All she ever wanted was to see me on occasion.
To share a couple of cups of tea, and hear me talk.
Just sit there and listen to a young man,
talking so brave and self assured,
like young men can afford to be.
She would come out to the garage,
where I had set up my weight bench,
and ask me if she could get me anything,
bring me a clean towel
to wipe the sweat from my body.
I would lie there thrusting the bar,
breathing deep, grunting out the last rep.
While I cannot remember what it was I was thinking,
I know it wasn't of her. Drugs, sex, my own strength.
Those things young men think of. Never of her.
When I was done working out, I would walk into the kitchen
through the back door, and toss the towel in the hamper
in the tank room, and sit down for a minute, still sweaty
my muscles swelled with blood, and my own power.
"I could put on a pot of water if you want." She'd say.
"No thanks Nan, do you have any seltzer?" I'd ask.
Knowing she did. She was a can-can sale shopper,
a coupon clipping zealot, a bargain bin skin diver.
She'd get up and grab a can from out of the fridge.
I was closer, but I knew it made her happy to serve me.
I'd chug that can enjoying the carbonic burn,
and in two sips my stomach would be filled
with the delightfully churning fluid. I'd look up,
and she would be smiling, staring at me as I smiled back.
"Are you sure you don't want a cup of tea?" she'd ask.
"No Nan, I gotta go in a minute. I'm meeting Phil,
and we're gonna go see a movie". I'd say,
and sometimes it was true. I never noticed
how her smile would droop ever so slightly
when I said this. Well...I almost never noticed.
"You'll stop by and see me again soon right?"
She asked. "Sure, Nan, sure. Of course." I'd lie.
I'd kiss her wrinkled silk cheek, and walk out
leaving her there to think about whatever
old women think about. Mostly young men, I assume.
At her funeral service my mother read her eulogy,
it took her five minutes to read a handful of lines.
As she choked back sobs and wiped her face
with the back of her hand, I sat there dry eyed,
wondering why I couldn't cry. Wondering why I was there.
I did cry eventually, a droplet or two I spared,
not for the deceased, but for my mother,
who wrestled with forty years of memories
of her grandmother, my great grandmother.
A woman I barely knew, but I knew she loved me.
I went through the motions, the wake, the burial morning,
thinking only, when will it end? When can I get back to MY life.
Selfishness was my watchword, even then. But that day did end.
We all met back at Nana's house. Donuts, and a box o' joe,
we laughed away our sadness. That night, in that house...still doesn't seem real.
In the weeks to come, after the bad blood between my Grandmother
and my uncle cooled, we set to getting the house ready for sale.
In her bathroom, the black and white checkered masterpiece of my dreams,
I set to removing everything that wasn't part of the house itself.
The rose scented Lysol spray, the hand mirrors and curling iron.
Underneath the sink it hit me. I opened the door to find twenty-two
rolls of Marcal toilet paper, the good kind, before they changed it.
And it all rushed back to that day. The one I had came to visit for a cup of tea.
We sat there, my Nana and my aunt, sipping tea and passing idle banter.
Nana was clipping coupons, as usual, and I remember her saying
"Scott tissue is two for one this week." And I remember saying
"I don't use Scott. The roll doesn't last long enough. Marcal is better."
She didn't say anything, but she didn't cut out the Scott coupon either.
There I was , on my knees peering into the cabinet, at a mountain of Marcal.
It hit me so hard my teeth rattled. This woman, who had lived ninety-four years
raised four children on her own, in a two bedroom bungalow, had valued the opinion
of a young impetuous man, who knew nothing about life, so much that she
switched brands, and turned down a two for one sale. And I couldn't even grant her
an hour of chatting over a cup of tea, once or twice a week.
She's gone now, and I can't apologize, what good would it do if I did?
I just wish I had said "Sure Nan, I'll have a cup"...just once.