Well, it’s that day again. That day that I hated for years. A day that I had a bad feeling, when it was the year 2004.
I pulled up the driveway. Dad was standing on the porch, waiting. The door was open. The living room light was on, but the porch light was off. All I could see was his silhouette and a cigarette. I pulled off the driveway and into the front yard. I parked in front of the porch. My headlights creeped up, igniting his feet, rolling up to his face. I saw him crying then. And I knew.
My grandmother was a fucking hero. She raised five children almost single handedly. She cooked a big meal every Sunday and the leftovers lasted ’til the next one. She opened her home to my parents and me when I was a baby, and it remained open until after my sister was born, up until we moved five hours north. And it didn’t take her very long at all to give it all up for a tiny apartment across town so she could see her sweet grandbabies.
“ya little booger”
She also worked like a Hebrew slave for the local dry cleaner in Saraland before she retired and relocated. You bet your sorry ass that woman could press any uniform worn by any damn, dirty man. And she knew some damn, dirty men.
That woman was married to a damn, dirty man. He was an alcoholic. He abused their children. He cheated on her constantly. He left her for another woman and never gave her a red cent of child support while he went grave chasing in his RV.
I remember a Hooters keychain. I remember the owl. I remember I liked it and he just laughed.
But he built the fire department. He owned a business. He gave out turkeys to the black community on Thanksgiving. Hero? On a good day, I guess.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, honestly. He did some horrible, inexcusable, highly damnable things. And his victims suffered greatly, the ones that are left are truly the strongest, most loving and selflessly giving people I know. Two of whom are openly gay. I grew up loving these people. I grew up looking up to these people. I grew up because of these people.
I grew up defending these people.
So we are here now, in the year 2021. It is Good Friday. Again. And I am on my bed, writing. Had a great day so far. The sun is shining. Got to see an old friend. Got to spend time with my sister and daughter. Got to leave this really itchy and super non-diverse town and look at tall buildings for a change.
I need color. Give me color.
Give me Heaven.
Grandma, what’s Heaven?
When you know a very real Hell, only then will you allow yourself to truly believe in Heaven.
My grandmother developed Alzheimer’s Disease around 2002. She would forget that my younger siblings were living in south Florida with my mom. Or that my dad had left the Water Department after fifteen years of manual labor thanks to a local politician to go to nursing school. He was working at the nursing home at night, so I sometimes would visit my Grandma. She would tell me stories but get lost, and repeat herself from the beginning. In those days, my idiocy would trigger a response like “Grandma, you told me this already.” She would reply with, “Sorry, my memory is getting bad.” And she would just continue, no big deal. She would tell me about a Sailor in California. She would tell me about the movie theaters. She would talk about Elvis.
Her cognitive ability declined so rapidly that I was unable to fully comprehend what was actually happening. I was a dumbass teenager, unable to process thought in a healthy way at that point. I had just experienced my parents’ divorce, my mom had just relocated fifteen hours away, my entire family, school, and church had been shaken to their cores, and I was in the middle of it all, watching everything and everyone I love change.
It was so sudden. It was so drastic. I developed bi-polar disorder. I was given the diagnosis by a doctor who had spent a whopping fifteen entire human minutes talking with me. And I accepted the diagnosis, but did not let it stop me from not giving a flying fuck half of the time, or sobbing uncontrollably because I care so goddamn much the other half of the time.
I moved to south Florida to live with my mom and attempt photography at a really terribly reviewed Art Institute. My math class overlooked the Atlantic. And my friends were in metal and emo bands. I skipped class. I kissed a girl on a dare. I cruised the Miami strip to Phil Collins. I dyed my hair pink. I scream sang Taking Back Sunday and Further Seems Forever and Thursday songs.
I ran away from my problems and made a whole new list of them elsewhere, while my grandmother’s brain, with all those memories, decayed as she sat helplessly alone in a shitty nursing home. Brb.
Okay, I’m back.
My full circle moment came about twenty years later as I served as an Activities Director for an assisted living facility, which had a memory care hall. I cared for people with Alzheimer’s on a daily basis. I developed individual relationships with them. Every single morning I tapped my badge onto the magnetic lock, I would open the heavy door to a hallway of very happy to see Ashley faces. I was able to successfully communicate with them. It was that experience that opened my eyes to how I had neglected one of the most nurturing, light hearted souls that has ever cared for me.
I learned. I changed. I grew.
I lost my Grandmother on Good Friday, 2004. She was buried on Easter. I remember being very angry that I was wearing black on the one day out of the year everyone else didn’t. Looking back, maybe it makes sense. I never fit in anyway. And you know what? I’m so glad.
The older I get, the more I think about control. I can’t control the past. I can’t control the future. I can’t control you. I can’t control them. I can control me, now. Right, Ashley?
Having bi-polar disorder makes self control and discipline difficult. Thus, stability nearly impossible. Stability is something I had to basically let go of. I know all about routine. I know it benefits everybody. But I’m not everybody. I’m different. Routine wears me out, and I’m sorry, you don’t pay me enough.
So what if maybe you look at me differently? What if she thrives amid the chaos? Perhaps she enjoys the storm. Maybe that’s what she’s used to.
For years, I hated these days. Good Friday and Easter.
One of my aunts reminded me of the significance behind these days and why they are observed in the first place. And that is the beauty of not driving your car off the Duncan Bridge. You keep living, and you keep learning when you keep listening to people who are wiser than you.
Good Friday is definitely a good day. Easter is definitely a good day. If we could just remember.