I had begun to distract myself by reading blurry articles online—the tears on my cheeks had dried, but my eyes remained moist and swollen. My phone rang again and it was my mom with an unexpected update: grandma was not dead after all.
My grandma’s heart had stopped beating and my mom got the call from her siblings in Mexico. After a few more calls to my siblings and myself, we had already begun to mourn her. My siblings and I quickly began looking at our schedules—ready to make arrangements to be with my mom.
Back in Mexico, however, the doctor was not ready to give up on grandma. In a miraculous turn of events, she was responsive and alive. Another flurry of calls and we were all relieved and a little embarrassed that we jumped the gun.
That was a close one. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little and shake my head. She would make us worry about her for no reason. Earlier that day, my grandma had said that she was feeling just fine when she spoke to my mom on the phone. As far as I knew, she wasn’t in perfect health, but she definitely wasn’t dying.
But, just as my eyes had begun to regain their focus, my phone rang again. This time, it was my dad. And this time, my grandma really was dead.
“Are you sure??” I asked as if it was some kind of sick joke.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Oh my God…” and I fought to conceal my laugh.
As soon as I got off the phone, I cried and laughed at the same time. Only my grandma would die, come back to life, and die again—causing us to cry twice for her.
Typical grandma. Of course this is how she would go.
When I first met my grandma, I was probably in middle school. She lived in Mexico and had finally gotten her Visa to come visit us. I didn’t know what it was like to grow up with grandparents (or most of my family for that matter) because they were all in Mexico. Up until that day my frame of references were what I saw on TV and what my friends had.
Grandmas on TV shows were sweet and nice. They spoiled their grandchildren, fed them lots of food, and gave them candy. When I saw my friends with their grandmas, it was the same. Their grandmas were sweet and were the ones you ran to when you were in trouble with your parents.
Even though I had never met my grandma, I expected to love her.
When she finally arrived, it was awkward. It dawned on me that even though I knew what she looked like from the pictures and I knew what she sounded like from the phone calls, I didn’t really know her. She was a stranger. I really only knew of her.
I hugged her, nonetheless, and she hugged me back. I couldn’t help but feel a lack of connection. She told my siblings and I that even though we were too big, she wanted us to take turns sitting on her lap so that she could rock us back and forth. It was her way of making up for lost time, I suppose. I sat—or more like awkwardly squatted so as to not hurt her—on her lap and she put her arms around me.
I believe it was at that point, as she tried to forcefully and awkwardly rock my stiff pre-pubescent body like a baby, that I realized this was not going to be like a TV show at all.
Since my grandma was staying with us, my mom had her watch us while she went to work. We were not accustomed to my mom leaving us. She had been a stay-at-home mom and my little brother, especially, didn’t take it well. Not only was our mom leaving us, we were staying with a complete stranger. My brother cried for my mom. Hot tears ran down his cheeks and while I tried to comfort him by laying next to him in bed, wiping away his tears, my grandma—who I expected to use her grandma magic to make it all better—yelled at him. She told him enough already and to stop crying! Then, she walked out of the room.
No sweet TV show grandma at all.
A few years later, my grandma visited again. By then, we were older and had grown accustomed to my mom working so there would be no crying children for her to tend to. This time, however, I was a sensitive and insecure teenage girl. My grandma never hid her opinions. She thought I was fat and that as a girl, I should be cooking and cleaning.
One thing that she did do was feed us. It wasn’t particularly delicious, but we ate it. Personally, we all thought my mom’s cooking was far superior. My grandma seemed to lack those motherly qualities that my mom possessed which confused us because we figured she would be like our mom times infinity.
After calling me fat, my grandma served me a plate a food. I hesitated, but I ate it. She asked if I wanted more before adding that she knew how much I liked to eat.
A few years after that, I simply dreaded my grandma’s visit. Her visits meant having to hear constant criticisms about my body or my behavior. By then, I was in college and although I was living at home, I was going out a lot more because I was in the rebellious/partying stage of my life. I was warned by my parents and my siblings to “be good” while grandma visited.
I didn’t listen. I was rebelling, after all. Unsurprisingly, my grandma was not a fan of my modern ways. She told me that young ladies shouldn’t be out. My younger brother, however, should be out because men went out, but ladies stayed home. The feminist and rebel inside me was infuriated.
What infuriated me the most, though, was her hypocrisy. She lectured me about my “bad” behavior, but she had never been the perfect traditional woman or mother herself. She left my mom and her siblings when they were children. No one truly knew where she went or why, but they knew that she had abandoned her husband and her young children. When she did return—years later—she wasn’t exactly nurturing. In fact, her return caused my mom and her seven (or eight, it’s hard to keep track) siblings to split up. Some stayed with my grandpa and others (including my mom) left with her.
So, my grandma didn’t have a great track record as a wife or mother. As far as anyone knew, she never remarried after leaving my grandpa. Instead, she often lived alone and she traveled alone between Mexico and the U.S.
In my first ever trip to Mexico, a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity of meeting my family for the first time. I asked my uncles about their upbringing and about my grandma. Their recollections—like my mother’s—described my grandma’s disappearance as one big mystery followed by her return and the subsequent family split. They, too, had questions, but had accepted long ago that they would never get answers.
When I found out about my grandma’s death, her first death, I texted my siblings that I didn’t know why I was so sad and why I was crying because I didn’t even like her.
The last time I saw her was during my visit to Mexico. We were at my aunt’s house where the entire family was celebrating our first visit. My grandma was talking shit, as always, and didn’t give a damn if anyone was offended by her words. My siblings and I were annoyed because there she was again, being her typical crazy grandma self.
Still, we gladly greeted her and hugged her with a smile on our faces because at that moment, on that rainy day in Mexico, far away from our California comfort zone, and in that house full of unfamiliar faces, she was the only one who wasn’t a stranger.