My mother and I are sitting in a diner with my grandma. Almost randomly she asks us what we’re doing on April 16th. We’re doing nothing. “Will one of you take me to the hospital? I have to have surgery.”
“Is this an outpatient thing?” Mom asks. No.
It’s a triple bypass that turns into a quadruple on the table and ultimately leads to a series of small strokes that leave her 25% blind and only functionally literate.
The entire family sleeps in the hospital for a week. It’s the first and only time I see my grandfather hold my grandmother’s hand. In fact, it’s the first and only time I see him touch her in any way. Because of the strokes, she has no memory of this uncharacteristic tenderness.
I’m with my friends in San Diego, my mother and my grandmother are fighting. Both of them want me to take their side against the other.
My grandmother calls. I answer it reflexively. She’s telling me about their fight, arguing without subtlety on why she’s right and mom’s wrong. I’ve had a long weekend, I try and get her off the phone. Suddenly she blurts out “Gene raped your mother when she was 13.” All of the air goes out of my lungs. I instantly and totally believe her.
Gene, my grandfather by marriage is the worst human being I have ever known. If she knew Gene raped my mother, how did she know? If she knew Gene raped my mother, why did she stay married to him? If she knew Gene raped my mother, why didn’t she warn me at least? I can’t ask any of these questions. All of my friends went outside to smoke. There is one kid I don’t know sitting across from me. I’m giving him a ride back to LA. I hang up the phone and tell him that Gene raped my mom.
I’m at work, my grandmother calls. She’s not a frequent caller, but it’s not unusual for her to call and ask that we spend some time together, or mention a news story she saw.
She says that she should probably tell me that Gene is dead. He had a series of strokes, lapsed into a coma and died that morning at his nursing home. “Do we have to do anything?” I ask. No, he already made arrangements with the Neptune society. They pick up the body, cremate it and dump it into the Pacific. Her tone is bored. She seems astonished I even care to ask.
When we put him into the nursing home, it was almost a family reunion. My uncle came back from Wisconsin, my mother and I were not fighting. Ben and I went out to dinner with them, everybody laughed and talked and smiled. The passive-aggressive side-sniping and bitter backhanded compliments were at an all time low.
When he died, nothing happened. I got a sad and awkward call from my estranged mother, I observed the fact that I had no real emotion either way, I cried a little, but I’m still not sure why.
The man’s entire life was cruelty and neglect. He leaves no children of his own, no footprint on this world and no mourners whatsoever. Aside from the lasting mental health issues of my mother, my uncle and myself there is nothing to show he existed at all, and I think that’s very fitting.