I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but wasn’t even sure what to say – or where to begin as it is a terribly involved story. I didn’t know if my confusion rested in fear, or shame, or just flat out apathy. Not sure. I can say though, I am DEFINITELY not apathetic towards these people … so I figure I might as well just release whatever is in there and see what comes out.
HIT IT COLLECTIVE SOUL!!!
So, last week was the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing (mom’s side). Did this whole shabang on it, and told you guys that they were my only set of grandparents. I do biologically have other grandparents, but I never knew them.
Alrite dirty laundry, you ready for some breathing room?
Here’s the story of my grandparents … or what I knew of them.
My grandfather was an INCREDIBLY well respected psychiatrist. Like crazy respected … like so respected Oprah’s BFF Gayle King totally interviewed him when I was a wee one. The man was brilliant, there’s no doubt about it … but apparently he had no idea how to fix any of his own issues.
Alrite, hold the phone for a sec, I will preface this by saying that I am realizing with each keystroke just the amount of anger that I have for these people. This is just my side of it, and what I experienced as a child to an adult. Do I think they are dried gum on the bottom of my shoe? Yes. But at the same time, I am going to be conscious of said anger and still try to tell these stories as neutral as possible for the sake of storytelling, while remaining entirely realistic that I don’t know if its possible.
To understand this story, we have to go back pretty far … way before I was even born. (That long ago! GASP!)
My grandparents never liked my mother. I don’t know why, or how, or whatever – but they were total snobs. My parents are freaks of nature. They met in grade school, got married, and have been each others ones onlys and everythings for their entire life. Like literally, you can search all of the world and never even come CLOSE to the love that my parents have for each other. Just not at all possible … and trust, I’ve been out on 103 dates in 9 months – I can say with CONVICTION that it’s not possible.
My grandfather used to say to my dad when he was growing up that he should marry a super model and not settle for less.
Um, grandpa, have you seen my mom? She looks like Lady Di (pre the accident) and is a total Betty (Tangent: She actually used to get stopped on the street after she passed. People swore up and down it was her as her hair was even the same length at the time. Totally crazy). That part I will continue to scratch my head at for as long as I live. My mom is beautiful. Like period end of sentence – why my grandfather sat there and did not see that is beyond me.
So, my grandparents for whatever wackadoodle reason declared all out war on my mama, and told my dad that if they got married – they weren’t going to be a part of it.
No like literally. Can you imagine finding the love of your life, wanting to spend the rest of your life with said love, and your parents saying they want nothing to do with it?
I literally cannot imagine what my dad experienced in that moment. If I recall as well, his brother was supposed to be best man, and didn’t show up. I don’t know – the details of the wedding have been told to me 100,000 times, and it still makes me cringe. Bottom line, they never showed up to my parents wedding. Amazing start to a new life, right?
My parentals get hitched, and not too long after, my loverly brother shows up in this world. My dad has 3 siblings, two sisters, and a brother – but my dad was the first one to actually pop out a kid. See … here’s my brother …
My brother was this beacon of shining hope in my dad’s and my grandparents relationship. Suddenly when the first grandchild came around, shit got real, and they decided – hey, maybe we can get our act together and be a family.
They weren’t necessarily nice to my mother at that point, but they tolerated her, and she tolerated them since she loved my father. Besides, score 1 for my mom since she produced the first grandchild – ANNNDDDDD it was a boy who could carry on the family name.
(Does this not totally sound like some mid-evil shit? THIS WAS THE EIGHTIES!!!)
2 years and 11 months go by, and oh happy happy joy joy – a little bundle named Jen pops out.
Like my outfit? Dude, I so had my fancy pants on that day.
At that time, I went over to my grandparents house a lot, and loved it as they had SOOOOOO many fun toys to play with. They were super well off, and just spoiled us rotten.
Oh yeah, did I mention that? My grandparents were like super rich. Like Connecticut type rich where people throw piles of money at each other for shits and giggles.
When my parents got married, they made it abundantly clear that my father would be cut off. From everything. Forever.
My dad being the fucking AHMAZING human being that he is, said fine. And walked away. That was a no brainer. He loved my mom so madly and so deeply nothing else mattered.
Like any newlywed couple they struggled at first; they were both in college, lived in a super small apartment and when my brother came along the finances that were tight to begin with – got FREAKISHY tighter … but my parents managed. I don’t know how, but I do give them a lot of credit for it.
A few years went by and all was not well, but at least manageable. Then, my dad’s sisters started popping out their own kids.
I was mildly kosher by not having to be the center of attention anymore … after all, I now have little babies to play with. Dude, I was happier than a pig in shit – I loved it. I clearly had no idea what was going on during those times, I knew that I had toys and could play with this little blobby looking but breathing things on holidays and birthdays.
The first two babies that my dad’s sisters had were girls, so I took an immediate backseat. I might have looked like a Friel but I was equally made up of my mother. That was no bueno. They also thought that because both of my parents were the youngest that that must have meant that I was spoiled more, so they decided they would take matters into their own hands and even out the score.
When I was four, I no longer became Jennifer … they started calling me “Jenna” – and my brother became their number one grandson. Literally, because at the time he was their only grandson – but alas, that became their favorite term of endearment.
On my sixth birthday, I remember running … not even walking … running up to my grandma when she walked into our house screaming grandma! grandma! grandma! and her looking down to me saying, where’s my number one grandson?
That’s actually one of my earliest memories. It’s just so vivid – she had MY birthday present in her hand, and I stood there … looking up to her – all 5’3 to my 3’5 – going, uh oh, this doesn’t feel good.
I didn’t cry – but I was just sort of stunned.
My parents didn’t ever greet me like that, nor did my mom’s parents (we referred to them as Grabey and Popey … don’t ask where those names came from. My cousin Eric could not say grandma for the life of him).
It only got worse the older I got, and every birthday became more and more of a heartbreak. See, here’s another kicker – I was also born on my dad’s sister’s birthday. One would think a totally grown woman would be fine with that, but no … apparently in their world, I picked that day out of spite. HAHA! Dudes, I kid you not.
Their gifts to me were so weird as well. For birthday and Christmas they would buy my brother bikes, sleeping bags, tents, superly duperly fun stuff … I got Waterford. I’m like 6, what am I supposed to do with that?
Tangent: They were so funny too … in my grandparents house, they left all of the green tags on their crystal to indicate that it was in fact Waterford (since it is so posh and sooooo expensive). Dude, how mini-pearl can you get? I even saw once in my dad’s sisters house a little piece of tape over the green sticker since apparently it fell off. HAHAHAHAHAAHAH fucking priceless.
It was a terribly confusing time for me growing up. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with these things, a glass here, a vase there – I’m not even in double digits and you’re preparing me for a house that apparently one day I am supposed to have, yet I have no comprehension of even when summer is? It was so bat shit. Oh and mind you too, the Waterford was when I was younger and when they actually liked me. One year I got a disney sweatshirt, and a used day planner. No literally, there was a stain on it. I went to the store to return it – obviously not seeing the stain and the guy just felt so bad that I actually got this as a gift, that he looked the other way and let me return it. I was mortified.
Again, I know talking about all of these gifts and such does make me sound terribly shallow – but you have to understand how DELIBERATE all of this was. These people just did not like me or my mother … at all. But of course, this is Connecticut so they weren’t going to come right out and say that, they were just going to do weird fucked up passive aggressive things so you internalize it since at that point they don’t know about it.
Tweet tweet tweet she would say as she bounced my brother on her knee … I would then run over, my turn, my turn! No Jenna. (THAT’S NOT EVEN MY NAMMMMEEEEE!!!)
December 8th (my birthday) rolled around every year like clockwork, and not a single call from my grandparents or my aunts and uncles. Like at all.
Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!! What did I do so wrong?? Why don’t they love me?
Age 6 …
Age 7 …
Age 8 …
Age 9 …
Age 10 …
Every year my parents would hug me, not knowing how to respond to my hurt and confusion.
Was I a bad girl? Why am I being punished, I would cry into their loving arms.
Like pouring salt on an open wound, my brother’s birthday is 3 weeks to the day after mine, and EVVEERRRYYYYY YEEAAAARRRRRRR all of them called him to wish him a happy birthday.
::tape rewinds on the answering machine … play::
hi, it’s grandma and grandpa … happy birthday to our number one grand….. click. My parents shut it off.
I had YEAAARRRRRSSSSSS of lung expansion as a child.
I would run into my brothers room crying, jumping up on his big bed … Michael Sean, why don’t they love me? Placing my hands on his chest – what do you have inside of there that I don’t?
Wow … again with the tears.
He replied, I’m so sorry Jenny. I’m so sorry.
My dad tried having lunches with my grandmother over the years – and they just fell on deaf ears. She didn’t see that she was doing anything wrong, and had no idea what he was talking about. My father threw his arms up in frustration. FINE!
Then, came 7th grade. We at the time had been living in Bristol, Connecticut – but my brother was being a total butthead in school, and wound up having to go to private school. I, on the other hand, was student of the year (literally … like student of the fucking year), and wanted to go to private school too to get a better education like my brother. (HAHA! Remember the simpsons episode where Lisa wants to go to military school? that was totally me.) My parents were frustrated by the school system in Bristol, so they decided that it was about time the family moved.
Around that same time, my grandparents were looking to sell their HUUGGEEEE house in West Hartford for a more modest abode down by the shore. Totes mcgotes kosher, but the house was in a bunch of magazines – it had been built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright … had 98 windows, a HUGE stone wall with a cave room, and the living room alone was half the size of a professional basketball court. That house was epic. Literally, one of the most beautiful homes I have still ever seen. My grandfather being, well my grandfather, didn’t want to just up and sell it to anyone. He raised his family in that house! He offered to let his children buy it from him. Mind you, full price – but none of my dad’s siblings wanted it, or could afford it – I don’t remember. Either way, the school system in West Hartford is AHHHH-MMAAZIINNNGG!!! Like ranked nationally, dude, my high school was more difficult than most colleges. My parents made an incredibly difficult decision, they decided to buy my grandparents house.
Tangent: Did I mention at that time how well my parents were doing for themselves that they could even AFFORD that house?!?!? My mama started her own business as a communications consultant for insurance companies, and my dad was a corporate lawyer. HAHAHAHAHA!! Success is the best revenge.
I was so confused when it all went down. We’re moving into … THERE?!?!?!?
I was excited to go to a new school, as Bristol did not challenge me … at all …but I was definitely feeling super confused at the same time as to why or how all of this was going down. I’m convinced to this day that my parents bought that house seeking some sort of validation, or hoping to repair some sort of something with my grandparents.
A few disharmonious months go by, as the energy in that house was unbelievably horrible, and it is my birthday. My 13th birthday.
Again, still trying to declare all of the previous years actions as water under the bridge, we decided to throw a family birthday party on my actual birthday, and invited my dad’s family.
I was in the dining room setting the good china on the table. I look over to my mom as she walks in, somber, quiet – the opposite a kid who is turning 13 should ever expect to see on her mother’s face … Jennifer, I have to tell you something.
Jennifer – they’re not coming.
I stood there for a moment and didn’t say anything.
My mom wrapped her arms around me … so hard … and holds me … so tight.
Every. last. one. of. them. stood me up.
Tears stream down my mom’s face as she whispers in my ear, I am so sorry baby. I don’t know what is wrong with those people – but I will never EVER let them hurt you again. Her voice progressively got louder the angrier she got – THIS IS IT! She pulls away, I HAVE HAD IT WITH ALL OF THEM!!!!! THEY CAN GO TO HELL FOR ALL THAT I CARE!!!
I stay strong for my mother and say, it’s okay mom. You guys are here, I have Michael Sean, the dogs – it’s a great birthday … I struggled to smile, but was eventually able to force one out.
Both of my parents approached me at that point as they hugged me and told me just how much they loved me.
I excused myself for a moment, and said I was going to use the restroom.
I walked over to the library, and into the little bathroom. (Literally you could take a pee and wash your hands at the same time. Smallest. Bathroom. Ever.)
I look up at the sky, as I open my mouth, but completely incapable of articulating a single word … WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!
Tears ran down my face. I wasn’t even sniffling- these were more involuntary expressions of anger that escaped my soul.
I composed myself as best as I could as I was genuinely getting sick and tired of my parents continually feeling sorry for me. I blew out the candles, and excused myself from the table thanking my parents for the lovely birthday, but saying that I was tired – and should really rest up for school in the morning.
I crawled into bed, and wondered why I was even born. Every year, the same thing – why? What did I ever do wrong? Please just tell me, I’ll fix it, please tell me, what did I ever do wrong?? Why … just … why was I even born?
My parents tried so hard to give me and my brother all of the opportunities in the world, yet the one thing … the ONEEEE thing their daughter wanted more than ANNYYTHIINNNNGGGG in all of the world, they couldn’t give.
At that point, they both decided to give up.
I remember waking up the next morning, and felt like a used tissue. No actually, tissues have lotion on them, and can be quite soothing … I was more like sanded down sand paper. Just sort of there, and emotionally a complete fucking wreck.
I hate my life.
::Flash forward two years:: The doorbell rings.
I looked through the peep hole, and am shocked at what I see … it was my grandfather. At that point we stopped all contact. Like all contact.
I take a step back from the door, completely, totally, and utterly shocked – my grandfather is … here?
I open the door, not angry, not sad, just shocked.
I look him in the eye, and say hi, kind, but still searching for something.
Hi, he says. Is Michael home? (My dad is also named Michael – so it was entirely possible he was asking for my father … but again, this was the middle of the afternoon during the week … so prolly not.)
I SLAMMMM the door. Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?! Your granddaughter that you haven’t talked to in two years, the granddaughter that you emotionally tortured for practically her entire life greets you in a NEUTRAL manner … not angry, not anything – just NEUTRAL … you don’t even ask how I am, YOU ASK FOR MY FUCKING BROTHER?!?! Why didn’t you just ask for your number one grandson you fucking asshole?!?!!
I start crying as I run to my brother telling him grandpa was here. He was watching TV in the library, and he goes – wait, what?! YES! HERE!
My brother goes to the door, as I threw myself onto the couch declaring defeat on my emotional stability. What do these people want from me? What did I ever do to them? Just leave me alone, please just go away. Just go awwwaaayyyyyyy! I scream into the couch cushion.
My brother comes back and attempts to console me. Jen, he goes, grandpa thought you were my girlfriend. You’re grown up, he just didn’t know.
Yep. My grandfather looked his own flesh and blood in the eye, and didn’t recognize her.
My brother informed him of his mistake, but the damage was done. The damage … was done.
A few more years go by, I graduated from high school, and I still didn’t speak to anyone in my dad’s family. I had been working at a modeling agency at night teaching classes, and in the morning working at Starbucks at Bishops Corner to earn some extra money for NY – as I was planning on moving there in a few months.
One day while working the front counter, I notice two women walking in – one of whom looked familiar.
I squint my eyes wondering if I magically got transported to the Sahara and am merely seeing a mirage. I stood there motionless – shocked and stunned.
OMG it’s grandma. This is happening in MY starbucks!!! The one I WORKED AT in WEST HARTFORD!!! She doesn’t live here anymore, omg, what to do! Quick busy work – none. Quick – grab co-worker. NONE! Brian, the guy I had that shift with – was on break … I can’t leave … I can’t move … she walks closer. Literally, nothing came out of my mouth … at all (thank god she wasn’t a secret shopper).
She proceeds to order her tea. I say nothing – my jaw dropped … I ring up her order, my hands shaking as I touch the computer screen.
I reach out to collect her $1.48 searching in her eyes for a hint of recognition … nothing.
She grabs her tea and turns away continuing her conversation with her friend.
I take two steps backwards from the counter. I turn … I don’t walk … I RUN into the back and scream, CHRIS (our manager) I’M ON BREAK. I run out the front door, and run next door. (at the time my brother worked at the dry cleaners literally next door.)
I stand in the door way in my green mocha stained apron sobbing.
What’s wrong, Jen?! Did something happen?!
I break down even further barely even able to get the words out of my mouth. Grandma is next door, and she didn’t recognize me.
My brother takes the position he knew all too well, as he wraps his arms around me and I sob so hard into his shoulder.
I am so sorry kiddo. Shhhhhhh, he consoled. My knees gave out and I fell to the floor. Crying. Crying. Crying. So hard. Who are these people?? I just don’t understand it.
My brother didn’t go next door, although I assure you if he had, he might have killed her. He was so UNBELIEVABLY fed up with their actions and their complete and total disregard for me and my mother. Literally, to this day, it still bothers him – as clearly it still does me as well. Good lord this is a long post.
Both of my grandparents had now looked me dead in the eye, and had absolutely no idea that I was related to them. None – a perfect stranger. Finally at least physically they were treating me how they acted towards me emotionally.
A little bit of time goes by, not quite sure the timing on that part … but either way, enough time had passed and we get a call one Monday morning in January that my Uncle Art had passed away. This was my grandfather’s brother – and he hadn’t been sick, hadn’t been much of anything other than awesome. He was a priest, and one cold Sunday he sat in his chair overlooking the ocean, after watching his baseball game – went to sleep, and never woke up. Tangent: Dude. Best death ever!!! But super hard on the family since it was incredibly sudden.
We all loved my Uncle Art, terribly. He was the sane one among all of the madness that was my dad’s family.
Then, came time for the funeral. The first time that we had all even been in the same room together for almost 5 years at that point.
My dad’s siblings attempted to be cordial, but one can’t be too cautious with them, the second you’d turned your back their daggers were in you. Ninjas!
Either way, I remember looking at my grandpa – and he was no longer this 6′ something human being, he was frail and in a wheelchair. We were then told that he didn’t have much longer to live. Wait, what? I actually do think my parents prepared my brother and I for what we were about to see, but it didn’t register. It was literally like someone took my grandfather, put him in that machine from Honey I shrunk the kids, and said POOF! here ya go! I didn’t know who this was.
He was wheeled down the aisle of the church, and my jaw dropped. He looked so ill.
After the funeral, we went back to my grandparent’s house. They were actually living with my dad’s sister at the time, as his health had declined so much. I didn’t say a word to my grandmother. I can still hear her voice, Hi, Jenna. THAT’S NOT EVEN MY NAMEEEEE!!!
I remember watching my grandfather get wheeled into their house and I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen in all my life – regret.
He looked at me, my mom, my dad, and my brother – and saw a family. A very strong family, something that he had no part of.
I was very kind to my grandfather then. I don’t know why, but I just wanted in my heart of hearts to forgive him. He could barely speak as he was so ill, but his eyes spoke volumes.
This was truly a sad human being.
I kissed him on his forehead … goodbye grandpa.
He looks up at me with those soulful regretting eyes (you have no idea the sadness that was in this man’s eyes at that very moment. I’m totally choking up even trying to find words to write on this page right now … I have none). Here this man was who devoted his LIFE to helping people … and he turned his back on his own flesh and blood. His son. My dad without ANY help from him, raised these two children that were standing in front of him; we were totally composed, all grown up, and a very strong family unit that he was not a part of.
A few weeks later we got the call that my grandfather’s health was failing fast, and if we wanted to see him again, we needed to go to the hospital.
My parents asked my brother and I if we were interested in seeing grandpa before he died. There was no doubt in my mind at that moment that I needed some sort of closure on our relationship. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for – but I know I still hadn’t found it.
There were no lights on in his hospital room – just the glow from the hall outside. My brother and I walk over to his bedside. I ask, how are you doing grandpa?
He couldn’t respond at that point; he was conscious but drifting in and out of coma. I place my left hand on his right hand, and say that I loved him.
OMG wow, I am sitting here typing this a blubbery mess.
With all of his strength, he grabs a hold of my left thumb, and does not let go. To this day, I have very literally never felt anything like that. This man was barely even conscious, and he grabbed my thumb so hard, I was convinced it was going to break. I say that we have to go, but that we will see him soon. He squeezes harder. My brother looks at me, completely shocked.
I look back at grandpa, the light from the hall lit his face just enough for me to see that he had tears streaming down his cheeks. He knew, I knew, and in that moment, I couldn’t believe this was happening.
Why now? Why now do you do this?? WHYYY DID IT TAKE YOU SO LONG TO LOVE ME!!!!!!! You are on your deathbed!!! WHYYY!!!!!
I lean over and kiss his forehead. I love you grandpa.
My brother and I left the room, and that was the last time I saw my grandfather. My parents told us to go home, but that they were going to stay until he finally passed.
A few hours go by, the house phone rings – my brother answers it.
I hear him hang up the phone, and walk down the bedroom wing. Each footstep as it got closer and closer echoed. That hall was loud to begin with, but good lord – in that moment, I knew what was coming.