I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild for the second time, and like the first, I finished it weeping on my couch, lit by one lamp while B. sleeps. Both times felt late at night, though my version of late is now much earlier than it once was. The lamp I read under was given to me by my grandmother.
The night I decided that I indeed, someday in the future, wanted to be a mother was a night, an evening really, when I was sitting with my mother by my grandmother’s bed. Nearby was the same lamp lit that I read under tonight. My grandmother lit every space she lived in with a careful, golden glow. She’d always turn on the lamps before the room grew dim, and then when the dark outside really began to set, she’d walk around and pull the curtains to “keep the night out.” On the night I decided I’d want to be a mother someday, my grandmother was in pain. She was lying, facing us, curled like a spoon though she was alone in the bed. Other weeks in another year (I think later, though it might have been earlier, her pain had it’s own chronology) she’d spend some time living with my mother and ask my mother to climb into bed with her. In those weeks the pain and the pain medication had made her half-crazy; she viewed us all except my mother with suspicion. She thought we were plotting against her. My mother did not climb into bed with her. Could not. That was just one of the times we thought my grandmother was an inch away from death. There were many. But on the evening when she lay on her bed like an empty spoon, facing my mother and I, we were talking about hospice. And while we talked, I noticed on the bedside table a jar of ointment that my mother had brought from the hippie store. On the jar of ointment was a drawing of a pregnant woman, her hands wrapped around her belly. And it was then I decided that I wanted to continue what I was a part of right there, the line, I wanted to be old someday with a child and a grandchild by me.
My grandmother died on March 31, 2012. A year before that to the day I cut off all my hair, nearly three feet of it. I don’t miss her any less. Some days I catalogue the things I’m going to tell her when I next see her and I don’t even realize I’m doing it because it’s what I’ve done all my life.
I don’t know exactly why I cry when I finish Wild. Just as I did the first time, I went back over it tonight, more than once, trying to find the line or the moment, but I can’t. I love many of her sentences but I can’t even find one in those final groupings of paragraphs that I go crazy for. And with each pass, looking, the tears come again, a fresh burst.
But this is my guess: my mourning of my grandmother has not felt unlike joy. And my joys now carry the salt tinge of missing her. The place where they meet, the place where the two sensations hover just the barest hair apart, well, for me, that’s the place where babies and books and Monet’s Lilies come from, and it’s that place that Cheryl Strayed leaves me when she finishes her book.
It astounds me that this babe will never meet my grandmother. I once would have said there was no knowing me without knowing her. And this still feels somehow true. That I will be known, but not. I wonder what will give this new person their own glimpses of the infinite. They will have to find their own. I hope they’ll tell me about it when they do.