She was a woman who changed the name on the birth certificate of her sister’s child—in response to her actions she simply replied, “I did him a favor. Barry was a terrible name.” She had a bite that could casually rip you to pieces, but she’d drop everything to tenderly stitch you back up with homemade chicken soup and a shiny bauble, haggled over at a local yard sale. She cared for her mother after her stroke, her father sick and dying, her husband on disability and her two children, all while holding multiple jobs. She doled out advice to her extended family and they deferred, whether they liked it or not. My grandmother stormed through the world and the world stepped aside. She was a true matriarch.
“Hey,” I said, deciding it was time for a new conversation. “Let me tell you a funny thing that Leo did yesterday.”
Despite stories about my children being her favorite topic, she wasn’t having any of it. “Don’t change the subject,” she snapped. “Now say you’ll pull the plug.”
“I’ll pull the plug,” I dutifully replied.
She breathed relief; warm and familiar, a satisfying exhale left over from her lifetime of smoking.
“Good girl,” she said and patted my hand.
Those “good girl” pats fueled my inner need for her approval. I was her favorite, or so she said. I’m sure she said that to all her grandchildren, but of course, I really was. Who else was strong like her?
But when she found herself in the hospital, attached to oxygen and hooked up to antibiotics and other medical necessities that kept her going, I was not strong at all. Seeing her lying there, helpless and weak, so unnatural to the vital, formidable person she was, devastated me. Still, her face lit up in pleasure at the sight of me. “My Alisee,” she rasped. I brought pictures of my boys to hang around the room, spoon-fed her teaspoons of chocolate ice cream (her favorite) and babbled on about nothing, until finally petering out and giving in to the silence. I held her manicured hand, the one that tickled my back, wiped my butt when I was a baby, and patted my arm. “Good girl.”