November 12, 1981
You can always tell the day’s going to be a complete disaster when the phone rings before seven in the morning. It was my mother, of course. Everyone else knows not to call me that early.
She said, “Vivian, dear, had you forgotten that your Grandmother died?”
I sat down on the floor in a big hurry.
Of course I hadn’t forgotten. Even I couldn’t forget something as big as that, but, the thing is, yesterday was day two of the funeral home thing and I hadn’t actually been there. Stuff had come up.
I badly needed a coffee. I’d been out the night before, way later than I meant to. I’d been up till like, three in the morning, so I’d had, like two hours of sleep or something. This conversation was more than my overstretched nerves could bear.
I have to explain about my family. They’re weird. Really weird. And we never get together as a group, except for funerals. Well, and weddings, I guess, but there haven’t been any of those for twenty years, at least, so you can’t really say we get together for weddings.
So that first night, there we all were. It was kind of amazing, really, to see how many people showed up to wish Gran well. All the relatives made it, even the ex-in-laws and whatever you call it when the other person’s died instead of being divorced. That was my Uncle Peter. I haven’t seen much of him since my Aunt Trudy died. She was the youngest of the bunch and the only one who was ever any fun, but she died a long time ago. Breast cancer, I think. Anyway, old Pete didn’t even bring his daughter Mandy, who is, like, his only living connection to this family and probably old enough to go. She’s older than my cousin Susan, I know that, and Susan was there. Of course, she looked pretty awkward and out of place, so it’s probably just as well that there weren’t any more kids hanging around.
The priest came in around 8:00 and had us all sit down to pray, which isn’t really my thing. I mean, I was raised Catholic. We all were. Did the whole Mass on Sunday, First Communion and Confirmation round. But as soon as I moved out here, I just stopped going. Really haven’t missed it, either. I think my parents are ready to kill me for it, but it’s my decision, right? I mean, you grow up, you get to choose.
Anyway, I sat near the back so I could watch everybody. I was also kind of afraid that I might fall asleep. I’d been working late the night before and then up really early to get some typing done. It’s what I do to pay the rent. I also work in a restaurant, washing dishes. It’s a great place, The Boozeteria. Right downtown. A lot of arty types hang out there. I’m pretty much left alone to run the dish station as I see fit. And as long as there’s always something clean to throw the food onto, nobody bothers be, so what the heck? Why make life any harder than it already is? The work’s OK, but the pay’s lousy. They keep offering to let me wait tables, and I guess I could make some good tips, but I hate having to deal with people, so I take in typing. Mostly for university students who don’t know how. Papers and resumes and stuff like that. I’ve learned all kinds of weird stuff over the years. Plus it relaxes me. There’s something about parking yourself behind a desk and bashing away at a typewriter for hours on end.
Anyway, I sat at the back of the room. It was a pretty strange feeling. I mean, there I was with practically my entire gene pool, and it wasn’t an encouraging sight. At the front of the room, lying in all her glory, was Gran. I don’t think any of us really missed her, except maybe Uncle Bob. He was pretty broken up about the whole thing. He’d been talking that afternoon about the inevitable passing of time and the special love that a son has for his mother. I didn’t really get a lot of what he said, so I just tried to look sympathetic. It was obvious from the way he was going at it with the old handkerchief during the service that he really had loved Gran. It was a big surprise to me, really. I mean, he never seemed to show it before.
Gran sure loved Bob, though. Everybody knew that. I think she used it all up on him and didn’t have any left over for the rest of us. Not that I expected any, just being her granddaughter and all. And I’m certainly not complaining. She took a lot out of a person. She had the most incredible talent for making people mad. Without ever being rude or anything less than gracious, she’d just assume the worst of everybody. She could put the worst motives on the noblest actions. It used to piss everybody off. It got to the point where I hated to tell her what I was up to. She thought I was lazy for not going out and getting a “real” job and “using my education”. I kept trying to tell her that I don’t believe in the rat-race. I got that job so I could keep in touch with my humanity, the way lawyers and executives and stuff can’t. But she kept telling everybody that I was working there because there was nothing available in my field. As if it was my fault. Like I’d chosen the wrong faculty or something. It used to make me so mad. I mean, I’m perfectly happy with my life, but old Gran would get going on how I’m wasting time and my God-given talents and all that. My parents agreed with her, even though they know better than to say much about it to me.
Man, that old lady could get on my nerves.
And it wasn’t just me. It’s not like I’m completely heartless or anything. I watched her do it to everybody. She ended up a bitter, lonely old lady, and the older she got, the worse it got. Nobody ever really wanted to go see her, until she had her stroke, and I think that was more for us, so we wouldn’t feel guilty when she died. Which is a terrible reason to do anything, I know, but we all did it. I did it, even before the stroke. Every couple of months or so, we’d have these gatherings, Gran and my parents and me. And we’d get together and have a really bad time. And every time, I swore I’d never do it again, but a few months down the road, the call would go out again and I’d have to show up or have decent, acceptable reasons for not.
I think after awhile, guilt is the only thing that can hold a family together.