Sunday, October 10, 2010

30 Days of Truth -Day 3 Something You Need to Forgive Yourself For

We got home at ten Christmas night, which isn't late, but I was tired from spending all day with my boyfriend's family. It was the Christmas of 1997. I don't know where my parents were that year. I hadn't spent a holiday with them in Florida in a few years and I was actually glad because the previous year had been a disaster. My grandfather had driven down from Millpond, arrived at my aunt's squalid home that she shared with her four children and drug addicted husband, and promptly suffered a massive heart attack on Christmas Eve, relieving everyone from the burden of having to pretend to cobble together a semblance of normal holiday. From a thousand miles away in Atlanta, I felt secretly relieved that I hadn't been present.

I wasn't present this year either and was relieved again. My aunt was separated from her drug addicted husband who'd taken his two children with him. The father of the older two daughters had also taken custody of them and my aunt was partying again without any kids. My parents, well, who knew what they were doing. I can't remember, so maybe they just skipped Christmas that year. It hadn't been a great year for them and was loaded with legal trouble, marital problems and my grandfather's issues. He'd come to live at their house while he recovered from the Christmas Eve heart attack of '96. He'd been a pain in my mother's ass for most of that year, refusing to believe the extent of his heart disease, eating diner food and smoking and acting generally crabby and cantankerous because, understandably, he didn't want to live like an invalid and felt like less of a man with his catheter bag stuck to the side of his leg. Finally, against everyone's wishes, he'd packed up what little he had and stubbornly driven himself back home to Millpond where he moved back in to the same apartment he'd shared with his girlfriend for several years.

My family didn't fight outright at holidays, unless you counted the time my mother got into it with my aunt's husband, but he deserved it. My aunt always got drunk and caused a scene. Things were always extremely late and disorganized and never what I defined as "right." Sometimes we didn't exchange gifts and the years we did, it was all my mom, who'd rush around at the very last minute as the stores closed on Christmas Eve, desperately trying to get everyone presents, even when they didn't do the same for her. The gifts were always given unwrapped, in their shopping bags, tags still dangling. No one appreciated her efforts, including probably even me. I liked to criticize everyone else from afar, expecting perfection from my immediate and extended family. I always felt like I couldn't be satisfied unless Christmas resembled a twinkling, cinnamon scented spread straight out of a holiday film with a happy ending. So far, we hadn't had our happy ending, so the Spode-set dining room table and swags of pine and pomegranate on a marble mantle piece eluded me.

But like I said, no one fought out right. We don't do that in my family. We tend to laugh things off or collectively ignore tension. Then, once everyone has gone home, we'll all call one another and tear everyone else apart. We're vicious gossips. We excel at talking behind people's backs. Did you see what that bitch had on? Damn, how much food do you think he could eat? He got so fat he looks like he's about ready to give birth. She always was jealous of you. What does he see in her? I never could stand that bitch. Me neither.

Luckily, we didn't have to worry about this too much because we hardly ever got together on holidays anymore anyway. Maybe we'd all just given up. Maybe we all had other people to gossip about and didn't need each other for fodder. Maybe we were all just a sad sack pack of assholes who didn't know how to be a real family.

That's why I didn't bother going home to either Florida or Millpond the Christmas of '97. It wasn't worth an effort. My Christmas still disappointed with my boyfriend and his family, but at least I didn't have the hassle and expense of traveling and his mom was a decent cook.

We both had to work the next day. I stowed my leftovers in the refrigerator, gave the cats fresh water and checked my answering machine, which sat blinking on my bedside stand. This was before we had voice mail, cell phones and texts. It was also before pickled pine went out of style, because that's what my bedside stand was made from. I have a clear mental image of that bedside stand and the small white box of answering machine with its little red light.

"Honey, it's your Poppop. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. Beverly and I didn't do much today. Nobody's around this year, but it sure as hell was better than last year for me. Heh heh. I wanted you to know I was thinking about you today and that I love you. Your Poppop loves you. Give me a call back. It doesn't matter how late."

Then he proceeded to give me his phone number, which I had memorized. He'd had that number for at least fifteen years. I used parts of it as pins and access codes, I knew it so well, but he thought I didn't know his number. I thought that was funny. For a second I thought about giving him a call, but I erased his message, went in the bathroom, showered, changed, brushed my teeth and went to bed.

I never called him back. I kept thinking I would. Then I forgot and didn't care anymore. 

That phone call was the last thing on my mind by Groundhog Day, which was a winter day so warm it tricked the forsythia into opening a few yellow buds. I spent the whole day with my friend Rachel antiquing in a chic neighborhood. We'd been so pleased with ourselves in our floral dresses and straw hats. We loved ourselves so much we took pictures of one another like we were posing for Victoria magazine. It makes me sick to think of how we acted back then.

When we got back to my house, I got the news that my grandfather had had another heart attack. Congestive heart failure to be exact. He'd had the flu and died on his couch. I didn't call him on Christmas. I didn't call him after Christmas. I had memorized his phone number and never used it. I had erased his last message to me.


Green said...

In the fall of '94 I was away at college for the first time, totally miserable. The last time I'd seen my grandma was when she and my grandpa had come deliver me at college, and on my fall birthday they left me a voicemail singing the song. I was having a terrible birthday and couldn't bring myself to call them back to thank them. She died in mid-December. So I really DO know how you feel. I'm still only halfway to forgiving myself for it.

JoeinVegas said...

You have such an interesting set of relatives. Sorry about Poppop's call.

LegalMist said...

Poppop forgave you long ago for not calling back. If he had wanted you to feel bad about it, he would have called and asked you why you didn't return his call. He already said what he wanted to say, anyway - that he loved you. Thank God you had an answering machine so you could receive that message he wanted you to have. He knew you loved him, too, or he wouldn't have bothered to call and tell you that. He would not have wanted you to sit around refusing to forgive yourself for failing to call and tell him something he already knew. Not to make light of it, because everyone has regrets like this... but please do forgive yourself for not calling.

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Please forgive yourself for this. Something similar happened to me with a grandparent, and this has me in tears. You know that they loved us, and if they knew we were having guilt over this, they'd be TICKED at us!

So please, forgive yourself, and I will forgive myself, too.

Anonymous said...

I called my parents' home looking for my mom because I had a silly thing I wanted to say to her, which I knew my father wouldn't get. Instead of having one of my usual longer chats with him, when he told me my mom was at work, I quickly got off of the phone with him so I could call her there. He seemed disappointed that I wasn't going to chat longer, but said goodbye. I don't even remember if I told him I loved him, I was in such a hurry to call my mom to say whatever stupid thing I had to say that I have forgotten. He died two days later. I wish so much I would have talked to him for more than 2 minutes, I wish I knew it was going to be the last time I ever spoke to him. I would have said so much.

I'm crying as I write this. I understand how you feel. I know my dad would tell me it didn't matter, but it matters to me. I still haven't forgiven myself.

Melissa said...

You made me cry.

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