Today's journal entry:
Yesterday, January 13th, marked the 4th year of living, surviving, without my Memaw. Bits and pieces of Edna Lewis Whitmire shall eternally remain tucked away inside the deepest corner of my subconscious among sorrows, ambitions, and dreams of a back yard filled with birch trees and babies. Yesterday I stuffed all my worldly possessions and myself into a kind friend's car to ride across town and unpack. Tucked safely inside layers of paper, plastic, and wrapped within a warm sweater laid a photograph of my grandmother. A photograph of the woman I seek to become but never will. There's no way to recreate such grandeur. It's impossible to repeat perfection.
It's impossible to 'sum up' Memaw. I won't even try. Her influence so encompassed my early existence that, now, I can't eat certain foods or watch movies or visit cities. Entering North Carolina, let alone visiting remaining family there is unthinkable. Insurmountable. I visited Highlands for a single day before leaving the country for the sake of my precious family still there. I slowly crept up and down the mountain. I could hardly see out of my own eyes. Her absence has reminded vivid and harsh during splendid moments since. A few months after her death, I visited Caleb in Cambodia during which we borrowed a friend's motorcycle and rode it for days around Angkor Wat. On a hot, rusty road fleeing a rain storm, I held on to my brother and took in gasps of freedom. That day, that road was the best for each of us. No fighting. No tension. We were humbled by the creation surrounding us. Yet tears flowed into the wind because I wanted to tell my memaw this story but knew I couldn't. I wanted to call up her like I did when I was little and far away from her.
Every one in my family has decades of memories tucked away. Mine include summer pleasures of flower planting, baking by hand, living room choreography, and selling Vera Bradley beside her in Wit's End. She let me do everything myself. Standing beside me and teaching me but never doing for me. She saved my black jeweled earrings from a clogged drain then handed me the wrench to put the drain back together. As a child, I dreamed of living with her, walking around the house in my hose, watching Law and Order each evening, loudly singing hymns or Sinatra without embarrassment. A few months into my freshman year of college, Memaw moved out of her home - the home in which I grew up - into my parent's house. She was just too weak to deny what was happening. I sped home that weekend and walked to her room without a hello to my parents. As I opened the door, her arms flew up and out to me. A simple, short sentence left her mouth and landed on my life. Her outland arms and sentence altered my future ambitions, professions, and view of the world. She said, "Hey honey. I've been waiting for you." We hugged, kissed, and I leaned on my elbows over her while she told me I shouldn't wear such short skirts in autumn even if it was still 60ish outside. I have no idea what we talked about that night. I don't really care. I've been holding on to her sentence ever since. My grandmother was smart enough to sum up affection - her affection for me and affection in its entirety- in a phrase.
To my grandmother, I was worth waiting for. She stayed up for hours. Sitting, waiting despite her exhaustion and medicine. In my world, my GPA, weight, height, work ethic, sense of humor, relationships or lack there of, paychecks were constantly judged. The desperation I felt to succeed was never greater. In her room, stress and tension fell by the wayside. To her, I was everything I strived to be. To her, I didn't need to be anything but me. I didn't need to be anything but her baby girl. I will work the rest of my life to love others with the depth and passion and sincerity she loved me that conversation. That she loved me each moment she lived. I will spend my life waiting for people. I will spend my life with out stretched arms waiting to share the love she gave me. This doesn't me special. This doesn't make me a martyr of self. This only makes me a what-to-be Edna.
Months and moments after our perfect conversation, not enough months or moments, I sat beside my grandmother as she laid in that same bed. Like many nights before, I stayed awake all night to hover over her, stare at her complexion of perfection and finger curled brunette hair with auburn highlights and wonder when I would look that beautiful. Four years ago, I counted while she inhaled and exhaled. When my counted reached 3, I awoke my mother sleeping beside her mother. Parallel thoughts, fears, heartaches, hairlines, laugh lines separated only by a generation. When my counting reached 8, I held my own breathe while she left.
Present day, I am further from her than ever before in time and distance. I have her photograph, wisdom, spunk, and passion but I don't have her. Which is what I want. My sorrow remains just below my skin like I could be cut and bled tears instead of blood. I penned this poem during my first month of mourning and haven't shared it before. It's not great. My brother is the poet. I'm the rambler. But here goes:
The fluorescent bulb glared upon my cellar dusted book
while I forced each yawn back into my belly.
My body antsy, my eyes weary, my mind sharp.
A twinge of her eyelid and out of this chair;
but not this night.
Only peace, quiet and alone.
She and I.
The woman who corrects grammar,
feeds all, buys only in order to give, fights to win
loves unconditionally, serious.
Sings hymns of praise and nags to no end.
Cheeks of rose perfection, hair of smooth silver.
Lines of age and infinite wisdom.
Beauty at its best.
Creation at its Highest.
She slept underneath two helpless eyes of protection.
She slept her last.
As the air left her lungs,
chills filled each crevice of our home.
Her soul floated out of my grasp into the heavens;
my body became still, my eyes opened wide,
and my mind rested.
Just as she waited for my arrival,
I beheld her departure.
Birth takes, usually, many hours.
Life needs conception and, hopefully, several decades.
Death requires only a moment.