Grandpa picks up the strangest things by the road and sends them to me:
1. A tent without poles
2. A Speedway card
3. An honest-to-god troll doll
4. Santa and a reindeer in a car. It plays Jingle Bell Rock.
3. What I find out is a “geri chair”, which most likely someone died in
My mother’s packages have sea glass, or strange rocks. Seashells. I will send you snippets, or links, or pictures of my cat. It’s all the same principle.
Grandma gets science magazines. She teaches me about petrified wood and warm-blooded dinosaurs. With mom it’s architecture and history. From me it could be anything I’ve picked up: the earth’s axis wobble, computational theory, sociology, but what we’re all saying is that we love you.
I am nine years old the first time I hear the phrase “idiopathic neuropathy”. This is when I find out why grandma doesn’t walk much. She’s helped make me too smart not to understand: neuro pathy—your nerves are dying—idio pathic—cause unknown. My grandma is dying from the outside in, and no one knows why.
Grandma once tells me, “if anyone ever hurt you boys, I’d have them killed. I know people.” She laid into me once because she thought I was saying that people aren’t born gay—her Donnie, my uncle, was a GIFT to her—and she had misheard me but I could tell she had given that lecture many times in our small town. She loves fiercely, with her claws out, and sometimes it’s hard to love her back but it’s always impossible not to. She is a warrior of love.
Grandpa makes me a little wooden plaque that says “my funny, funny clown”. One of the Ns is backward. Grandma teaches me to cook a turkey. Mom will be my best friend through every breakup.
These people are baking bricks of themselves, and they are building me structures. They are making a lonely little boy into a man I’ll be proud to be.
I am 22 years old when grandma steps on a nail. She doesn’t know until she gets home, because she has no feeling in her feet. It’s decided that she won’t walk around outside the house any more. It is like watching a monster take bits of her.
I am 32 years old, in a nursing home with the family. We are talking. Around her. This fierce, clawed woman, this warrior, who owned every room I ever saw her in isn’t part of it. She’s smoke where there was fire. Fog. She
She’s there behind the eyes. The conversation is light. She manages…barely…to kiss me before I leave. She loves me still, even claws in.
I am 34 years old and I am at her funeral. It seems like the whole town is there. I talk about the magazines and the petrified wood and I find out that when I grew up she would give those magazines to the neighbor kids, that they loved her, too. Everyone talks about her.
Everyone there had known that fierce love. She left everything on the field. My grandma was not here to be forgotten.
I am every age that I will ever be.
My mother’s feet and fingers crack, parts fall away, like a torch lit from both sides.
Mine go slowly numb.
Idiopathic neuropathy means I am dying from the outside in. No one knows why.
But I got more from these people than some bum genes, so
I have been giving my magazines to the neighbor kids
I have been picking you trinkets from the roadside and the shore so you’ll know
I love you
I have been baking myself into bricks. I am building structures.
I am leaving everything on the field.
I am not here