I’m back in therapy and it’s rough af. We’re talking about shit I don’t want to deal with. We’ve been talking about my grandfather and the damage he did.
He was my rock, he was my cheerleader. He supported me when I had no one. He died and left me with no one. He left me with the task of taking care of my mother when I was 16, so I did. She says she didn’t need my help and that I never helped her but I didn’t see it that way. I remember planning his funeral because the only parent in her life that meant anything to her was gone; she broke.
Vulnerability is weakness.
He was an Army man, a Captain. He survived WWII, a Black man in power. He treated me like his little baby, his little girl. But he trained me to be a soldier.
Emotions are for the weak. Humanity is weakness. Show none to survive. The only useful emotion is anger: instilling fear into others will motivate them to do what you want.
He told me so many reasons to be angry. My mother couldn’t afford to care for me despite working 12 hours a day and was effectively useless, having let her love for my father cause her depression since their divorce. He said she was weak. He said my father was a deadbeat: he didn’t want to be a father but had no problem fathering other children during the tenure of his marriage to my mother. Grandpa said Dad didn’t know how to be a good father to me, didn’t want to and couldn’t be a good man for my mother.
I. Was. Six. Years. Old.
He fed me this shit for years, spoon-feeding me until I was full of anger.
Y’know. When I really think about it, the most human I ever saw him was a few years before he died. He was in kidney failure and on dialysis; he had dementia. A man who lived through the war, segregation, Civil Rights Movement, earned a Master’s Degree in Mathematics became so frail. I watched his mind turn against him as the amyloid plaques grew in size inside his brain. I was terrified. I saw my savior dying while he was still alive. He remembered me – sometimes. And sometimes he told me he hated me; he could be so cruel and mean. Mom came to see him everyday to change his clothes, diapers and visit. I stopped visiting regularly after 6 months. I would go after he’d apologized for cussing at me; I was 13 or 14 years old without a stable parent. I was lost in the shuffle.
I remember the day he died. I was 15 by then; he’d been sick for 4 years. I’d seen him the night before and he was hollering in pain. He was a shell of his former self. My mom and i just held a hand of his and cried. We already knew it was coming. Our family is big into omens, psychics, folk medicine and the like. I just had a sticky feeling all that night. I cried and cried. I woke up and went to our family albums and started pulling his picture out of all of them after my Mom went to work. I stored all of his pictures in my room. I didn’t know why I did it – I figured she just wouldn’t be able to look at them for a long time. I got a call from my aunt later in the day telling me she was coming to pick me up; Grandpa was rushed to the hospital and Mom was already there and they needed me there.
To say goodbye, I thought. This is it. Get your shit together, Alice. You’ve gotta be strong. This is what he wanted – for you to be strong.
My aunt picked me up with my cousins in tow. We arrived at the hospital and my Mom and Grandpa were in the trauma bay. He was stable, but with tubes every which way I knew it wasn’t a good scene. My Mother was sobbing, leaking from every hole in her face – the ugliest cry I’d seen in a while, understandable since the only true parent she’d ever known was actively dying. I leaned over to Grandpa and said into his ear, fighting back every tear in my body:
“Hey. It’s Alice. Don’t worry about Mom, I’ll take care of her like you taught me to, remember? I love you so much. It’s OK for you to go now. You don’t have to hold on because of me. I’ll be OK. I’ll see you later, alligator.”
My world was crushed.
My life was over.
Because I lied. I didn’t know what to do without him. I shut Mom out, I continued to shut my Dad out. I’ve shut everyone out. Because what soldier do you know that lets others in? A soldier protects others and self, right?