About five years ago I started writing a memoir. I kept at it for a little while, writing about 1,000 words a day for a few weeks. I hadn’t yet been to therapy and there were many things I didn’t really understand about my life, but I still find the unfinished memoir to be a fascinating look into my own past. I’ve decided to post it in installments here, with only a few redactions. You can find the other sections by clicking the Memoir category.
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My grandparents have always seemed more like enemies than friends. Their tempestuous relationship has been at the center of quite a few arguments in my family over the years. The easy analysis is that my grandmother is a tyrant who beat my grandfather down over the course of 65 years of marriage. Sheâ€™s been the villain in most disputes, and both of her daughters tend to side with their father.
Ever since I can remember, my grandmother has had nothing but vitriol and scorn for my grandfather. She corrected everything he ever said and shot down every idea he ever had. Eventually she reduced him to sitting alone in a room at the end of the hall (no matter where they lived, he always ended up in a room at the end of the hall) listening to the radio or watching The Price Is Right while working on a cross-stitch picture or a scrimshaw or a wood carving or a painting. Her shrew nature was certainly good for my grandfatherâ€™s artistic side, and for the rest of the familiesâ€™ desire for free artwork.
In recent years, weâ€™ve begun to discover another side to my grandfather. Particularly since my grandparents and my Aunt Linda (their daughter) moved in together. My grandmother has been sick quite a bit, and sheâ€™s now in a nursing home a few miles from their house. That means my aunt, her partner, and my grandfather share a house, and my Linda says sheâ€™s seen a whole different Bernie as a result. She describes him as distant and demanding. Set in his ways and unwilling to change. She talks about him getting angry â€“ something no one has seen in his 93 years of life. And she says that as while my grandmother may have the tyrannical reputation, my grandfather has his own weapon â€“ silence.
As a kid and a young adult, I was always on my grandfatherâ€™s side. I never understood why he didnâ€™t fight back, and Iâ€™d sometimes take on my grandmother for him when I just couldnâ€™t take the sniping anymore. But maybe my grandfather was the smarter combatant. Maybe his cold war was ultimately more effective than my hot war could ever have been. Maybe his goal wasnâ€™t victory, but reprieve. His room at the end of the hall, filled with art projects, Bob Barker and big band music.