I grew up hearing my mom say she doesn’t want to be anything like her mother. So as a girl I thought the same thing. “I should be nothing like my mother because she is terrible.” I had no basis to think those thoughts. She was and is a good mom. I was being a stupid kid. However I may not have been totally off base in my thinking.
Perhaps I should have been saying, “I should be nothing like my grandmother because she is terrible.”
I spent a month with my grandmother when I was 12. We went on a trip to Germany along with my grandfather, his wife and their daughters (my aunts). My mom was nervous about me spending so much time with my grandmother alone but I was super excited. I was a geeky 12 year old with pimples and my aunts were 17 and 19. They were so cool and knew so much about boys.
The way my grandmother treated me on that trip was terrible. While things started out fine, her behaviors escalated steadily to the point I was fearful that at any moment anything could happen. By “anything,” well, use your imagination. Anything.
She yelled at me constantly, particularly when I wanted to do something (like hang out with my aunts) that she didn’t quite approve of. Mind you, at this point in my early adolescence I was a very good kid. The outward rebelliousness blossomed later.
I vividly remember how loud she snored – I’m a terrible sleeper – and we shared a bed. I didn’t think to use ear plugs but I did have headphones and my cd player. It was wonderful – until one night I opened my eyes to find my grandmother barely one inch away from my face and yelling as loud as she could. Something about my loud music. I’m a spoiled brat. Blah blah blah. I was powerless against this woman and for the first time I remember feeling nervous in the presence of another adult/chaperone type person. I didn’t know what else to do in that situation but close my eyes, turn up my music and wait for her to get tired. This type of thing happened more than once.
Others on our tour could hear her screams, I’m sure. She wasn’t a quiet woman. In broad daylight, in our hotel room, she screamed in my face. Multiple times she
asked yelled if I was trying to kill her. I felt guilty for making her feel that way. At first. But then I realized that she was acting a little bizarre. I did talk back to her. I gave her a piece of my mind as best any 12-year old who knows everything about life could. This only fueled her.
There were a few nights where my grandmother slept in front of the hotel room door so I wouldn’t sneak out. I can’t remember if that was indeed my intention. Although I do remember wanting to hang out with my aunts and my grandmother didn’t like it. She basically didn’t want me hanging out with that family. Period. So why did she agree to go on a trip with her ex-husband and his family? Beats me.
I was allowed to call my parents one time. I had never been separated from my family for more than a few overnights at a time, if that. And I was allowed one phone call. Maybe two. I may have left a voicemail once and I may have actually had a chance to talk to them again when they answered. Hearing their voices caused my emotions to bubble inside me. My grandmother, standing over me, hands on her hips, kept me in check. “How are you doing?” they asked. “I’m fine.” In my head: I’m not fine. I’m miserable. Grandmama is being so mean to me and I’m afraid of her. Please get me home early. But instead all that came out was, “I’m fine.” There was nothing else to say. My grandmother cut the conversation short after just a few minutes anyways. As I hung up I remember feeling lost and alone and just stuck. They were my lifeline. And it didn’t work. I had to endure.
When I finally did get home after what turned out to be horrendous and life-changing trip I found out my best friend had run away from home while I was away. I had been strong for every moment until hearing that news. But I didn’t have to be strong anymore. I could cry in the safety of my mom’s arms and release the tension I had been holding for so long.
All the disgusting comments my grandmother said about me, to me. All the evil stares from the across the room. The knowing that she thought of me as trash. The yelling in my face. Curse words. Obscene accusations. The control. Her control over me could finally be lifted.
But was it really?
It’s years later and I see someone in my home. Someone who doesn’t quite belong.
I see my grandmother in the mirror. I hear her hatred shouting through my lips. I feel the anger seeping from my skin.
I did not see that coming.