stormy--'s Diaryland Diary

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The Day I put up a Christmas Tree

I’ve been crying a lot these past few days. I mean, A LOT. But I should preface this by saying that I am on my period. My hormones feel like they’re going so crazy that I could probably see a funny cat meme and burst into tears.

I put up my Christmas tree. It’s 4.5 feet tall and has only about 100 white lights on it. And on it are all of the Christmas ornaments that my grandpa (my dad’s dad) gave me. They were my grandma’s (I never got a chance to meet her since she passed away five years before I was born) and her mother had given them to her. They’ve faded a little over the years and they’re made of the most delicate glass. When I unwrap them from the safety of their storage container I always have to be super gentle in even holding them because the tiniest squeeze could shatter them into a million pieces - they’re that old. But I love them so much. I love them because they were my grandma’s and I love them because I can’t help but think about my grandpa whenever I look at them. I also love them because the first time he showed them to me he said that I reminded him of her a lot - the best compliment anyone could ever have given me.

My grandpa saved me. I wish that was an exaggeration but it’s not. He literally saved me. It’s no secret that my mom and I didn’t have a good relationship. When I was really young my dad was kind of like a buffer. He wasn’t the best buffer because he never stood up to my mom but at least it was something. And he loved me a lot. I never doubted that. When he passed away and I didn’t have that buffer any more things got bad. They got even worse when my sister was away at college and the man my mom was dating moved in. My sister knew how bad things were but really wasn’t in any position to do anything about it. But she told my grandpa.

I remember the day so vividly. I was standing at the landing at the top of the stairs. My grandpa walked in with two men (I learned later that they worked for him). Grandpa looked up at me and said, “Wait right there. I’ll only be a moment.” Then he, my mom and her boyfriend went into the dining room and slid the door closed. I was curious what was going on but I was more freaked out at the two men that were watching me from their position by the door. They both smiled kindly at me but all I could do was stare back. When my grandpa finally came out of the dining room, he marched up the steps, grabbed my hand, pulled me into my bedroom and told me to grab anything that was really important to me. Everything else he would replace. The only thing I grabbed was my stuffed giraffe - the one that I had always slept with and had always hidden in different places in my bedroom so my mom couldn’t take it away when she got angry. And then the two men, my grandpa and I left. I didn’t even say goodbye to my mom. But she wasn’t around for me to say goodbye to anyway.

As we drove away my grandpa told me I was going to live with him from that point on. I don’t think I really believe him. And when we were driven straight to a hospital instead of his home, I became angry because I thought he was tricking me. For six days I was poked, prodded, and all of that stuff. I weighed only 79 pounds and I was shocked. I knew I was losing weight but I wasn’t weighing myself. But I guess that’s what happens when you stop eating everything except an apple and half a piece of dry toast a day. It wasn’t like I was dieting. It wasn’t about looking skinny or fitting into a smaller size or any of that. It’s just that when I stopped eating - when I embraced the hunger - I felt myself grow more and more numb. And I needed that feeling to survive.

My grandpa set up a makeshift office in my hospital room. He would work and I would sleep or read, but he never left me for more than ten minutes at a time. He even slept in the very uncomfortable hospital chair that was in the room. On day three I asked him if I was really going to live with him. When he assured me that I was I finally felt able to start eating the foods they brought me.

Grandpa had his secretary go shopping for me. So, by the time I was released, I had a bedroom in his house full of everything that I could possibly need and more. I went to work with him everyday 6 days a week. The office next to his became mine and that’s where I finished my schooling with tutors. He even had a construction crew come in and put in a door that directly linked my “office” to his. It was the only door that didn’t have a lock because he wanted me to be able to get to him whenever I needed. And he taught me a lot about business. I think I learned more about business during all of those years I lived and went to work with him than I ever learned in college.

He was a formidable businessman that always seemed to be scowling. He was tough and exacting in what he wanted and expected. But to me he was always kind and patient. I don’t think I ever felt so safe and free to be … completely me until he took me to live with him. I never got into trouble. Not because my grandpa was easy on me but because I never wanted to disappoint him. Except once. There was an intern that was nice to me. He would stop by to chat and a couple of times we ate lunch together. He was cute and I enjoyed his attention. But it didn’t take long for my grandpa to find out. The intern was transferred elsewhere and my grandpa said that I was not to see him ever again. And I never did. Not even in passing in the hall.

My mom insisted that I attend her Thanksgiving soiree every year. Because it was the only day she insisted on my grandpa agreed. I think he also thought that, even though it was minuscule, at least I still had some sort of ‘relationship’ with my mom. He didn’t know (because I never told him) how much I hated going there. It was always so awful. The only high point was when my sister and I would sneak off and hide somewhere so we could just talk and be together. But more times than not it would end with my mom finding us and screaming at me that I was a horrible and selfish person that ruined everything.

(I don't know why I feel this need to defend my mom [and why I feel so guilty about revealing some details about our relationship], but I have this overwhelming urge to add here that even though my relationship with my mom wasn't the best there were some good times. I mean, they were few and far in between and occurred when I was really young, but they did happen. When I think about those moments I can't help but think that maybe - just maybe - there were moments when she loved me like a mother should love her daughter. I don't know. I just know that talking about stuff with my therapist has made me realize that my mom had her own demons. Demons that had absolutely nothing to do with me. So I'm working on forgiving her and forgiving myself. But, I have a feeling it may take a long while before I get there.)

But Christmas was always spent with grandpa. My sister would stay with us for a couple of days (something else my mom blamed and hated me for). On Christmas Eve, grandpa would give us matching jammies and then my sister would sleep with me in my bed. We’d wake up to so many presents under the tree. Grandpa would really spoil us on Christmas. We would open presents and then have a huge breakfast. Then we’d dress and then spend the afternoon talking and laughing and playing games. (Grandpa liked Monopoly [no surprise there], my sister liked Sorry, and I liked the game Trouble - mostly I liked the game Trouble because of that bubble in the middle that you would press to roll the dice. I liked the noise it made.) We’d have a huge dinner and then we’d go out and look at Christmas lights. Those were the best Christmases ever.

My grandpa died one week before Christmas four years ago. I saw him two days before when he took me to see The Nutcracker - something we did every year together. After The Nutcracker, he took me to dinner. It was one of those fancy places he loved to go where they had wine lists and some foods I couldn’t even pronounce. He always liked taking me to those places. (My love of Taco Bell and Chickfila was a direct result of spending time with my sister and then going to college. [Side note: I once made my grandpa mac ‘n’ cheese from a box and that tiny packet of cheese powder. He was horrified but he tried it. I think that was the first and last time he ever ate mac ‘n’ cheese.])

But that night, after The Nutcracker and dinner…. I remember the moment right before we parted ways. I reminded him that my sister and I would be at his house on the 23rd. He kissed my forehead (something he always did) and then asked me if I was happy (something else he always did before I would leave). I remember saying, “How can I not be happy? I got to see The Nutcracker and have dinner with you.” Two days later he didn’t wake up. The doctors said it looked like he had a stroke in his sleep, so he probably didn’t even know it was happening. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I hope it is. I hope he left this world with as much dignity and no pain as possible.

We didn’t celebrate Christmas that year. It was probably six or seven months later that I found a closet full of Christmas gifts he had gotten for my sister and me in his house. We eventually opened them - crying and wishing he was there with us the whole time. But I still have the gifts that I got for him that year. They’re still wrapped and in a box in the back of my bedroom closet. I just can’t part with them. Not yet.

The past three years my sister and I never celebrated Christmas in the traditional ways that one would expect. Instead we created our own tradition. For a week or two around Christmas we’ve gone on vacation together. The first year we went to Vegas, the next was Hawaii, and then it was a cruise (which I will never ever ever go on again. Seriously, the only reason I was able to get on the ship was because my doctor gave me a prescription. [How my sister persuaded me to go on a cruise is still a mystery to me - that tells you how much I hate cruises! {And how persuasive my sister can be!!}] This year we were going to spend the holiday at Disney World [can you tell it was my turn to pick our location?]).

Not only did we cancel our vacation plans this Christmas, but I’m not going to even see my sister in person. Even though it stung, we mutually decided that it would be best to spend the holiday apart and do our part to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. I just wish more people would do the same - can I make that my Christmas wish??

So I put up the Christmas tree and decorated it with all of grandma’s ornaments, remembered a lot of stuff, cried buckets, and have been basically a hot mess for the past week or so. Without the distraction of a vacation or at least seeing my sister and being able to hug her, my emotions just feel so raw. It feels like grandpa died yesterday instead of four years ago. I just miss him so much.

9:49 p.m. - 2020-12-11

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