Like a crazed Columbus, I have claimed my grandparents’ house as my own. I approach it daily with an acrid fondness; the kind of attitude that lifetime employees of Wal-Mart and World War II veterans wear so flatteringly. The subtle stashes of liquor, the scandalously gaudy jewelry, the painstakingly preserved vintage clothing, the unsuccessful combination of traditional and modern furniture – I see them as monuments in a great but fallen culture that I am now reigning over. I have been elected to dismantle them, slowly, with rueful respect.
But before I can give the proper eulogy, I am invaded. My cousins swoop about the house, ransacking the pearly purses, cancelled checks and wind-up injun. They look with an abominating superiority at the vintage, squawking, “ick, what is this?” They pull out my grandfather’s diapers and cackle and mimic. One of them crassly totes a Mike’s Hard Lemonade she found in the basement refrigerator and saturates every inch of her overtanned, overexposed skin with grandmother’s signature perfume. They are the Marx Brothers entering an Ingmar Bergman film, and I cannot forgive them for it, even though I hate Ingmar Bergman. I hate her skin even more. I hate their nonexistent taste. I hate that they think it’s a merry old day at the fair, instead of a couple’s memories resurrected like pink perennials, sprouting spontaneously from dresser drawers, closets and pictures. I cannot forgive them for shitting on my monuments like the peon pigeons they are.
I fully realize this now, as I sit at home in the kitchen. “I’m sorry if I sound possessive or petty, but I just have come to think of that house as my domain. As my space,” I start abstractedly, bewilderedly, watching my mother get a glass of water. “I mean, I saw them pawing through everything, and I just wanted to scream ‘how dare you,’” I continue, now in a raspy whisper, “that was all she had. Her clothes and her jewelry. That was all she had,” my voice gives out and I stare at my chicken sloppy joe with waterlogged eyes. I take a bite and swallow, which goes down like a lead bowling ball. I reach for my napkin, trembling. I cannot look up. I am too infuriated. “I’ve come to know her. I mean, I finally know her. And more than anyone does right now. I’ve looked through her life, and I think I finally know who she is. I think we finally understand one another. And they –” but I cannot continue. I am weeping for the monuments now, the sad, silly monuments that I have so reverently tried to lay to rest. It doesn’t matter. I reach for my mother’s hand and we shake and cry and shake and cry. “She never let anyone in,” my mother says, the regret of a lifetime throttling her voice, “and you’ve gotten to see her. You’ve gotten to know her. I’m so glad,” she finishes, looking at something brighter and further away. I hold her hand tighter and try to look there too.