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  • Writer's pictureBrittany

Finally Out of the Woods...

I recently read a book about a memory machine that took our memories and mapped them from our brains allowing us to return back to them to relive that time and change them if we so chose. I'm struck by how the individual "sees" the memory as they return back to it. Fuzzy at first and then in screaming color. As I look back on my relationship with my grandmother, this feels somewhat familiar. The more time passes since her death, the fuzzier the edges of my memory are becoming. While others may long for the vibrancy and fullness of those memories, I find myself grateful for the blurry. Somehow it dulls the pain of the reality of those memories. I look forward to the day I might be able to relish in those views with rose colored glasses rather than the realization of knowing the sickly sweet smell of her house in my memories was nothing more than the strong odor of air freshener and moth balls. I am still plagued with the juxtaposition.

There are some memories that are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. There are nostalgic ones like showers and Noxzema before bed, sitting on her front porch drinking iced (not sweet) tea and feeling the sun come through the screen, or watching my papa play guitar at church. I can also remember her blaring 90s country out her speakers while driving around town in a car that smelled so strongly of "hot" (as Marleigh says). I remember Burger King runs where we'd take our Whoppers and fries back to the house and eat them on fancy plates and drink Diet Pepsi in the den on bar stools. Sometimes we'd take it over and have a picnic during my grandpa's lunch breaks.

The shared memories I have with my siblings that still torment us and make us laugh like the creepy porcelain dolls she had (we're all still giggling about "Veronica" the scandalous doll that stayed in her bedroom) and wondering if they'd come alive at night while we slept on living room floor pallets waking up every 15 minutes before the huge grandfather clock chimed again. The random sleepover she left us have with friends at her house that resulted in my sister's childhood friend being spanked for jumping on her couch. I'm also still mortified of cemeteries at night thanks to an episode of Unsolved Mysteries she watched one night I was there.

Holidays weren't really as big of a deal at her house, but I always looked forward to them. I loved the full day of lunch with her on Thanksgiving before the trek to North Little Rock to be with my mom's family for the weekend. Her peanut butter pie was the one thing I looked forward to most.

While not complicated, I was excited to find the recipe in her house when we were going through her belongings. I distinctly remember a Barbie McDonalds playset, a random singer doll that I'm sure came from a flea market, and a handmade quilt that I still have today.

I also remember the preferential treatment my cousin received over my siblings and me. There were always more and better gifts for her under the Christmas tree. While it feels petty now, my memories always bring me back to the Christmas she received a red Corvette convertible Power Wheel while we received a pickup truck, a jeep, and a four wheeler. Granted my thirty something self would have been grateful for the jeep, but my little 90s baby self saw this as favoritism at it's finest. There was a constant feeling of being unwanted and unloved by her. For as long as I could remember she would tell me I looked too much like my mom's family and how that wasn't a good thing. She would intentionally comment on my size always being too big or too small, but mostly too big. She would buy me clothes that she knew were too big because she "didn't know if I'd gained more weight."

While I don't attribute my negative body image issues to her, I'm sure she didn't help matters much.

The last fifteen years or so consisted of a great number of passive aggressive phone calls about how I never see her and only care about my "other family." There were multiple times she started giving things away because she was dying and choosing to give me cheap worthless items while handing the priceless pieces over to other family members right in front of me. She took my cousin's daughter in as her own while never even having met Baylor. To be honest, I'm only somewhat sure she knew he existed at all.

My last interaction with her was around Christmas time a few years ago. She had once again decided she was dying and called all of the grandkids to her house to rid her of her last Christmas décor. I didn't want to go, but my brother and I decided if we went together maybe it wouldn't be so bad. She immediately went into a rant about how I didn't care about her. Something switched for me in that moment. I decided that I no longer needed that toxicity in my life. She never called me again. Not even on April 9th (not my birthday) to wish me a happy birthday like she did every year. Maybe something in her switched too.

The pastor at her gravesite said, " You always knew were you stood with Betty." We may have disagreed with the other things he said about her, but he was right on the mark with that comment. I stood somewhere between her resentment of my mother and her obligation to care as a grandparent. More often than not, it felt that she was resentful of her obligation. I would never be enough for her. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever wanted to be. Even as I've dug down deep to determine what I did want from her, I come up empty. Maybe because I quickly learned that I couldn't be whatever it was no matter if I tried or not. I was choosing to tie myself to her with my own obligations to interact. I wouldn't break the cycle or the pain until I decided to interact no longer.

I recently found a quote by Daniell Koepke that I keep in my office that helps me when I start to question my motives or thoughts. Paraphrased it says this:

" Not all toxic people are cruel and uncaring....Most are toxic to our being simply because their needs and way of existing in the world force us to compromise ourselves and our happiness. They aren't bad people, but they aren't the right people for can't destroy yourself for the sake of someone else....even if that means loving a family member from a distance...or removing yourself from a painful situation."

As she started to decline and it became obvious she was going to die, she asked everyone to come and see her. Collectively we chose not to. I worried that I would regret the decision, but I knew I couldn't subject myself to the abuse I'd receive even from her death bed. I chose to be at peace with that decision and I still am.

I am conflicted by a lot of things in her death. Even in the end, she was making preferences and telling my dad to make it fair. It was never fair to him or us in the first place. It's been six months since she died and my dad is still dealing with the drama and stress of settling an estate without a will. All while trying to come to terms with the loss of his own complicated relationship. While staying in her house as we hosted her estate sale, I still couldn't sleep. The grandfather clock chimed every 15 minutes, the dolls stared at me, and it smelled of moth balls. What if she came out of the room and yelled at me for being loud or eating in her living room floor. An estate that contained remnants of someone who needed things not only to make her feel secure from a tragic childhood, but also to fill her lonely heart.

I don't want to relive my memories or change them, but I do pray that they remain fuzzy when I think about her, I'll find myself on the front porch sipping that awful iced tea thinking about how quickly mom is coming to free us from the torture of grandma's house when the world will right itself again. We're out of the woods and in the clear.

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