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Family. What an important part of your life, right?
Different people have different answers. Generally, people admit to the value that family holds.
Me? Well, I’ve had many experiences with family that have led to my final answer. My family is… actually, the best way to describe us would be shattered. My parents aren’t divorced; we just have problems with our cousins, uncles, aunts and the like.
Grandma was one of them. Her dislike towards my family had nothing to do with who my father decided to marry. It had to do with me.
Grandma was a rich widow, living on a HEAP of cash in Cape Cod, Boston. She fit the stereotype of the bitter old lady who was rich but had no family that wanted to stay in touch. Anyway, Gran, as we’d all called her (although on many occasions, I’d called her something completely different in my head) used to randomly send gifts to every member of the family. Toys, jewellery, electronics, tools; you name it, she’d given it; except to me. As a child, I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such treatment. As I got older, I thought Gran would go through all the gift-buying and mailing just to make one point: she didn’t like me. It was depressing.
My only visit to her had been terrifying to say the least. She’d thrown a fit as soon as I walked in the door.
“Who-Who is that? Why is she here?! What are you trying to do – ?!” at that moment, I was shoved outside by my ‘lovely’ father, onto the biggest porch in history. I cried. I was scared. She embraced all my other siblings as they walked in, but wouldn’t even look at me. I felt like trash.
In short, Gran hated me for existing and I couldn’t say or do anything about it. Fair? I think not.
The following autumn something odd happened. Gifts had arrived, as expected. There was a tattered paper bag among the expensively wrapped presents. Harsh black letters spelled my name. I snatched it up, suddenly feeling the jealousy I’d supressed for years. My mind soared with possibilities of beautiful jewellery and rare books, only to come crashing down. It was a yellow sweater. I liked yellow. But, it looked like it could fit a one year old. Didn’t Gran know I stopped playing with dolls years ago?
I hadn’t noticed, but everyone was staring. Except mom who was hunched over a beautiful box. When she looked up at me, she was crying!
“What?!” I yelled. If anyone should cry, it should’ve been me!
“Oh, sweetie…” she whispered.
Being a teenager, I threw the sweater at her face and ran to my room. Was mom mocking me? Her actions confused me; I had no idea what to think of the old sweater. Mom always got gifts of precious diamonds and elaborately carved boxes. In fact, she’d just gotten one. It looked like it was full of papers. Private papers. I should look in those boxes, was my immediate thought. Invading my mother’s privacy seemed like the ultimate revenge.
That morning I watched from my room as my mother, along with my father, got ready for work. I crept out and sat by the banister to watch them crowd out of the house. I made sure my brothers were asleep and went straight to mom’s room.
I turned the room upside down. Their closet was full of clothing. The deep bathroom cabinets held nothing but various hair products and soap. The only place left to look was the dresser.
That’s too obvious. Mom is smarter than that, I told myself. I searched it anyways.
In the bottom left drawer, I found an album. I pulled it out and sat on the carpet to look at it. It was an album of my baby pictures. I’d known that. I also knew that mom hid it because I always asked one question: “Why do some pictures look like they’ve been cut?”
Plenty of the photos had a stray arm that belonged to an unidentified person. I’d always concluded it was my parents, but as I looked closer, the wrinkled skin didn’t match theirs.
“Who cares? I’m hungry.” I mumbled to myself. As I tried to put the album back, it bumped against something – three boxes! I hurriedly took them out. I placed them side by side in front of me. Instead of grabbing breakfast, I feasted on my victory and examined every single letter, document and photo there was.
Some of the letters were old. There were tons of them. They talked about Grandpa’s death and Gran’s mental response to it. What is that supposed to mean? I asked myself. Every letter mentioned Gran’s mental state! Why? Even weirder still, each letter included something about me! Grandma had called me names that made me want to strangle her! I wondered how mom replied. Had she ignored the name calling, as she did all of Gran’s inappropriate behaviour?
The documents were few in number. I counted a total of four. One of them was a copy of my birth certificate. The others were written by doctors or psychologists. A recent one, written by a combination of the two, said Gran was dangerously unstable. She would die soon. I couldn’t help but feel concern. I didn’t exactly wish death upon her.
I looked at the photos last. There were about five in each box. According to Gran, these were the ones she could spare. I opened the stiff envelopes, feeling nervous. As I looked at the photos, I was in complete and absolute shock. There was Gran, the woman who hated me most, standing there kissing a baby version of myself! I couldn’t process the image. My brain kept telling me something was wrong. I felt like crying.
“Hi Hun!” mom burst, breathless, in the door. My back was towards her.
“Is everything okay?”
I never liked the sixth sense my mom had, and still does. It’s like she can read my mind, which is unfortunate at times.
“What are these?” I asked quietly. I was too puzzled to be angry.
“What? Oh – um… you see… well it’s hard, but…Can you just let me explain?” She gestured towards the bed. “Come and sit with me. It won’t be long. I should’ve told you long ago…”
I sat beside her, not knowing what to expect.
“When you were born, Gran was there. She instantly loved you,” mom glanced sideways at me. “As you know, we lived in an apartment with Gran and Grandpa. Your Grandmother was a great help to me. You were my first child; I had no idea what to do with you.” She laughed at herself. Then her faced turned solemn. “You and Gran became inseparable. She loved her son, her new granddaughter and liked her daughter in law. When you turned one, Grandpa and your father decided to separate our families. Your dad had a family of his own and needed to bring you up on his own. Gran became hysterical.” Mom sighed.
“It was horrific the day we moved. Grandpa was a patient man; he dealt with Gran graciously. In the end, Jackie, she blamed you for putting her sorrow upon her and taking her son away. Gran has a mental disease, she cannot let go of things she loves. But darling, don’t be upset. Gran loves you deep down. She just has trouble expressing that love. She knitted you that sweater after Grandpa coaxed her to do so. It was a gift for you. She never sent it, though.”
Mom’s eyes searched mine. “Mom, I saw the letters. Why can she talk to you, but not to me?!”
She smiled. “Take it as a form of flattery. Gran didn’t become too attached to me. She could handle letting me go. Not you.”
I finally understood everything – the missing gifts, dad never talking about Gran and mom’s letters from her. I went to bed early that night. Gran swirled in and out of my dreams.
The next day, mom got a call from the local hospital in Cape Cod. Gran had passed away, due to severe depression. She was found on her bed, clutching a picture of me, her face troubled.
I cried for days. I never got a chance, and never will get a chance, to talk to a woman who loved me so dearly.
Gran taught me a lesson I learnt the hard way. Always know someone’s past before you determine your feelings towards them or else you could end up in a life of regret. I regret not asking about Gran earlier. I will never have that opportunity knock at my door. Gran’s gone.
My answer to the question is: Family is important; they’re a part of you. They love you, no matter what they say. Blood is thicker than water. You may as well take advantage of it.