My cousin has a binder two inches thick with old letters from our grandmother. Today she lent it to me to see if I could find any genealogically significant information that she hadn't. She'd already highlighted parts. She told me Grandma wrote things that were weird to write to your grandchildren. She said Grandma hadn't been the innocent victim of circumstance she used to think she was -- she made the choice to stay in her environment, and she made it repeatedly until she died.
I hadn't expected my name to come up so many times in her letters. My mother was my grandmother's only daughter, closest friend, and primary source of transportation, so it's only logical I would be a prime source of gossip. Except I wasn't interesting. The gossip isn't always bad. Sometimes she says I sang at church and did a good job, or she comments on how hard I've worked to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout school. Sometimes in the next sentence she comments on my related "whining" or "complaining" or my "mood swings." "Same old, same old," she dismisses. I was 17 for that one. It was around the time my mother called the hematologist from church to prescribe antidepressants for her "moody teenager," though talking to the doctor myself or seeing a mental health professional was still strictly forbidden. I'm not sure how much of my bad behavior was witnessed first hand and how much Grandma heard from my mother. I mostly saw my grandmother at church at that point.
She details my mother's breakdown in 2005 on a week-by-week basis. She didn't detail it in my letters, but she did for my cousin, and probably for other friends and family on her mailing list. She comments how I "finally got around to being worried" about my mother. "File that under 'better late than never,'" she quips. My dad and I had been talking and worrying for some time of course, but that didn't count because it wasn't for an audience. She said my mother's change in behavior was partly due to her poor health, partly her bad husband, partly her daughter finishing school and choosing to continue to live so far away, and partly because she didn't have a good relationship with either of her children. And partly the "over medication," of course. Grandpa yelled from the next room, "Do you need to detox?!" while my grandma was on the phone with her, but my mother heard him and "snapped out of it" enough to behave better, so no action was taken. All of this came from letters.
My grandmother gauged my mother's mental health by how much she talked to her and how much she ate. "Annie only ate a quarter of her Frosty yesterday," was cause for alarm, but "Annie finished her Frosty today," was a sign that the worst was over, the dark cloud had passed. "Did you know Annie has lost 70 pounds?" she asks in January of 2005. I didn't realize it had started so early. I don't know if I saw her between Thanksgiving of 2004 and my wedding in 2008.
Grandma's reviews of me improved when she started receiving regular letters from me. I hadn't realized I was writing my own press releases. She references my purchasing "a proper dining table" in three consecutive letters. I guess she wrote to my cousin more frequently than I wrote to her. She details the stressors of my Manhattan job, but this time without the added snark or the implication that I'm whining. I wonder if her news bites inherited whatever tone the original teller passed down. She wrote about my trip to Atlantic City, my cooking Christmas dinner for Michael's family, and she seemed delighted or at the very least neutral about all of it.
I don't know if there are letters from the time my mother swore she would turn her parents against me. I can't stand to find them. I don't want to read anymore. I was shaking from adrenaline as I read about myself, like I was being attacked to my face, but there is no one to even talk to about it now let alone fight. My grandmother has been dead for eight years, and I'm just now seeing that she wrote what I perceive to be snarky things about me when I was in the darkest and hardest time of my life. I don't like it. I don't like being made fun of for "complaining" and "whining" and having emotions. I was depressed, and my mother was mentally unstable and abusing drugs. They complained about my emotions, and then they complained when I stopped exposing my emotions to their view, even though it was 2005 and I didn't cut ties with anyone for another three years. I've tried to stop having emotions, and I can't. The best I could do was shield myself from the people who mocked me for having them.
I am finding it hard to be generous when I'm hurt and angry and no one in that family has ever apologized to me (or anyone else, as far as I know) for anything. I'm afraid I will never stop being angry. I wish my dad and my grandmother -- and, hell, my grandfather too -- were alive just so I could say mean, cold things to their faces. I would be quiet and calm, and when they would get upset at my terrible words, I would scold them for being so emotional, so "moody," so sensitive. (It's what I'd like to do to my mother too, but I hear she's kept heavily sedated these days. More on that later.)
I try to be generous because I know they all were mostly miserable, but I still judge them because they made me miserable too, and I deserved better than what they dished out. Everyone does. Everyone deserves better, but they were the ones who were responsible for me and prevented me from having that. I will try to be generous and believe they did the best they could with the tools they had not because I think they deserve my kind thoughts but because it's good practice for the generosity I do owe to my daughter. It's another way I can be less like them. It's really hard.
I'm afraid I will never stop being angry.