother doesn’t like it when people get emotional: if I cried more on the phone then maybe it would have felt like closure.
I ask my mother if she’ll take flowers over to the hospital, and then I’m crying more and my mother says that’s a great idea, no one else thought of that, and I say maybe some irises, she liked irises, and my mother says how many irises? I say a dozen, and some lilies, because if she can’t see them then at least she’ll smell the fragrance, she always liked lilies, maybe peach lilies, and my mother says how many lilies? Eight, I say, and then I think about walking through the garden with my grandmother, eyes brightening—I just want to spend more time in her studio: I’m a little kid and all these colors are something I can dream about. I keep sobbing, and my mother says: you’re crying for all of us. I don’t know what I think of that, but I say I’m glad you’re not trying to force her to have any more operations, some people do awful things to their relatives just because they want them to stay alive, not because of what their relatives want, and my mother says like what?
Last time I visited, my grandmother was more distant than ever—at one point I said it’s good to see you, and she said: it would be good to see you, without those earrings. Remember that? The closest we got was when we talked about her art, I offered the critical engagement of another artist and she listened.
When I was a little kid, we would look for four-leaf clovers in the grass and I would find one but no, it would have five leaves—does five leaves mean extra luck? Sometimes she put them in tiny gilded frames; I kept them on the bookshelf in my room. When you look closely in the grass, you find all sorts of things: ants, worms, broken glass, a candy wrapper, those tiny white flowers with brown in the middle, little trees just starting off, dandelions, buttercups, sometimes even a violet—I thought dandelions were flowers, even though my grandmother told me they were weeds, but a violet—how did it get there? She hugs me because I’m special. We put the violet in a vase.