She simply kept walking, kept breathing, kept living. But I have to believe that there were dark moments when the night outside seemed full of grief and memories too big to bear alone. I wonder how I will manage, sixty years from now, if I must lose Joe before I make my own back flip off this world. Will I be waking up one day and look down at my hands and find them transformed into the same hands, her hands, that I held on the day she let go?
I was alone in my Grandma’s house the other day. It was back when the house was fully gutted and I was just finishing up the framing on the second floor. It was dark out and the house was black except for my one little light that I was sitting beside. I had sat down because I was tired, thread-bare, a little too cold, a little too sore and a little too alone for comfort. Joe was working and I longed for his presence, just seeing him would have given me a boost as every time I get to be in his presence I am reminded why I am working so hard to get this done. With him around, it is all worth it. Even in those moments when I’m alone and feel so overwhelmed by the scope of work and my own what-feels-like-feeble attempts to finish something, anything. I felt heavy that night and incredibly weary, I needed to just quit, go home, take a hot shower and go the fuck to bed.
But I’m not that kind of woman (getting better every day but I’m not there yet) stubbornness still gets the best of me and sometimes I push myself until I am overwhelmed. The next day I’ll look back at the silliness of my feeling overwhelmed, letting myself get there, letting the shadows crawl over my shoulders and heart and grow heavy. In the light of day I will realize that it was not overwhelmed that I was feeling but just, straight up, exhaustion. But there I was on the floor that night, smoking what felt like my thousandth cigarette trying as hard as I could to get off my ass and not accomplishing it at all. Going through all the mantras in my head, words I know to be true, “just get one little thing done, anything at all and you’re on the right track.” They all fall off of me like water off a duck’s back. My darkness just laughs and gets heavier because, the truth is, mantras claim to be for the dark times but they’re really just to make you feel better in the good times. Nothing touches me in the dark times.
I thought of my grandma then. She is never far from me when I’m in that house as it may always be my grandma’s house in my heart. My grandpa passed almost ten years before she did and she lived, day by day, alone in this place she had called home for more then fifty years. I wondered if, when the shadows grew long and the hours stretched into the horizon, she sometimes was taken to the floor too with their weight. If memories pressed in on her of the long story of her life, the lives of her two children, her grand children, her great grand children, and, of course, the love of her life now having moved on and left her in this house to make it alone. I wonder if there were times when she cherished the quiet, enjoyed some of the time alone, or if there was never a breath that she drew that she did long for him, every moment of every day.
I know how she got through it of course, as her blood runs through my veins and the very stubbornness that kept me here working, way passed my ability to accomplish anything, was the same stubbornness that kept her going. She knew how to keep her head down and just go, no thoughts or pain or emotions ever got in her way. She simply kept walking, kept breathing, kept living. But I have to believe that there were dark moments when the night outside seemed full of grief and memories too big to bear alone. I wonder how I will manage, sixty years from now, if I must lose Joe before I make my own back flip off this world. Will I be waking up one day and look down at my hands and find them transformed into the same hands, her hands, that I held on the day she let go?
I imagined her down stairs, sitting in the same couch that was now covered in saw dust, bearing it. Making it. Still breathing. And I was humbled, stung blindly by the tragedy and empowered all at once. If she could make it through those years, certainly I could get off my ass and make it through this night. I still had my man and decades (god willing) to hold his hand. And, of course, I did get off my ass that night and woke up the next morning shaking my head at allowing exhaustion to dictate my emotions and thoughts – certainly I should know better by now. But I have held on to that image of her. There was no swaying my grandmother and there was so little of consequence that could have touched her or my grandfather.
Jealousy, immaturity and the stupidity of other people trying to effect their lives, never would have ever touched them in any way. Her blood is in my veins and I find the longer I am working on this house the more I am becoming oblivious to all that does not matter. She was a very serious woman, there were no big acts of happiness, or love, or anger with her. Stoic might have been a good way of describing it… She was the opposite of my grandpa who was always the life of the party. Even ten years later strangers to me remember him, that he was always smiling, laughing and wanting to dance. They were both wonderful people and their opposites worked like puzzle pieces together. Her seriousness and his glee warded off bull shit in the same way. They were untouchable and it was a beautiful thing.
I have seen it now in Joe and I. Is it possible that if you spend enough time in a home that you somehow absorb the energies of the people before you? We have grown more serious in our work and in each other, we have matured in the labor of love that is the home renovation of my grandparents’ house. Our confidence has sky rocketed and even though we worked so well together before, now we are a cohesive unit, understanding how to plan together with equal parts of each of us in every single thing that has been done. The truth has sunk into our bones and taken on the seriousness of our building a foundation here that we may dance on it, laugh in it and make love to it, for the rest of our lives. The maturity of the seriousness has manifested in a way of joy, the kind of happiness I used to see in my grandfather’s eyes before he slipped away, oblivious happiness. Happiness that exists only in humans that are exactly where they want to be and are proud of what they have to show for themselves in their home and in their lives. Happiness in confidence and comfort and safety.
I let my guard down and realized that I had stopped stressing about working all weekend with Joe. I had stopped feeling horrible about missing down time with him when I only get him on the weekends. It happened when he looked at me one night, as I mentioned how he shouldn’t have to work all week and here at the house too and we should go and do something fun like young people like us normally do and he just laughed and said, “Baby we have all the rest of our lives for that.” Of course we do. And that one moment of feeling down upstairs that night was the last moment of feeling overwhelmed. Yes, of course, I am still exhausted, still panicking about getting everything done but the big picture is so vast and so lovely, it easily casts away all of the little bull shit and things (and people) that have made their silly (and ugly) efforts to bring us down.
I am blessed by this work and I feel grandma with me. She is still here in my blood and it feels so often like she is getting to do all of this again. Picking out the paint colors and the cabinets and the flooring in our house. Just like she did decades ago.