The concept, ask people to write no more than 3 pages about whatever they want. The purpose being to build community, let people know they are not alone. We will share some of them during our podcast as well as post them on the site. We would love it if you would be willing to submit something too. You can include your name or keep it anonymous. All love.
Legacy by Monique Lacoste I was about eight years old when I realized my grandmother hated me. As an adult, I know that her hate was never really about me, but about some deep-seated issues in her. But even now, over fifteen years since I last spoke with her, I struggle to find a positive way to fill the desolate spaces she carved into my life.
My grandmother died in 2015. She died from lung cancer, which is peculiar, as she never smoked a day in her life. In fact, from what I can tell she had no vices, save one – she was a devout evangelical Christian. Her beliefs, both in her version of God and in my perfidy, were so total that any kindness she may have shown me shrivels in the shadow of the violence she committed.
How do you grieve for someone you can’t forgive? And how to you accept that you won’t get closure on a toxic relationship with a person you never really knew?
I have no idea what to do with the pain of this legacy. Here’s what I do know: when I was in my early 20s, my grandmother colluded with other family members to try to ruin my life. The reasons for this are complex, though a major reason is the fact that, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t convince my mother and I to adopt her religious beliefs. So instead, she tried to break us. She stole my books and burned them. She accused my mother and I of horrible crimes, got us evicted, cost me a dream job in the film industry. She helped other family members emotionally abuse us. She stood by while my uncle jumped on my mother and broke her ankles. She embezzled money from us and then tried, with falsified documents, to send my mother to prison. Little by little, she took everything I had worked for and ground it into dust, leaving me broken in places I still can’t touch. Over the course of a few short years, my grandmother stole my future.
These betrayals weren’t entirely surprising. When I was a little girl, she would visit our house, go into my room, and “clean” it. If she found any change on the carpet or in my pockets or bags, she would keep it. One day I came home to find that she’d brought my cousins to visit and turned them loose in my bedroom. They had taken down canisters of play dough and ground chunks of it into my rug. When I cried about the damage and the mess they refused to clean, she told me not to be so selfish. The older I got, the harsher she became. “Don’t say yeah when you answer the phone, you sound like an idiot.” “Why are you such a slob?” “If you don’t learn to clean, how do you expect anyone to ever love you?” “You think you’re so smart, just like your mother, and look where it got her.”
She was never nice to my mother, either. During my parents’ rather turbulent marriage, my grandmother took my father’s side in every argument, frequently calling him so the two could complain about my mother. When my mother slipped into a serious and debilitating depression and we lost our house, she had nowhere to go but her parents’ farm. My grandmother made my mother sleep in the trailer outside the house along with our six cats. The trailer had no working bathroom, no heat, and no electricity. She stole money from my mother and verbally abused her. Worse of all, she committed little acts of sabotage so that our cats got stuck outside at night. Of our six cats, five of them died, devoured by owls and coyotes, in the span of a year. I’ve always wondered if that violence against our pets was her way of feeling better about the fact that cats never liked her. Animals, after all, have good instincts.
And with all those instincts, animals loved my grandfather. When I was a little girl, I was very close to him. Born and bred a farmer, my grandfather had the kind of gentle patience and steady calm I could never have in my wildest dreams. I’ve spent my life looking for those qualities in the people I love.
My grandfather died in 1999. He had a stroke and was laid up for two years, stuck in a helpless, almost non-verbal state that must have been a nightmare for a man who’d managed a farm since he was 10-years-old. After he died, I helped clean out the horse barn where he’d spent most of his free time. In that barn, I found something I never expected: bottles of alcohol hidden everywhere. A bottle of whiskey in the tool shed. Cans of beer where he kept the horse tackle. A bottle of scotch underneath the water trough. Everywhere, signs of a hidden life. My grandfather wasn’t supposed to drink, and in his later years the only beer he was allowed was the non-alcoholic variety. So he took his desires and his happiness elsewhere.
Finding his hidden stash made me think that perhaps my grandmother hated me because my grandfather loved me so much. It’s a strange twist of psychology I’ve since had the opportunity to observe in other unhappy families; when one parent can’t express anger at their spouse, they take it out on the child who reminds them of that spouse. There is nothing of my grandmother in either my mother or myself; from our looks to our temperaments, we’re squarely my grandfather’s progeny. And in addition to his eyes, we had nearly all of his love.
Perhaps it was her perception my grandfather’s favoritism that drove her hatred. And maybe, the reasonable parts of me whisper, just maybe it was justified. More than once, my grandfather used our early morning fishing and horseback riding trips as a chance to sneak off for breakfast before my grandmother was awake. We would return, fed and tired, to see that she had made a breakfast we didn’t need or want. Then my grandfather would laugh, making me a party to his petty revolutions. Maybe that was when she learned to hate me, since she could never openly hate the man she married. He was her anchor, for good or ill, and in the end they drowned together.
Of course, I’m only guessing. This sort of guesswork is the only window I have into my grandmother’s mind. Sometimes hours pass while I run down my own memories, trying to find something to exonerate her. I turn over each memory and polish it over and over, hoping it will give me some shiny glimpse of a person who could have loved me. I know she loved some people. She adored my cousin. She was an athletic teenager and a leader at her church. She loved her siblings. And she really loved her church. But the only side of her I ever really saw was the side governed by fear. She was afraid of being a passenger in a car. She was afraid of science fiction. She was afraid of the sound of a cat’s purr. And she was really, really afraid of people of color.
One of my clearest memories of her involves a trip to the dollar store. On our way out of the store, we passed through a group of men who were loudly arguing in Spanish. As we moved past them, she gripped my arm and complained about the “monkeys” who refused to speak English.
I don’t think she ever realized how lucky she was that I knew how to say, “I’m sorry, my grandmother is crazy” in Spanish.
When I was twelve, she and I were folding laundry and watching some tragic talk show. There were several interracial couples on the show. Visibly agitated, my grandmother made a comment about how “unfortunate” it was that all these “good white girls” were with black men. When I asked her if she would stop speaking to me if I ever dated a black man, she paused. And in that pause, I remember thinking I never wanted to be like her. I never wanted to be ruled by fear. I never wanted to be so afraid to love that I squashed it everywhere it grew. I never wanted to be so scared of life that I only showed the worst parts of myself to the people I should love the most. Looking back, this is perhaps the one thing I can say for my grandmother: she taught me what I don't want to be. Her racism, her spiritual and emotional violence, and her fear all gave me a model to grow against. And perhaps that's what I can sue to fill up those desolate place in my own soul-whoever my grandmother was to other people, to me she was a lesson. As Thich Nhat Hanh once said," To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love." Whether she meant to or not, my grandmother wounded. But this wound taught me how important it is to be kind, to be forging and to approach life with an open mind and heart. This wound propels me forward, animating my beliefs and behavior in ways in I still struggle to understand. I doubt I'll ever feel proud that she was my family. But in struggling to be better than her, perhaps I can get some kind of closure, some kind of relief. And some day, that might be enough to help me forgive her. It might not be enough to make up for years of pain, but it is a sort of legacy, after all.