I got there on time. I GOT THERE ON TIME. I believe my grandmother recognized me. She has dementia, or so my mother is saying, but she saw me and focused on me and started crying. And then she said goodbye twice. Actual clear words that cut me. We were saying goodbye to each other. It might've been the last time I saw her alive. And I stroked her forehead. She never let me touch her when I was a child (nor did I particularly want to—I was afraid of her), and she never touched me except to smack me or hit me on the back of my head or shove me. She never hugged me, never kissed me. But when I stroked her forehead and talked to her, she suddenly started laughing. It didn't sound crazy. It sounded happy. She was happy. I believe she was happy, like a child.
She used to beat me on my forehead with a tablespoon to make me eat. It was my power over adults—I'd stop eating. I could turn off my need to eat; I simply told my stomach to shut up. I can still do it now. And she was furious. I was so thin. But she loved me. I know, because when I was sick after the tonsils removal surgery and missed a month of school in second grade, it was she grilled me on the multiplication table until I knew it from top to bottom and backwards. When I didn't do my homework it was she who snapped at me. It was she who took me out on the sled and watched me ride it down the icy slope and then pulled me back, exhausted but happy, my wool coat and mittens snow-crusted, my face up to the stars. And it was she who told me once, "Study. Get out of this dump." I did.
Grandma, I did what you told me, you hear me? I got out of it. Out of that dump. Oh, I wish you could see me, could see where I am right now. You did see me, did you? I saw it in your eyes. You recognized me. Did you hold out for me? Did you know I was coming? I won't be there with you when you die. Please know, I'll always hold your hand, that hand that beat me on the forehead to make me eat. Because you cared. And it was the only way you knew how. Raped as a teenager, beaten by your mother, abused, neglected, once put in a dirt hole alone with another girl so your mother could go to work during the war, and then that other girl died and you still sat there, alone with a little dead body; a young mother, beaten by your husband, seeking love from a married man, and then succumbing to marrying again, this time to an alcoholic, because you didn't know you deserved any better. Grandmother, you did and you still do. I will continue your fight. I will continue educating myself, like you told me to, until I reach the fucking stars. When my mother wasn't there for me, you were. You raised me, and I barely even know you. Please forgive me for not spending more time with you. Please forgive me for living so far away. Please forgive me for coming to love you so tenderly so late. Please. If I won't be there with you when you die, die in peace. I love you.