2 years ago my grandfather passed away on Christmas day. He and I weren’t really that close as he was always kind of detached from the family that he created. He was constantly on the road, gigging, and trying to be a working musician. Oddly enough, I still hear his voice singing in my head when I work on songs, or when I sing myself. Imagine if Johnny Cash was trying to end the world by singing. That was my grandfather’s voice. He lived a terribly interesting life and was one of those people whose overly exaggerated stories were actually true. 6 wives, many children, and infinite grandchildren and to tell you the truth I don’t think a single one of us really knew the man.
His first wife, my mother’s mother, was a sweet Irish woman who could throw down in the kitchen and was a raging alcoholic. They divorced when my mother, uncle, and aunt were still pretty young, and my grandmother remarried another raging alcoholic. We’re not talking “college drunks” here, we’re talking spend the rent on booze drunks. When I was just barely old enough to have a recallable memory my grandmother slipped on her front stairs while drunk, and cracked her head open on the step. Literaly. Her brain was actually exposed to oxygen, causing permanent brain damage. The interesting part was that she only lost her short term memory. She can remember everyone, and everything prior to that moment. After that moment she seems to have a memory of around 20 minutes or so. It’s not like she resets every 20 minutes or anything and becomes a blank slate, it’s more like if you’re having a conversation with her, you can expect it to go in a 20 minute circle. She was under the impression that I was just a small boy each and every time I would visit her in the nursing home. I don’t think she ever fully grasped the fact that my brother and I grew up, got married, or even that her own daughter had remarried.
She did seem to understand that her husband, my step-grandfather, had died many years ago. She would talk about how she missed him, but occassionally she didn’t seem fully aware of the situation. Fast forward to two days ago and she passed away. I would assume that she probably died a happy woman. She had lived to see her own sister die, but I don’t think she really remembered it, her grandkids never seemed to age in her mind, and usually seemed pretty content with life. While she was essentially a stranger to me it does still sit uneasy with me tonight. A beer or two may be contributing to that, but still it’s the top branches of the family tree being pruned. Both grandparents have now passed away. That puts my mom at the top and me one step closer to the one thing that I fear more than anything else. My grandmother’s entire existence fit inside of a 3 drawer bed side table in a nursing home. She lived a life. She had kids, was married twice, had friends, owned a home, had holiday gatherings with all of us in her living room, and in the end she was reduced to one bed side table and a small paragraph in a local newspaper.
I feel bad not flying back to pay my respects to her, but then my rational side kicks in. People die every day, and I barely knew her more than I know anyone else who died this week. Part of me does wish that she had had the chance to meet her great grandchildren, but I know that it would have been just a blur by the time we had driven out of town.
I am getting older. In a few months another birthday will come and go, and I feel it. I catch myself getting more and more out of touch with the ever changing world around me. I find myself hunkering down in my comfort zone and letting all of the “new” pass me by in an effort to cling to the familiar. I’ve told my wife before that when we decided to move, we were starting over. Fuck the family tree, we’re starting our own. We’re the beginning, and this tree will be different. I still believe that. We are starting, and working towards, something that will be truly appreciated in a few generations. It will be seen for its true value when our great great grandchildren look back and see what started with a simple moving van and an idea. But occassionally I get nostalgic, for lack of a better word. I sometimes wish that I had what everyone else has. The normal family. Grandparents that spoil them, parents that they enjoy seeing, siblings that are truly friends, cousins that they actually remember the names of, and on and on. The loud, noisy, crowded, family christmases that I hear about or see in movies. Maybe I could go along with that. I see the appeal of being surrounded by people who are obligated to accept you, but therein lies the catch 22. While I truly do want acceptance and a group of peers, I don’t want it out of simple obligation. That has always been my problem with the traditional family model, obligation. Family should be a choice, no less than friendship and romantic relationships are a choice.
My grandmother is dead. My grandfather is dead. My other grandfather is dead. 2 step-grandfathers are dead. I have one biological grandparent still alive, and she has met her great grandchildren and I’m happy that she was able to. She made a gesture that I saw worthy of getting to meet these two kids. She drove 14 hours to do it. She didn’t guilt me into flying back, or make excuses as to why she couldn’t see them. She grabbed the situation by the ballsack and came to meet them. I barely know the woman and I will always respect her for her attitude. I feel like I should mourn the loss of my mother’s mother. I do feel bad for her, because I know that this is hard for her. I was almost tempted to break our 7 year silence to give her my condolances but somehow I get the feeling that they would mean little to her in the grand scheme of things. Why don’t I react to things like others do?
In junior high and high school I think just about everyone has uttered the phrase, “nobody understands me!” In my case it’s the exact opposite, “I don’t understand anyone else.” Why am I not on a plane for my grandmother’s funeral tomorrow? Why have I not sent flowers? Why didn’t I send my mother a recording of the song that I wrote for her own father when he died? Why do words like mother, brother, father, cousin, and grandparent mean nothing to me? Why is that after 18 years of being told to hate my father, do I find out that I am exactly like him? I am him. Why don’t I possess the ability to engage everyone around me in mindless chatter in an effort to forge new friendships? Why am I literally enraged by everyone except the three people who live in this house with me? How can it possibly be that of every person that I’ve met in life, only 3 didn’t fall short in my ever more crucial eyes, and two of them were created by me and the other 1 of them?
I have masterfully designed an island on which to live with my family, and now that it’s created, I occassionally wish that I had built some bridges. I don’t like it when the wife and kids go to sleep because I’m reminded that without them I am 100% alone. People will spout stupid phrases like “they’re my life” without really meaning it. If their wife, or children, died they would find a way to go on. They would adapt, grieve, and work their way through it. I don’t have that ability, nor do I want it. I get scared out of my mind when I think about the fact that my entire life is wrapped up in 3 fragile human bodies that I can’t possibly keep safe day in and day out. This is what will keep me awake tonight. This is what I will daydream about tomorrow. this is what fills the silent pauses in my head when I don’t have my wife to calm me down. This is why I fucking hate so many people, places, and things. You are not the proper counteraction for what is in my head and it pisses me off that you’re not. It pisses me off that you’re not her. That I can’t be with her day in and day out because I don’t have the vision, or skills to find a way to be home with her every day. My mediocrity taints the one perfect thing that I have managed to create.
My grandmother has died, and I all I can think about is myself. I am jack’s raging narcissism.