When I was a little girl I had a friend who wanted more than anything in this world to be a popular, wild, normal girl. Her mother was a yoga instructor and her father, well, I'm not sure exactly what he did but I think it involved taking people on adventures to the Everglades. She had a little brother as well but like most little brothers, he was not important.
Their house was a haven of calm. There were geodes reflecting light and gathering dust on all the windowsills and classical music playing softly from the radio on the kitchen counter. Tofu was served, as well as seaweed, and brown rice with butter a treat and on Sundays we might be allowed to put carob chips in the pancakes!
This was the eighties. In direct rebellion to her mother's ways, this friend of mine had a room of pink and black garish pop boy madness. Her walls were plastered with movie stars and TV actors, her bangs were carefully sprayed into a shower of what once resembled hair, she chewed gum, she snuck cigarettes, she ravenously ate sandwich meat straight from the drawer in the refrigerator at our house with her hands while making wolf noises until she was sated.
But this isn't about her. Sure she seemed to sparkle when we were kids, she always had crazy ideas that my brother and I reluctantly went along with. We got in trouble, especially Bubba, because he was the smart one and I just a kid and what could you do with her? She'd break the rules and smile and switch that sassy ass as she walked away from whatever empty threats the parents gave us. But frankly, all that sparkle and sass just turned eventually toward bitterness, and I hear she has at least one child now and I just don't care. She married the boy who used to lob pine cones over the fence at us and once shot a cat that belonged to another friend with a bb gun and killed it. He was in high school when he did that. She married a teenaged cat killer, good for her.
Her grandmother. Her grandmother owned a kennel out on what was the outskirts of town (and is now much closer in) on what seemed like endless acres of pecan trees and oak grove. There was a pond and pasture and a neighbors cows we would torment and who would enact their revenge by eating our clothes when we went skinny dipping. There were great big dogs the size of horses and sand pears we couldn't stop eating even though they were not sweet and pulled blood from our gums as we ate them. The grandmother would swoop us up on long weekends and take us to the grocery store and buy us anything and then set us loose across the pasture to camp out next to the pond. I was eight and they (my brother and the girl) were ten when we started doing this. Steaks! Lighter fluid! We camped naked! We blew up cans of root beer in the fire! We peed on giant ants! And her grandmother not only allowed us to do this, she financed it!
The grandmother let the girl dye her hair blond. She bribed us with eyeshadow to clean her windows. She had a boyfriend who was an author, who wrote a dirty book that I read in secret, but he also gave me a copy of Alice in Wonderland which filled my mind with colors and opened corners that made me shake inside.
One time, I don't remember why, we spent some time in the grandmother's closet. It was a large closet, and even though you never saw the grandmother in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt, it was filled with silk and fur and velvet. I remember standing hidden in the clothes, in some sort of ecstatic trance rubbing my face back and forth against the fabric of her clothes. On a high shelf there were stacks of heart shaped chocolates boxes covered in lace and foil, fake flowers and ribbons and I thought they were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. Were they filled with love letters? My brother would know if that is a true memory or if I made that up, but I was only able to bear the sight of them by promising myself that one day I too would have stacks of chocolates boxes given to me by handsome men and filled with letters tied in string.
I wish now I'd paid more attention to the grandmother. Who was this woman? More than any other adult in my life she seemed to be a complete person, she had history and depth. This is not to say that other adults didn't but I was a child, it was difficult for me to imagine my parents lives without me. It seemed like the grandmother did not need children to occupy her time, she let us flow in and out of it but her time was already full. She appeared to be living her life, she gave me a feeling of past and future that sometimes caught me full in the chest and stopped my breath. There was more than this! Once she was a girl like me, then a beautiful young woman with lovers, then a strong mother, then a grandmother, an owner of dogs, a boss, a grandmother with a boyfriend, and she was not done! There would be more! What!? That feeling in my chest, that whoosh beneath my feet, that what cannot be named of time passing and me not in it!
I ran into a woman who knows the grandmother yesterday. We talked about the falling out that happened between the girl and the grandmother. We do not know why and we know it is none of our business, but it is still a shame. I asked how the grandmother is these days, thinking she must be old now, she must have slowed down. The woman told me that the grandmother has a house on the beach and a boyfriend in New England whom she meets in Spain, whom she meets in Paris. The woman took my phone number to give to the grandmother. She said that I should go visit her at the beach house, that she would love to see me.
Will she call? I have that falling feeling, that perfect perception that life exists without my existence. I want to go to the beach house. I want to ask about the letters. I want to see her hands and face. I am just a little bit afraid that if I do go visit her I might find myself discovered tucked deep inside her closet, rubbing my face on her clothes, and trying to find the answers to all my childhood questions in her smell. I think I could, given enough time. Just a few minutes, if she would just shut the door behind her and leave me in the velvet dark.