I want to tell you to stop being such an asshole. For all you know my hands are white knuckled around the steering wheel and I am sucking in tiny breaths in rapid succession. For all you know the height of this hill, the sharp turn around the corner, and the anticipation of Baltimore traffic below have paralyzed me with fear. For all you know taking the exit for 295 today feels like cliff jumping. Maybe if you knew, you would stop honking, stop yelling, stop riding my bumper around this narrow bend.
What if I told you that my grandmother is one of my earliest memories of love? I don’t remember what it was we were doing, but I remember that I was small enough to fit in her lap. Her long fingers were clasped around my back, my face was buried in her sweater and we were rocking back and forth. She was singing. That is one of the few memories I have of feeling safe. Now, nearly thirty, I still cling to the sound of her humming.
As we inch along toward the exit I am sweating through my fleece jacket and cautiously tapping the brakes. I want to tell you to just back off a little bit.
You only know that I have stopped my car on the Beltway and proceeded at 12 miles per hour. You only know that you have had the terrible luck of being stuck behind this white Jeep Cherokee at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I bet the lime green sticker reading Island Time really pisses you off. But I want to tell you that there is so much you don’t know.
You don’t know that I buried my grandmother yesterday.
You don’t know that for the last three years my grandmother and I shared a bathroom in my parent’s house. Some evenings, I would make us macaroni and cheese out of a box and we would talk about the most recent celebrity wedding. I would count out her pills and watch her as she took each one.
I feel like a child she would say.
Well you aren’t.
And we would laugh about how life turns out sometimes.
I want to tell you that I am going as fast as I can in this minute and as we begin this descent I just need you to calm down.
Perhaps you are late for work. Maybe it is your job to set up pirogues at the farmer’s market and as we inch forward down this exit they are growing limp in your backseat. If that is the case, I am sorry. Maybe it is a more important event, your daughter’s wedding perhaps. Maybe you should be there now, straightening the veil over her shoulders and fixing her mascara. If that is the case then I want to tell you I am truly sorry.
I’m sorry I mouth in the rearview mirror. But your rage can only see the speedometer. I watch your lips opening and closing like a voiceless ventriloquist puppet. I can see your hands flailing wildly in the air.
I’m sorry I mouth again.
You shake your fist at the back of my car.
I’m so sorry.
You give me the finger.
I want to tell you that my grandmother would spend most of the day on the front porch of our beach house. She would wear her favorite purple sweater and canvas loafers. She smelled of hair spray and faint musky perfume and my childhood. Right in the corner near the door, I want to tell you, that is where she would sit. I want to tell you how difficult it was to lose her. I want to try. But, the things you should really know are the most difficult to explain.
What I can explain is the way my grandmother would sit on the porch for hours re-reading the same page of her novel and watching beach goers make their way down the street. I know that sometimes she would sit there and close her eyes. Sometimes, her eyes would be closed for so long that I would creep quietly to her side, searching for the rise and fall of her chest. I once asked her what she was thinking about when she sat there with her eyes closed. Your grandfather, she had told me, I sit here and I think about your grandfather.
I want to tell you that grief is relentless.
There are not enough hours you can work, men you can date, relationships you think you can fix, or miles you can run that will keep you from facing loss. One day you will be standing in the grocery store debating which jar of olives to buy and the air will suddenly grow thick and hot. I want to tell you that grief is suffocating.
I want to tell you that this won’t happen again. I want to tell you that I will get better at saying goodbye and practicing acceptance. I want to say aloud that I will take the suggestion to focus on my breathing, to have faith, and to let go.
But that is not the truth.
Instead, you pass me as we merge onto 295 and shake your finger once more in my direction. And I drive on.