It’s been a haunting memory for life: watching my grandmother carefully and painstakingly try to hook her bra with swollen, nearly purple fingers. I can hear her sigh as she misses the hook yet again, I can see her turn the bra from back to front and try to look directly at what she was doing while singing my cousin and I a song or giving us instruction on where to find candy she had hidden in her top dresser drawer.
She looked crippled from wrist to fingertip. That is exactly how I remember her- swollen, claw like hands that just looked stretched beyond comprehension. Skin-tight and taught, the joints bent and curved.
She always took great care to talk to me while fighting with her hooks and buttons. She would look me in the eye and tell me a story, as if nothing were bothering her. Yet even then, when I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten, I knew she was hurting.
I look back now and realize the similarities. Her very round, rosy cheeks. The fingers she could not straighten. The endless hours of sitting next to her while she rested. My grandfather’s devotion to her, getting her whatever she wanted and needed despite years upon years of trials and tribulations, the reality of marriage.
A similarity in which I would normally find comfort sends chills down my spine. Similarities I hope will end soon. While I admire my grandmother, and even named my daughter after her…I need our stories to take different paths.
I found myself last night cooking dinner and talking to my own children. Trying not to let them see me wince as I cut chicken and breaded and baked. It might as well have been a hook, or a button. It might as well have been my grandmother and I in that kitchen. My round, rosy cheeks…my swollen, pained fingers, curled into a ‘c.’
I was her.
And when the kids left the room to play elsewhere, tears rolled freely down my face while I struggled to finish.
Grandma, I love you. I just can’t be like you. I will win where your doctor’s failed. And I will continue, where you left off. I hate that I now understand the pain and I hate how hard you must have tried to not show it to me. But I will take this genetic burden and lift it for us both, so that my granddaughter is immune and ignorant to what we’ve endured. This will end with me and we’ll be the only two who know. Her partner will not fret with the doctor over which experimental medication to try next. Her children won’t see her cringe as she tries to get out of bed. And she will not carry with her the vivid memories of simple tasks, like her grandmother trying to hook a bra. I wish you were here so that I may ask you your tricks in getting through the day. I wish you were here so that we may commiserate together over ailments and pain. But even more than that, I wish you were here so that I could help you hook that stupid hook, and you help me hook mine.