I don’t have many regrets in my life. Not because I haven’t made mistakes. Lord knows that ain’t the case. When I got sober there were memories so dark I spent the first year of recovery shaking my head occasionally – literally, physically – in attempt to rid the thoughts from my brain.
As if I could rattle them out of there.
The person who helped me get sober told me that the only way we can survive those memories is if we transform them into a way to help others. So I talk to other alcoholics. I talk to alcoholic mothers. I tell them how it was for me – the dark shit too, perhaps most importantly – so they can understand that I’ve been there too, and I lived, and found a way to stay sober.
And in that way, the present day infuses my past with a vague sense of meaning. The faces of the sick people in front of me give those experiences a shred of value. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.
If I could do it again, I would not do it again. I would not hurt the people I hurt. But I can’t change the past any more than I can erase the memories.
My life brought me to my knees, flattened me into damn near nothing until I had no choice but to see the truth of myself and change.
I can’t regret that. Without the failure of my life I would have remained who I was. And nobody wants that.
So I don’t regret much.
But I regret the last year of my grandmother’s life.
In 2008 my paternal grandmother, who was one of my favorite humans in the world, with whom I felt a special affinity and understanding since I was a young girl, was dying. She was fading into dementia, passing into the gray.
I did not visit her once.
She was born July 26, 1920. She would be 95 in a couple weeks. She died in September of 2008, at 88 years old.
On the day I found out she passed, I went to a local dive bar and threw a few back in her memory. I went to her funeral pretending to be sober. Though I was sober that day, I was out of my mind with alcoholism, absent in thought and spirit.
About 6 months later, in March 2009, I found the beautiful “bottom” alcoholics speak of and crawled back into life after years of attempts at lasting sobriety.
But she was already gone, and I never said goodbye, and I never told her what she meant to me, and I never wrote her life history as I always said I would (she was a renegade journalist and mother of 5).
I can’t even recall exactly the last time I saw her.
How is such a thing possible? How is such a disaster possible? The extreme self-centeredness of alcoholism, the immaturity, the inability to tell the true from the false. Yes, all of that.
I try to make peace with it, but it feels like a terribly twisted up, skewed, inappropriate final scene of our lives together. A sick representation. A lie. A lie I cannot set right.
That was not what we were, and yet it is, forever, precisely what we were. At the end, at least.
You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.
It never seemed real that a force like hers could be gone.
But the years pass without her and the words I wished I would have said hang as if in purgatory. Unsettled ungrounded unheard and aching. Like hungry desperate spirits.
I guess this too is about me. She is at peace. I’m all tore up, at her birthday, on the anniversary of her death, thinking about how I would give almost anything for a chance to stop by her house one last time to say “Hey grandma I love you and goodbye.”
Maybe she wouldn’t have even recognized me. Maybe she had forgotten about me weeks before in the ages of a fading mind. Maybe it was best I didn’t show up, so she never had to see me quite so sick: Barely employed, separated from my children, lost lost lost.
And I, her.
I don’t remember her mind as faded.
Maybe she would have wanted it that way.
I want to beg you to go see your people. I want to shake my fists in your face and demand that you just fucking GO, NOW, no matter what, no matter how much they pissed you off last Christmas.
I want to say it so I can feel like 2008 has meaning, like it isn’t just the lack of understanding, selfishness and laziness of a 29-year-old granddaughter too young and dumb to realize what she was missing.
But you probably won’t go. Not if you’re like I was. One of the luxuries of our young lives is not having to go because they’re still here.
Until they’re not.
One of the luxuries of having your people alive is that you don’t have to think about them being alive.
I don’t wait any more. I don’t hesitate any more. I say it now, yesterday. Words hanging in the gray, scratching at my brain. Go ahead. Go on. Get outta here.
A few weeks after I got sober I was asleep in a bedroom in my mother’s house with just my little dog in his bed when I heard the door open. I sat up in bed, watched my dog jump out of bed and stare at the door. Then I watched the door shut. Assuming it was my mom, I got up to see what she needed, but when I walked out into the hallway I saw her bedroom door shut, and heard her snoring.
There was nobody there.
The dog settled back into his bed. I sat on the edge of mine and stared at the wall, overcome with the feeling that my grandmother had visited me. It was peace to my bones.
After years of struggle and alcoholism, I was finally getting well and my whole family knew something was different, something had changed. Finally.
I thought perhaps she opened the door, looked in, said “Well I see you’re okay now, Janelle.”
I tell myself that was our final meeting. But in my guts it isn’t quite enough.
Happy birthday, grandma, a little early. You always hated the damn things anyway.
And to the rest of you, go say it.