Friday, April 10, 2015

Grandma

Grandtots,

Here goes.

***

She sits there. She sits there like a Vulcan with Bendii syndrome. I sit near enough to be close and far enough to see her completely.  At a distance I can feel the maelstrom, the turmoil, the bubbling broth of her emotion. Fear. Anguish. Worry. Her face scrunches up and her tears come. I expect them. I don't want her to cry but I understand. Crying is something that she does, something that women do... It's one of the things she does best. I don't like it when she cries but I understand. It's what she is. It's what women are: feeling their way through life. She's feeling her way forward. I sit patiently and earnestly. Because there's no where that I'd rather be.


I think I'd mentioned this before but this is where the rubber hits the road, isn't it? I really would prefer my wife's company when she's at her worst than basically anyone at their best. Not sure when that occurred to me, but there it is - the sad, kinda pathetic, plain truth of it all. 

Also I just hate to think her in pain alone. I just can't bear it. It makes me want to put my hands around someone's throat...makes me feel like burning the whole world...

The storm breaks and here I am, waiting for her.  She's afraid, she says.  She's afraid that I'll want my money back, that she isn't worth the trouble.  I smile, inward and outward.  What an idea!?!  Why does she even wonder that, where does it come from, I wonder?  this idea that I'm here by choice. She's my choice the same way I have a choice whether to breath or not.  You can hold your breath, but come on, that's a losing battle.  Other people, another woman...the idea of it seems as appealing as holding my breath.  It couldn't be clearer to me.  A relationship is the simple art of making peace with another human being's shit, sprinkled here and there with moments of mirth and laughter.  I can put up with her shit, and she can put up with mine or we can both go and put up with other people's shit. Does she really think that there are people in this world that don't have any shit?  Cuz, there aren't. So why would I want to put up with someone else's shit?  Will it smell better than hers?  All shit smells bad.  It's just that some shit you get used to and some shit is just someone else's shit.

I wouldn't trade her problems for the world.  I wouldn't be of any use to someone else's problems; I'd be useless.  At least here I know I make a difference.  At least here I know I'm wanted and appreciated. 

I didn't keep the receipt to you, woman.  I made my purchase and wore you out of the store.  I'll never give you back; I'm done shopping.  No, my love, there is nowhere else.  We're in it, together.

***

Sheba Mojtahedi is sitting across the table from me.  She's so familiar, too familiar.  Grandtots, I hope you get to feel that feeling.  I hope you get to feel so comfortable with someone that it confuses you.  It's been 16 years since I last looked into her face, and saw her stare back at me.  I tell her everything and she tells me.  Words without judgment; like talking to family.  I listen to her voice and wonder.  Wonder why I let this person go.  Did I put up a fight, at least?  So many moments, of doubt and fear and loneliness, that I could have used her in my corner.  And so many moments that she had where she could have used the company.  I sit across the table confused.  I don't want to love her again.

(No, that's not it.  I don't want to get hurt again).

But I think I never really stopped.  I think I loved her all this time, in a room that I had boarded up and sealed off, in a place that I didn't think I'd ever see again. Love buried alive - in a coffin, covered in dirt.

I hold her hand.  It's warm.  Her eyes are tender, hopeful.  I can see why she's here.  She's obvious. She loves me.  I almost want to set her straight.  I want to just shake her and say that's not how things work.

(You can't break someone's heart then show up half a lifetime later and move in.  You can't just fall for someone that you just met.  You can't love someone that you don't know.  That's not how the world works!)

She sees that I haven't changed enough in all this time for her to not love me.  And, despite my pride, my ego, my selfishness, I know she sees it in mine.  I'm trying my best to hide it.  But she can see right through me.  I'm not used to being so transparent and obvious.  I feel helpless, like its inevitable. Like God is marching me off a plank, into open waters.  Inside, parts of me still resist.

***

I've been married to Grandma now for five months and a funny thing just occurred to me: only someone in a halfway decent marriage can be an advocate for the institution of marriage.  Because someone who supports marriage while being in a bad one is simply a miserable degenerate - someone who, for whatever reason, wishes sorrow on others.  I have no doubt that it will get harder than it is presently. I'm on the lookout. But I can't help thinking that marrying someone is a lot like buying a pair of shoes. If you get the right size you don't ever think about it.  You put them on and get on with your day, and even if you should be more grateful that you have shoes and they get the job done, it just fades into the process of living your life.  But if you bought the wrong size shoe, life sucks.  But its more than just that life sucks, isn't it?  Life sucks with every step you take.  Every single step you get reminded that life sucks.  You don't get a break, a moment where you get to forget that life sucks. A marriage between two people that don't like each other anymore...I can't imagine anything so patently absurd.  It would be like forcing yourself to wear shoes the wrong size or watch an awful movie over and over again.  God help anyone living that life.

Only reason that occurred to me is: I've been thinking about all the moments that I've spent with this woman - things we've talked about and moments we shared, and it's just like sitting in a warm bath. As easy as life gets. And then I imagine spending all that time with someone that I didn't like and didn't like me back.  This thing we've done together - you really need to go into it with eyes open and thinking about the future.  Because when its good, its great, but when its bad, its Armageddon.  I'm not capable of hating Grandma, and I know she isn't capable of hating me.  But if she did hate me, even for a second...I'd be the loneliest person in the history of the world.  I'd have nothing at all.

***

She's embarrassed about something.  She eases herself into the waters.  I've seen her mustering up her strength.  It's been a few months now, but I feel it already.  I wonder what it is that she could say to drive me away.  I think of the words, the worst words that I can imagine: cancer, AIDS, disease, dying...I'll be afraid at first but it will pass.  I know exactly why I know it will pass: She's the only person that can stand me.  I'm reminded of that line from the Bourne Identity, when Bourne and Marie are about to part and she tells him that he'll probably forget about her.  And he seems confused: "How can I forget you?" he asks.  "You're the only person I know."

Sometimes when I look at her I think the same thing.  Like this is the only person that I really know, the only person that I've really ever known.

When it finally comes, it is so simple and small a thing that I have to keep from laughing.  It's her bum. She's has a small fistula and she's gonna need surgery to take care of it.  She asks me if I can stay with her during the week that she's recovering and take care of her.

I should ask whether I'm qualified to help her.  Whether its appropriate for me to help her.  Or maybe I should take a moment to wonder if I could possibly stand spending that much continuous time with her.  I've only known the girl a few months now.

Instead my heart fills at being asked.  I feel honored in a way that I've never felt before, like I had a purpose that I had never known.  I tell her that I'll give her whatever she needs.  She smiles, relieved, her eyes dance. And it occurs to me, finally without any doubt:

Kamil, you love this woman.  I mean, you'd give her everything in the world if she asked you.

Yeah, I guess I would.

***

I've never had the opportunity to love someone the way I love Grandma.  Both in intensity and longevity.  So I've been comparing love in the real world to love in popular and not so popular media and here's my conclusion:



What do I mean by that?  Love in books and TV and movies is so...shiny.  It's like a new car.  It has a certain smell, no mileage.  It has no dents, its never been in an accident. Love as depicted over 300 pages, or 120 minutes is always either the highest triumphs or the lowest valleys. Its never the moments in between that tie one breath and one heartbeat to the next; as if love is a sentence written with punctuation rather than words.  There is no 'most important' word in a sentence.  Each word gives the sentence meaning.  Love in real life is giving a life meaning through each moment together. But love recorded for sharing is just the loudest words of the sentence followed by exclamation marks.

What people on the outside of love think is love and what people sell as love and are sold as love is to real world love as cotton candy is to food.  Only the loosest of definitions can call cotton candy food. It has calories like food, it tastes good, but that's about it. Passionate love is just the dessert. Actual nutritious food isn't always pleasant. It requires roughage & fiber; sweet & sour; animal, vegetable & mineral. It can taste good and it can fill you up. But sometimes you don't even have the time to enjoy eating - you just do it out of habit. Real world love is sometimes just a habit as well.

I'm lucky, very lucky to have seen real world, man-woman love between my parents. My education is incomplete, but at least I've been studying...and I have a good study partner. I feel for people who have to learn all this stuff from scratch.

***

Sheba Devonish and I have been married for 17 hours.  The train lurches to Montreal.  I should be enjoying my first train ride much more.  We are tired. We feel off-balance.  I feel off-balance.  She feels off-balanced.  The voices in my head are silent.  They look to each other for a brief moment before casting their heads downward, staring at their feet.  They shuffle their weight from side to side, nervously.  I watch the voices and finally, every so often I just get fed up and yell at them.  I yell at them, "What!?!?!?!  Say it, goddamn it!  What?!?"

One of the voices looks left and then right before stepping forward.  He looks up at me with wary eyes and asks in a very quiet voice, so quiet that I have to strain to hear:

"Are you sure?"

I'm so tired after all the hoopla of the day.  There is an uncomfortable gold band on my finger, uncomfortable mostly because I hate jewelry.  I'm off-balance and I know that I've never made a promise as big as the one that I made yesterday in front of every single person that I give a damn about.  For probably the first time in thirty years, all the voices in my head are saying exactly the same thing: this one question, about this one woman that I've promised everything to.  I'd be lying if I said that I had absolutely no doubts about doing the biggest thing I've ever done, doing it right the first time, and never doing anything like this with anyone else ever again.  I'm clumsy and she's delicate so I know I'll break things.  The plan is to fix the things I break.  The trick obviously is to not break things in unfixable ways.

But do I have any..any doubts about the woman I chose?  Do I have any doubts that any other woman could ever love me more than this one?

I smile, Grandtots. I answer the voices.

***

Darkness.
Darkness without fear.
Pillow.
Cover.

Loneliness.

And then, feet.
Warm feet, rubbing against mine, under the covers.
I remember that I'm home.

***

I want to impress her.  I want to win her heart.  It's easy to want these things, and part of me knows I've already won them.  She gives them to me easily - there's no struggle between us.  But that's not me.  I don't feel like I deserve anything unless I've worked for it.

I ask Sheba if I could give her a massage.  I don't say it that way, of course.  I ask if she'd like a rub down.  My skills are rudimentary but growing.  I bought a book and I've been studying.  When I ask, her eyes go wide.  She smiles and nods.  She's eager, more eager than I would have thought.  Little did I know.

She lies on her tummy.  I've warmed the oil.  Her back is flawless save for one very big, spongy mole and her tattoo.  I pour the oil onto her back and she purrs.  I set to work and she sighs.

I push and pull.  I part and press.  I rub and grind.  I massage her neck and her bum.  Then her legs and her calves.  I turn her over and rub her tummy and breasts.  Then her hands and her feet.

Her cheeks are flushed.  She says that she feels like she'll pass out.  I'm glad, proud.  She reaches for me.  I kiss her.  She wants to reciprocate, expects that I'll want to make love.

I smile.  That's not what I want, I say.  I just wanted to make you feel good.  I feel good wanting that, being unselfish.

Her eyes are wary, as if she's sizing me up.  She thinks something is wrong, with her or with me.  As if I don't want her.  Touch is its own reward, I say.  Touch doesn't always have to lead to sex.  That's not the most important thing to me.

She looks at me thoughtfully, as if studying a unicorn.  She lies down against me, in my arms.

***

I try to envision her sometimes, in the past...her life, her apartment in Liberty Village, independent and on her own, alone in the company of a man that she loved that didn't love her back.  Cats wandering around and meandering, keeping her company.  Her guitar.  I try to imagine where the sunlight would come in the room, where she'd sit, where she'd hang her coat when she came home.

And of course this big strange object at the center of that life.  This strange man that I've never met.

Why do I find it so strange?  What you all need to appreciate is that Grandma is...how do I put this?  Grandma is...

Well, simply put:  Grandma is a cyborg from the future powered by affection, attention and physical touch.  She's a machine.  And that is what she runs on.  I think she has a stopwatch inside her mind as to how much time we spend together.  When that number is too low, she will drop whatever she is doing to spend time with me.  This includes eating, going to the bathroom and any number of other things that she has to do.  She also expects me to make similar sacrifices to spend time with her.  Now of course, oftentimes I don't want to spend time with her.  Instead I'd like to do just about anything else.  Sometimes I want to spend time with her but don't want her to know that I want to spend time with her.  And sometimes we both want to spend time but obstacles get in the way. But the point is: cuddling, touches, head scratches, back massages, foot massages...she is more feline than hominid, constantly encouraging/demanding loving attention.

How did she function in those four years with a man that offered her so little of these things?  How would she be?  How would she even work?  How can a car run on fumes for four years?  I try to imagine how Grandma would be if I did less and less of those things for her and I see the light inside of her fading.  I see her smile rise less often and the brightness in her eyes flicker.  I think of it and it breaks my heart.  It crushes my heart to even think of it.

The woman would reply that she had just made peace with it all.  That she had just accepted that she would have a life devoid of those things: tenderness, touches, cuddling, head scratches, children.  I think on her resignation, her self-sacrifice and wonder who should deserve to take those things from her.  I wonder who could be so worthy.  And then I feel a scalding and unfamiliar feeling inside. This burning hollowness, like the sun's surface, unimaginably hot yet surrounded by the vacuum of space. I feel a hate that words can't really capture.  I feel a hate that is all the more startling because its been years since I felt hate at all.  I feel a hatred that I shouldn't feel for a man that has done nothing to me...this strange man that I've never met.  I feel like putting my fist through his chest and ending his misery.

I wonder sometimes genuinely which one of us is more crazy.  This man that had my Sheba's love and didn't care for it at all.  Or me for losing her love and not looking for it again.  How strange a life he must have had to not be able to appreciate her perfect imperfections, her hopes, her dreams, her smile, her burdens and her depthless potential.  Obviously they just weren't meant to be - they didn't fit or give one another what they needed.  What one person throws away is the most precious thing in the world to someone else (Grandma knows this well, Grandtots - she's a notorious thrift shopper).

I don't believe in pitying anyone - I don't think that anyone deserves to be looked down upon because we all have problems and someone invariably does more with their life having even less advantages than ourselves.  But I will say that I don't envy the life of someone, anyone that could spend so much time with Grandma and not be able to tell how special she is.  Such a person could spend their whole life missing out on incredible things around them - they could feel ho-hum about seeing the Earth from the surface of the moon, or watching a child take their first step.  They could sit on a subway next to an old man everyday and never notice that the man was Albert Einstein.

Grandma is incredible to me in all of those ways.  She's incredible to me in all of those ways and more.  Her life and consciousness is the only thing that I'm absolutely certain is real.  All of this - this world and my life - isn't just some elaborate simulation for my benefit.  The world is real and urgent because of her.

***

I want to be closer and closer.  But it hurts her eyes.  If I'm too close she can't see me properly.  It gives her a headache.  She's so delicate.

I'm a brute.  All men are, God help us.  We measure the world in miles; women measure the world in millimetres.  Being a foot from her is the same as being a mile from her.  Being a millimeter too close and her eyes hurt.

Close your eyes, I tell her.  Close your eyes so I can be closer and snuggle up against you.  Sometimes she smiles and complies.  I'll kiss her as much as I can as fast as I can until she opens them again, giggling.  Other times she pushes me away.  It shouldn't hurt inside my heart - after all, the woman just wants to see me properly - but it does.  I can feel the millimetres, each one, the farther away I get.

This is where the road led, I think as I'm looking down on her, the lines on her face, curly hair with strands of gray, her dimple.  This...my best friend, that I love.  This is my reward for being a good man. This woman is the future I was waiting for.

It was worth the wait.

***

It's September 20, 2014.  Everyone in the world that I truly care about is here with the exception of Sarah and Michelle, who, had to attend another wedding happening the same day.  Can you imagine? The suit is warm - actually, I'm just nervous.  Not about what I'm doing.  Just about doing it right. Or more correctly, not doing anything wrong.

I wish...I wish there was time.  I wish there was time to sit down with everyone here for an hour and just talk.  Nothing token, nothing banal.  Really just talk and hear what matters most to each of these people.  Listen to their voice as I'd listen to music, never wanting the song to end.  Not many good excuses for getting all of your loved ones together all at once.  Only two really: A wedding or a funeral.  Don't expect I'll be doing much mingling at my funeral.

Everyone had said the dress was beautiful.  Your great-Grandma was pretty confident that I'd be impressed by her creation.  Well let me tell you: they were fairly lowballing.  They were being modest. The damned thing was magnificent.  It was a work of art.  It looked like a dress that cost $10G easily.  It looked like it was made for royalty.  The detailing on the lace - I did a double take when Grandma came around the corner with her father.  Man I felt like a scrub.  I felt like a vagrant bum standing there.  How come no one cared to make me a tux for my wedding day?  Your great-Grandma was a sewing genius - and I don't use that word lightly.  I've met geniuses before and my mother was a genius with cloth.  She did right by your Grandma.  I was so proud of both of them.

Our officiants were friends of Grandma, Gordon and Cathy.  Their service was wonderful.  But lets be honest: I wasn't really paying attention.  I was running on adrenaline.  Everything they were saying sounded like someone talking over the sound of a river.  The river was the blood in my ears.  Was Grandma nervous?  I honestly couldn't tell.  I just wanted to make sure that I didn't pass out.  I don't like having eyes on me.  I don't like being the center of attention.  Everyone was looking at me and I couldn't look back.  Suffice it to say, getting married once was enough for me.

We had a foot washing ceremony.  It was nice - I had dreamed of it before.  When all was said and done, I kissed Grandma and just like that we were married.  I walked down the aisle with my wife on my arm and felt relieved.  She was just beaming.  There was so much to all of this, so much to do and plan, and Grandma had put it all together.  She really made it happen.

The rest was just a blur.  Photos, handshakes, laughs.  Two families taking pictures in a park.  Food that I had no appetite to eat.  Some wonderful speeches that I'll never forget.  One by my father-in-law, Hassan, that was so full of love and hope.  Another by my sister, Simone, that was risque but so brilliant and full of such tenderness that I lost it a bit at the end (and it takes a lot to touch me that way).  One by my brother, your Grand-uncle Kareem, that was so effortless and gracious and natural...I was so proud and honored.  And the last by your Grand-uncle Khalid, that was simply put, one of the best speeches I've ever heard in all my life.  I could try and describe it but it wouldn't do it justice.  Suffice to say, he had people laughing and crying and standing on chairs before he was through.  And...we didn't record any of them.  We just couldn't have imagined how good they would all have been.  Such a shame.

We talked and laughed and danced.  The rain came only after we went under the tent.  So many blessings, so many smiling faces.

I was so tired, so unsettled.  We got into bed.  I remember hearing her breathing in the middle of the night.  I thought to myself, "We did it."

We finally did it.

***








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