Back from the trip south. Part of it was beautiful, almost like holidays, part stressful.
I’ve been to my grandmother’s apartment for the last time ever – it was already empty safe some of the bigger pieces of furniture. A last look at where I spent so many hours as a child, a last climb down the stairs in the hallway where a particular smell lingers that never seemed to change during the 30 years I knew this place, despite extensive renovations in between. Devoid of the usual furnishing and decorations, the flat had already taken on an “outlandish” character.
I will continue to visit the city and its surroundings because it feels like a second home and because it’s beautiful, but my grandmother’s immediate neighbourhood offers no touristic interest and very few other attractions, so unless I’m overcome by curiosity, there will be no reasons to ever go back there. All of a sudden, a destination vanished off my inner map.
As predicted, I did not visit my grandmother, and even though the guilt is not completely erased, it just would have been too difficult. Especially since, no longer sanctioned by social conventions or family ties, my grandmother has taken to mocking people and telling them her blunt opinions – for example that they are “too fat”: recipients have been a nurse, a fellow patient and my father…
While I am not morbidly obese, I am very visibly overweight, and not just by five pounds. For years, I have unsuccessfully tried to reduce my weight – to no avail. The latest medical check-up in December (which was the most thorough I ever had) saw me in perfect health if you do not count the depressions, so at least it is not doing physical harm to me, but I am very self-conscious and sensitive when it comes to the topic of my weight.
Despite knowing that she is not herself anymore, I would have taken any comment from my grandmother’s side the hard way. It would directly feed into a cesspool of negative thoughts I try to keep at bay; thoughts that, in plain truth, endanger the success achieved over the last months of therapy. Thoughts that make me want to hide away and retreat from people. So I’d rather be the “uncaring” granddaughter who doesn’t come to visit than get offended by someone who forgot who I am and won’t remember the meeting for very long anyway.
My relationship with my grandmother was good until shortly before puberty. She took the stance that once you are out of primary school, you don’t need to play anymore and should devote your entire time to learning. She constantly compared me to my second cousin who unfortunately is only six months younger and did such thrilling things like competitive diving at that age. And who was a lot slimmer than me – I’ve always been a robust, “big-boned” child and only grew bigger later.
My grandmother has always been very proud of her figure and that she never veered more than five pounds from her ideal weight. Every time we visited, she’d ask how much I weighed – not only me, but also my mother. From about the age of 12 on, I’d feign ignorance, even though it was almost a decade later only that I really stopped weighing myself for years on end.
I hated how she seemed to tax my worth with these questions and comparisons and how that appeared to be all that was of interest to my grandparents. My good grades in school – probably my saving grace – were taken for granted at the same time. There was no encouragement whatsoever, for nothing. She always made me feel like a failure, that I could not possibly live up to her expectations, never good enough – and even though I knew my parents did not share this perspective (my father has a very difficult relationship with her), it still hurt.
We’ve been down south two times this month, now the business is finished. I wonder how long it will be until we visit again. I don’t think I’ll ever see my grandmother again: when my parents went to the nursing home, I didn’t join them. After all these years, I find that I can live with the guilt and with appearing hard-hearted more easily than with the possible confrontations of open mockery or criticism. Had I believed that a visit would do something good to my grandmother, I probably would have gone – but since it appears to make no difference in her well-being, I chose my own over “duty”.