I screamed at her calling her a bitch, grabbed my backpack and ran out the front door, to my friend’s house a mile away. I was sixteen and had stayed with her for six months. I would need to find somewhere else to live. I would not speak to her for two years.
Anger clouded my judgment and although she had attempted to contact me I had completely shut her out. Over time my anger transmuted to shame. I replayed the incident and realized my ignorance.
She was not a hoarder but she had a lot of things. Too many. She had tons of wigs; long hair, short hair, brown hair, black hair, straight hair and curly hair. They were kept on mannequin heads throughout various bedrooms. She must have had hundreds of dresses. They filled the closets in at least four bedrooms. She had rows and rows of shoes neatly lined in individual plastic shoe boxes with the colors of the shoes written on the outside. She had a matching plastic box for every pair of shoes and it included a dress swatch, pantyhose, full slip, purse, costume jewelry with mandatory brooch and finally, a hat box to bring it all together.
She always presented herself beautifully but I never quite understood that level of showmanship or level of preparation for the ‘show’. It was from a time long gone and rarely seen in today’s mainstream society, but even if it had, I didn’t think it fit the lifestyle she lived.
One day she was in a room looking for a particular hat and the box that she looked in was empty. I was the only one living there at the time so she asked if I had it. I told her I didn’t. She began crying, telling me the significance of the hat and begging me to give it back to her.
My response was to snap at her. I was a very angry teenager, my ego wasn’t worked out and I was mortally offended. I had stayed with so many people that in order to ingratiate myself to them had become their live in maid. I always worked and paid for my stay, as much as minimum wage could offer, but also took care of their homes and pets because I felt indebted that they allowed me to stay with them. I cooked, cleaned, ran errands, all of those necessary things. I loved this woman and felt to have done much more, so her accusation hurt me infinitely deeper than a kick to the face.
Humbleness set in after my home burned down. Who I was had shifted again. I realized my stupidity but didn’t know how to make amends. I’m not sure I ever did. I never formally apologized. I just showed up at a family event one day, approached and gave her a kiss and hug. She hugged me back and treated me as if no time or offense had occurred in between that interminable space of silence.
We stayed in contact over the years, through my visits and by phone. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s she was moved to a nursing home. To maintain contact, the nurses would dial my number for her so we could talk. She no longer had capacity to carry a conversation. She would repeat the same mantra, the only words she had chosen to leave me with, “I’m proud of you and I’ll always love you”. No matter what I said in response, she repeated those same words back to me. Every time I hung up with her I cried. Several months passed with those recited calls until her mind finally let her body go.
How did I hitch my wagon to her star?
She showed me a side of forgiveness I would look back on for example. She showed me a side of compassion that would become the cornerstone of my steps. She quite simply changed my life by loving and accepting me in all my messiness and without any expectation of reciprocation.
It’s been said that if an abused child has a trusted adult show them love and support, that this person can be the catalyst that child needs to remain on or be steered to a positive path. I would give this influencer award to my grandmother.
I never told her about my abuse but because she was abused I know that with a spiritual vision she was also taking care of the little girl who was once her and I believe she did a fine job.