I hoped to get her still enough to read the Bible to her since that had calmed her down when she was in the hospital and they wanted to restrain her. That was almost five years ago and she’d fought the nurses and Granddad so bad they were putting straps on her as I arrived. I had insisted they allow me to calm her down my way. Instinctively I had figured that she would settled down out of respect for the Bible. I knew that ever since she was a little girl she’d been told to be quiet when the Bible is read. I had asked her for her favorite scripture and read it even though I hated the words as they came off my lips. First Corinthians! No wonder there’s so much damn domestic violence in the world. The Bible designs it! But I read it knowing its familiarity would be soothing.
When we got upstairs in their bedroom I expected to find her Bible on her night stand. She used to keep three or four Bibles on and in her nightstand, but today there were none. I found one on Granddad’s nightstand and opened it to one of the pages marked with a stack of index cards. I sat on the edge of the bed and began reading. Grandma calmed down more, but not as much as I was hoping.
“Grandma you can lay down for a nap and I’ll read to you,” I said.
She shook her head and busied herself making up the bed. I was reading from The Book of Ruth, which I remembered Grandma liked. Years ago, when they were only aging but not visibly ailing, I was interviewing them as often I could. One day I’d asked Grandma who were her favorite women in the Bible and she told me Ruth. I don’t remember why Ruth was her favorite, but I have those notes written down somewhere. I will gather all the notes together and organize for better use some day. But right now I’m still taking notes and organization is not my main priority.
Grandma got enough of my reading and returned back downstairs to the kitchen where Granddad was now washing and chopping fresh collards, which he’d bought at market Saturday. Grandma got busy in the kitchen piddling around in the cabinet next to Granddad. He started to fuss, to tell her to go sit down somewhere and I had to nip that in the bud.
“Granddad don’t antagonize her. I can’t pull her off you,” I said.
He looked at her again, looked at me, rolled his eyes, started to say something to her again but stopped himself.
Months later, with home aides now in place, I would get reports that she picks with him! They say she antagonizes him when he’s sitting at the table sorting his mail. “Clifford! Clifford” nagging the hell out of him. Or when he’s cooking, “Can I help? I’m going to…”
I hadn’t believed it when my uncle said sometimes Granddad can be sitting at the table, reading the newspaper, and Grandma will just punch him in the face out the blue. I thought my uncle was exaggerating, and I chuckled thinking that Grandma was getting revenge for so many verbal blows she’s sustained over the years. I remember the first outburst I witnessed, probably pre-teens. I was helping them set up for one of their popular dinner parties, when Granddad, obviously anxious and rushed yelled at Grandma, “Baby why you got to be so stupid! I ain’t never seen nobody so stupid!” I’d laughed it off in my youth, but as I got older I found myself trying to justify that they had their own unique communication thing going. That lie has run its course. Sometimes now when Grandma is “out of her mind” she will talk about how embarrassed she was by his tirades.
“Baby, don’t let life do this to you,” she said to me one day after her crying spell. “It’s best to just walk away. Just walk away.” She sobbed explaining that she used to tell her friends that her husband was just having a bad day, that he just had a bad temper. Her words from that night played on repeat in my head for weeks, “Don’t let life do this to you…just walk away.”
She’d told me not to be intimidated by anyone, not even a boss at work. Walk away. No matter how much money somebody’s got, don’t be intimidated. Walk away. I never considered that she may have felt intimidated. She always seemed regal and strong to me. I knew she was smarter than Granddad academically, and he knew it to. Decades ago when she began confessing to me how she felt and I asked her why she stayed, it became clear that she’d stayed for the lifestyle. I vowed privately to never do that. Knowing all that rage she has inside, has carried for years, it’s all I can do to keep Granddad from unwittingly verbally striking a hornets nest.
When I hear Granddad fussing, “Baby go sit down somewhere!” I say, “Let her do her thing. I’m keeping an eye on her.” He resists, “That’s not the point. She’s got no reason to be….” Again I say, “Granddad let her be. If you get her stirred up, I can’t pull her off of you.”