Ma Chère Grand-mere,
I think I am a lot like you, or at least becoming a lot like you. You are in every note I sing or read or play, every stitch I sew, every song that runs through my head and every scrap of fabric I run under my fingers. You are around my head and waist and wrist and neck, on my fingers and in my eyes, mind, heart. I wear you in bulky sweaters that keep me warm on nights when I feel like there is ice in the marrow of my bones, gripping cold from my past/present/future that won’t go away until I’m home. I wear you in the silk scarves that make my clothes fit tighter so the world can see how I’m wasting away without life, without you. I miss your butterscotch cookies, sitting in your kitchen and talking before piano lessons.
I don’t remember the last time I saw you, but I remember the time we came to visit when I didn’t come in. I just sat in the hall. Maybe I was scared to see you sick, or maybe I… I can’t remember. I remember waking up to her standing there and the words I’d been dreading for months, the words I never wanted to hear, the ones that should have never been said but especially not by my nine year old sister. I want to wake up instead to you sitting on my bed tomorrow morning, soft hand on my head, fingers so used to piano keys stroking my hair instead.
They said it was because of me you lived as long as you did, anyway. The day I was born you came to see me and you slipped on the steps of the hospital because it was raining. When they took x-rays, they didn’t find broken bones but they did find the cancer. When you started chemo, your hair fell out and was replaced by soft gold silk. You already looked like an angel to me. They gave you two years to live, and you took seven.
But I couldn’t cry when you died, grandma. I didn’t have any tears, they were dammed up behind the eyes that nobody’s ever seen through, the ones that maybe you would have understood. I didn’t let one single drop of water down until you were there, beautiful like you always were, but not there. Not until I was supposed to stand up and sing. They told me I didn’t have to, if it was too hard, but I wanted to. I was only seven, grandma. I sang with all my heart for you because I wanted to sing life back into you, bring you back so I could smell the Avon perfume on your dress when you kissed me and told me it was wonderful.
I still sing for you. It’s always been for you and maybe I just didn’t know it before, hadn’t realized that the reason I have a voice and a passion and a talent is all because you gave it to me… Maybe the voice I have inside me is really yours, and I inherited it when you left with your costume jewelry, music books, bulky sweaters, scarf collection. I sew for you, too. You left all those scraps of amazing fabric and antique buttons and twenty seven million kinds of thread and patterns and ribbon. I use your sewing machine, and I’m not very good yet but someday I will be, because you were and I am becoming you.
When I prayed after that, I asked God to tell you I said hi and that I loved you. Now, in a way, I pray to you instead. I wonder if you were still here, if we would have been closer than anyone because we are so much alike and so much each other, or if I would have treated you like you were just a grandma, like you didn’t know anything about what it was like to be me.
But you know everything, don’t you? From wherever you are, you can see me when I cry smile laugh die want need fear change am live and you know why. You know everything about me, understand things nobody else knows, and maybe will ever know. Except when I fall in love the real time, the forever time, I want them to know me like you do. And I think they will, I think you will be right there to help them understand every angle in my face, every scar on my skin, every streak of colour in my eyes.
And then, with you home love me all together,
I will be real.
I will be whole.
I will be you and me both, forever.
Ma Chère Grand-mere
Ma Chère Grand-mere,