Dec 7, 2012

Are You Enough For Somebody?


My grandmother died last Friday.

She was 93.  But she really died when she was 80 - when Alzheimer’s Disease started to creep in like a fog and rob her of her existence, of her ability to remember the things that are most important in life.

Grandma & Grandpa Scalzo
It’s really hard.  Life.  It is.  We are all struggling in some way all the time - the rich and the poor, the plain and the beautiful, the old and the young.  I look at what has happened in my life these past two years – losing love, losing faith in what I believed in, losing my house to a hurricane, and now losing my grandmother.  And you can’t deny that’s a pretty shitty hand.

But then I think of Grandma – Catherine Scalzo, or ‘Kitty’ as she was known amongst her family and friends – and those last empty thirteen years of her life and I don’t feel sorry for myself at all.  I’ll have my time – my “thing” – that gets me, too.  We all will.  It could be quick – like the snap of your finger – or it could be like Grandma.  I hope it’s the former.  But while I'm here, while I still have all my functionality, I need to find joy in my existence, to maximize its potential.

When I knelt before the casket at the funeral home – located, not coincidentally, on Staten Island, only a couple of miles away from my now-gutted house and still-dark-and-cold Sandy-destroyed neighborhood – I saw a framed photo of my grandfather.  It was in the casket with my grandmother’s body, along with my grandfather’s ashes.   Grandma’s eyes were closed, her hands clasped.  She was at peace now, resting near the ashen remains of her husband, Edwin Scalzo, or ‘Grandpa’ as I knew him.

And then there was this picture.  Grandpa was smiling his toothless grin and he was holding a balloon, right there to greet everyone who stopped by Grandma’s casket to say a prayer, remember her in their own way, or just be there to support the loved ones who lost her.

It made me think.  Are you enough for somebody?  What does it take to be someone else's everything?

I knelt there for a bit and instead of saying goodbye to Grandma, I was talking to Grandpa, looking at that picture of him.  Grandpa, staring back at me with his shit-eating grin and his fucking birthday balloon.  He looked like the world's oldest happy little kid.  I was never close with my grandfather, but I knew one thing about him from an early age – he lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and no one could stop him.  Not even his wife.  He was short in stature and he sounded like he had marbles in his mouth, but he was King George, he was The Little General.  He made his own rules and everyone else had to live by them.

Now when I say Grandpa lived his life the way he wanted to live it, I’m not saying that was a good thing.  Some would say it was an Italian thing, a man thing.  Most would say it was a very bad thing.  I don’t need to get into specifics.  Let’s just say that my grandmother had plenty of reasons not to like my grandfather, not to stay married to him - to hate him, in fact.   But she stayed, probably for her family, for her children.  Maybe for herself.  Life must have been hard for Grandma way before the sickness came. 

When I was a kid, my grandparents had money but my parents did not.  I never cared much about it then and I care even less now.  I was a rich kid in my own way, thanks to the love of my parents and the close-knit relationship I had with my Mom’s family.  That’s just the way it was for me growing up – the relationships on my Dad’s side were more distant and I can’t help but think that Grandpa’s lifestyle choices played a part in all that.  It played a part in everything related to that side of my family – the type of father he was, the type of husband he was, the type of relationship he had with his own kids and with their kids.

And I’ve got Grandpa genes in me.  I’ve got Grandma genes too.  They’re both gone, but their legacy lives on, in their children and their grandchildren.  Maybe Grandma was the hopeless romantic in my family.  Maybe I get it from her.  Grandma forgot most things when the Alzheimer’s took over – her kids, her grandkids – but she never forgot Grandpa.  My Dad says she was calling out for him in her final days, in her sleep.

It’s obvious that she loved my grandfather in spite of his warts, in spite of him wrecking her life in a lot of ways.  That’s probably why my elders saw fit to place his photo and his ashes in the coffin with her, to bury them together.  They were a package deal somehow.  But why?  Was that the best either of them could do?  I don’t know the answers, I wish I had a relationship with any of my grandparents where I could ask those “big questions,” likely getting answers that would uncover more layers explaining why I am who I am.

But they’re all gone.  Mad Cow Disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s.  Not a great legacy of genetics to leave behind.  The only one who died rather naturally – rather well – was Grandpa.  Maybe that’s why he’s smiling in that picture.  Maybe Grandpa got it right, knew something the rest of them didn’t – he lived his life his own way, he had his cake and ate it too, and he lasted the longest, maybe lived the fullest life of them all.

But Grandpa is not my role model, he never was.  He lived life his way, but it was the wrong way.  Your heart can’t be in two places at once.  It’s not fair to those you’re sharing it with, even tho you probably feel like you’re sharing it well.  It’s all or nothing, there’s no in between.

When we all left the burial to get a meal together – my aunts and uncles, my pregnant sister and my brother-in-law and I – my parents walked into the restaurant ahead of us.  They were arm-in-arm.  They were together.  Those two are my role models; they have always been that even when we haven’t seen eye-to-eye.  My parents were married in their early 20s, and by their mid 20s, they had two infant children.  35 years later, they are still enough for each other.  I have already lived a much different life than them – I’ve experienced divorce and heartbreak and hurricanes.  I’ve lost a lot.  But I haven’t lost them.  And they haven’t lost each other.  So again, even tho my couch is an air mattress and the dryer in my new apartment is broken and 50 grand worth of my life just went into the garbage, I consider myself lucky.  I consider myself rich. 

I can't judge my grandfather for being selfish or my grandmother for being weak for him.  We are all selfish.  We are all weak.  We are all human.  I am no exception, and I have likely exhibited those traits thanks to the legacy my grandparents left me, no less others like them.  Every family has its legacy of flawed people.  But I can’t blame them for my mistakes, I can’t blame genetics, I can’t blame anyone.  When my ex-wife and I would fight, I would always call her out on that – how after a certain point she was no longer allowed to blame her problems on where she came from - that it was time to take responsibility for her own self and her own actions, to reject the poisons of the past and use that knowledge of it to do whatever it took to not follow in the footsteps of the people who planted the seeds for who she could easily become.  It was time to grow up. 

And now I have to live by the same philosophy.  I don’t want to be that smiling old man in the photo – he’s happy for all the wrong reasons.  And I don’t want to be the woman in the casket, who went to the grave with all that baggage on her shoulders.  Who knows how much it truly weighed her down. 

Are you enough for somebody?  How hard do you have to try?  How much is enough? 

I still cried for my grandmother, still was sad for her, for my aunt and my uncles and especially for my Dad.  A loss is a loss.  You can’t bury the memories, but it’s the memories that make you feel the loss in the first place.  It’s ironic that the woman in the casket left this world not recognizing any of the people who came to mourn her passing on an unseasonably warm December morning, the people who she raised and loved and who loved her in return, the people she hadn’t remembered for a very long time.

I’m in a new place now, but I’m still in the Twilight Zone.  When a hurricane destroys your house, your grandmother’s not-so-sudden death seems like a footnote in comparison.  But it’s still a setback.  After I got home from the post-burial meal, I spent the night on the terrace of my new temporary apartment, cleaning mold and filth off more of my surviving stuff.  I still have no Internet, no couch, no rugs.  It’s cold.  My TV stand is an upside down milk crate, my traumatized dog is still figuring out where he is, my paranoia is in high gear as I leave for work every day wondering if he’ll get adjusted to apartment living.

Back on Staten Island, my house still sits in the dark, unlit, unheated, unattended.  The walls are all gone, the furniture, the insulation, the floors, the counter tops, the toilet bowl.  The mold is still there.  This is a long haul.  Work on the house likely won’t begin until after the holidays, perhaps even longer.  Too many setbacks.  I just want to be away from it all, to forget about that waterlogged part of my life.  But I can’t.  Because we’re all meant to struggle.  Struggling means trying to get away from things you can’t get away from, to get past them – a bad relationship, an addiction, a dead-end job, a tropical storm bitch slapping your home.  A broken heart.


This was the first thing I saw when I came back to the house after Sandy.  It had floated out to the side of the house.  Symbolism.
I sat out on my terrace the other night and looked out at the beautiful New York City skyline.  I drank a Brooklyn Pennant Ale, my Westie at my feet, and I thought – for the first time – about Christmas.  About putting some lights up, maybe getting a little tree and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch.  That still seems far away, but it was nice to even have that thought – to entertain it, thoughts about what most are thinking about now – the holidays.

Life was equally shitty for me this time last year, and for different reasons, but two weeks later, it changed.  Just like that.  It wasn’t shitty anymore.  It was wondrous.  And even if that was a fleeting moment, even if it wasn’t meant to turn into walking into a post-burial meal arm-in-arm together someday, even if it wasn't meant to have a future - it proves that life can change on a dime.  For worse but also for better.  You have to be ready for it; you have to accept the possibility of it.  You have to keep an open mind and an open heart.  You have to chalk up the bad days and look forward to the good ones.  Through all the confusion, the scars, the loss - through all this bullshit, I have done that.  I have an open heart, it’s just waiting to find its other half.  Waiting to be enough for somebody.  And I just have to keep healing, one day at a time, one day closer to normalcy.

One day closer to happiness.





 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, it was really touching. One thing I believe is that it is possible to be enough for someone but only once YOU realize that you can be... if you don't even believe it, why should she?

    2012 can go away now, bring on 2013!! I hope you're doing well! :-)

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  2. I believe it! She's gotta believe it too.

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