After my grandfather’s death, family dynamics shifted dramatically. For years my grandfather had managed my mother, knowing something was significantly wrong with her approach to life. He could limit the damage she did to others by supervising her. But all that was changed now.
When I was nearly 15, and we’d been living at the farm for several years, Mother made a great show of following Grandpa’s instructions for managing the property in every detail. At the time, a rather infamous land developer bought up all the salt flats across the road with plans to build a housing project. The flats were underwater twice a day when the tide came in, so he planned a dredging operation to form a network of canals and fingers of land. This unscrupulous developer made many futile offers to buy my grandfather’s prime real estate. Then he bought all the land around us to make us miserable. Part of the misery came in a rapid rise of property taxes nearly impossible to pay.
Under the Florida homestead exemption a primary residence qualified for a tax break. But Grandpa owned two houses in Tampa and a block of city lots, so he needed a way to ease the tax burden. He called a family meeting to discuss the situation. My aunt and uncle already owned several houses they leased out for income. My grandfather decided to deed the Farm over to Mother, who owned nothing, so she could file for the tax exemption. He sat at the dining room table and laid out the rules. Mother needed to understand that this property was the inheritance of the grandchildren, and put into her care with that intent firmly established. She was never to mortgage it, or to make substantial changes without consulting the family, and she was never to sell without the family’s agreement. She must also keep the taxes paid. As long as she lived, she had a home. But she must make arrangements to leave the property in her will to the six grandchildren, who might someday wish to build homes there.
Mother solemnly agreed to carry out my grandfather’s wishes. He signed the deed. The notary summoned to the house for the occasion affixed his signature and seal. It was done.
Several years later, after I’d moved to Tampa to live with my grandparents, they decided the house in Tampa would be mine after their deaths. Grandfather designated the land on the Farm where the house stood to go to my brother, the remainder apportioned to our cousins. Additionally, the block of city lots would pass to my uncle and aunt to be divided among their children. It was a financially equitable solution. Grandpa believed that his wishes would be carried out. He was hesitant to tie these bequests to paper, not wishing to hamper any future situation that might come up for my grandmother.
I can only think my grandfather’s mind was beginning to lose hold on reality when he made the arrangements as he did. He depended on my mother to keep her promise, and he depended on his son, my uncle, to see that she did.
And my uncle had never stood up to Mother in his life.
Since childhood, Mother had worked to manipulate what she wanted from Grandpa, living as she pleased on his generosity. Now that he was dead, a whole new ballgame started. She immediately took the role of uxorious daughter, taking charge of Grandma’s life. Grandma needed rest and recovery from all the years of caring for Grandpa. Grandma must be coddled and entertained and her every whim satisfied. Therefore, Grandma must come and live with Mother and her sixth husband. Naturally, this meant that Grandma’s income came to live with Mother, too.
Since the house in Tampa was to be mine eventually, Mother decided I should most definitely begin to take care of it myself. It would still be Grandma’s house, but I was the assigned heir. That made me the responsible party. Never mind that my job paid just enough to meet incidental needs and I was going to school full time. I was so devastated by my grandfather’s death, physically and emotionally, that I could barely function. Never mind all that. Time for you to stand on your own, my mother told me. Grant and I should get married. We’d have a house of our own right away, and his job transfer to Tampa had come through.
But Grant had shocking news for me.
“I’m just not ready to get married again,” he told me. “Of course I still want to marry you! Just not yet.” We could live together for a while. But I was to understand right up front this was only a “test situation” and he was doing it “for me”. In essence, I was held to a very high standard, and I’d better not fail.
Well, nothing like starting out with the idea that you are being measured for the “right fit!” What happened to the “sun rises and sets in your eyes” and “I can’t live without you?”
In those days, “living together” was becoming quite popular, even if it was not yet acceptable in my family. But Grant convinced my mother and grandmother that he had tremendous love and respect for me. Living together was a temporary situation “until he was sure of his career potentials”. Somehow, he made both of them believe he was just the cat’s meow and ideal son-in-law material.
So Grandma went off to the East Coast with Mother. Grant and I settled into the house.
The next day I woke up with Grant beside me. I was completely ecstatic! Finally, a full night together! A foretaste of endless days of bliss to come!
Naturally, Grant wanted to make all kinds of changes. His idea of “preventive maintenance” meant going through everything and tossing out what he considered to be “trash”. He simply could not bear to live in a house where years of accumulated mementos cluttered the rooms. He needed to feel “in control” to be comfortable in his environment. I had to make it clear that the house still, technically, belonged to my grandmother as long as she lived. I stood firm that none of my grandparents’ possessions would be touched. Besides, I was perfectly happy with the house. Well, maybe new drapes and fresh paint, but nothing major.
Grant began to act in a way that truly baffled me. First, he went outside and cleaned out my car. He came in with a whole bag of trash to berate me for being such a pig. Well, sure! When I have trash while driving, I don’t toss it out the window. I’m not a litterbug! And I do, eventually, clean it all out. It just hadn’t gotten to the point it bothered me. But I was very glad that he was taking such an interest in my affairs! He obviously loved me very much!
Next, there was the issue of his basket of dirty clothes. I was pretty surprised to see that they were all neatly folded. He actually folded his dirty clothes! I had never known anyone who folded their laundry before they washed it! I remembered what Rose Frank had said about not needing to do everything perfectly, but I remained silent.
While I was happily doing his laundry and trying on the “wife” role, Grant went to check out my car as a proper husband should. After a bit he came in and asked me when was the last time I had changed the oil. I have to admit that changing the oil in the car had never occurred to me, so I looked at him blankly and asked: “Should I?”
Grant rolled his eyes in amazement and said: “It’s probably too late.” He snorted in disgust and left the room. After a few minutes, I went to find him. There he was with my purse dumped out on the table, going through all the junk, sorting it into piles. He told me to sit down and began to lecture me about how “preventive maintenance” extended to all things in life, and how bad at it I was. He was even sure that I didn’t keep my checkbook balanced and began to look through that, too.
Well, no one had ever taken such interest in my activities so I was very happy even if I did get a stern lecture for my failings. Soon, the purse was put to rights and then he went back outside. I decided it was time to make a nice “wifely” lunch and was busy for a little while before I went to see what he was doing.
What I saw horrified me.
My grandparents had a huge, ancient philodendron growing beside the side porch of the house, a tropical plant often grown indoors as a potted plant. When it is allowed to grow outside, each year it sends out supporting roots that hold up the constantly extending trunk that grows at about a 45-degree angle from the ground. Grant had cut away all the support roots and the 15-foot trunk had collapsed on the ground. He was desperately trying to prop it up with concrete blocks, but it was ruined!
“What are you doing?!” I asked in shock.
“It was messy looking so I cut all the roots away.”
“I can’t believe you couldn’t see that there was a reason for those roots!” I said.
As much as I loved him, I couldn’t bear to see what he had done to my grandmother’s beloved philodendron. I turned and went back inside the house.
Apparently, it was okay to criticize me, but not to criticize him. All the rest of the day Grant treated me with cool, but distant courtesy. And I was so upset over the plant that I was just as glad that I didn’t have to talk to him overmuch. I decided that the less we said about it, the sooner things would return to normal, though I wasn’t too sure what normal really was. God only knows, I had experienced precious little “normal” in my whole life.
I could not come to terms with the loss of my grandfather. A death is like a wound. For me, the death of the one person who had effectively given me the only mainstay of security in my life felt like having a major body part amputated. People take for granted that physical wounds take time to heal, but in those days emotional wounds were dismissed with comments like Grant’s: “get over it and get on with it”. As evidence for his view, he repeatedly told me how he had found his own father dead. Yes, it had been a terrible shock, but since he needed to be strong for his mother, he was able to handle it rationally. Never mind that his father had been horribly abusive and both he and his mother were glad he was dead. Such comparisons were useless to Grant. Death was death.
I realize now that my grandmother’s absence, my mother’s abandonment, and Grant’s “get a grip” attitude contributed to my deep depression. I was truly convinced that something was significantly wrong with me because I just could not stop crying. Every decision seemed overwhelming. I found myself asking Grant what to do about the smallest thing. This irritated him to no end.
When I drove home from classes, as I approached the house, all the memories of my life with my grandfather came rushing back. He had always been there waiting for me to come home. Now he would never be there waiting at the door to let me in again. Inside the house, as I came into the kitchen, my grandfather’s favorite coffee cup sat on the counter. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of him.
“What are you crying about now,” Grant asked me. “If you don’t get over it, I’m going to have to move out. It’s too depressing. I have problems too! What about me?” He’d lived through his own trauma of divorce, and I should realize Grant’s loss was far worse than anything I had ever suffered.
I found some relief by increasing doses of Valium during the day and Seconal at night. As much as I loved Grant, I could only make him angry and resentful that I was unable to devote all of my attention to him and his needs. There was just so little inside me to give. His demands were impossible for me to meet.
Carol began coming over every day, engaging Grant in long conversations that kept him happy and entertained. He decided to sign up for some evening classes. Carol was friendly with a number of people in the school administration. She volunteered to find out what kinds of special funding and scheduling would work to get Grant back in school.
Eventually, between his job, union meetings, and classes, he was often absent. When he was at home, our conversations were distressing. I was “invading his space”. I was being too “dominant”. If I didn’t express concern over his complaints about his job or his schedule, I was ignoring his “inner child”. If I was busy with something of my own, I wasn’t giving him enough “strokes,” and if I wanted to do something together with him I was “violating his right to do what he wanted”. I didn’t know anything about keeping a budget and I most definitely didn’t have a clue about the “real world”. The only way to cure this, as well as my depression, was for me to get a “real” job.
I knew that Grant had been psychologically overwhelmed by his experiences in Viet Nam. He had survived two tours as an ordnance expert. He constantly reminded me that he was living on “borrowed time” because none of his friends had survived. At this point, he brought out the tape. One night during the Tet offensive when his unit was under a devastating attack by the Viet Cong, he’d left his tape recorder running during the ensuing battle. When he returned, he found that the tape had captured all the sound effects of the assault. He brought the tape home; it had become one of his most treasured possessions.
Grant became obsessed with playing this tape and demanding that I listen with him. He would describe in gruesome detail what was happening with each terrifying blast or series of mortar rounds. At one point I heard an almost endless series of explosions, screams, inarticulate voices and cries. The munitions dump blew up, killing a whole list of his pals. He named them all, talking about what they had done the day before their deaths, how they had chatted or exchanged jokes. It was macabre, depressing, and emotionally numbing.
How could I help him? Grant insisted that I needed to become self-sufficient, that I couldn’t depend on him. He arranged with friends to find me a waitress job at a sandwich shop, where the patrons were blue-collar workers who made vulgar comments and rude suggestions. I had no experience in dealing with such men. My grandfather had always protected me, so I thought this was the proper role for a man to take for the women in his life, whether they were wives, daughters or girlfriends. I expected Grant to be outraged and to agree this was really not the proper work environment for me. But his response was to laugh uproariously that I was finally getting a taste of the “real world”. It was good for me and I had better get used to it! Because now he no longer wanted to be committed to a future together.
Grant told me he needed far more time to work through his own psychological issues before he would be able to commit himself to another person. He not only needed more time, he needed more space. He had decided, at the end of three months, that he wanted to move out on his own.
At the same time he didn’t want to give me up. He wanted me to “be there” for him at a distance. He told me how beautiful I was, (never mind that I never believed that one!), how much he loved me, but that he needed to do this for both of us, for our future happiness. He needed to work through his confused emotions. It didn’t make any sense. I suggested that we go to a counselor and try to find what was the root of the problem. I made an appointment. We went. The counselor told me Grant just wanted to do “his thing” so why was I so obsessed with preventing him? Just let the guy go!
When we came home, Grant shook out a couple Valiums and gave them to me with a glass of water. After a bit I was able to control my shaking and sobbing. I got up to try to make him some dinner. He told me not to bother. He was going out to eat. But first he had something to tell me.
“I need to confess to you that I’ve been seeing other women.”
He listed them. It was quite a list. From the beginning, starting with Paula. Some were women at his job, some were women for whom he installed telephones, just the way he’d met me. Of course, none of these women “meant anything” to him. This behavior was just “evidence” that he really needed time to sort himself out.
He didn’t know why he did the things he did. He couldn’t control his impulses. And this was why he was making full confession to me, and only to me. He loved me too much to continue to lie to me. I would just have to accept the fact that he needed to do these things until it was “out of his system”. And if I would just be patient, he would soon get over it and we could pick up where we left off. Besides, it wouldn’t be so painful for me if I didn’t love him so much. Clearly, my suffering was my fault because I had made the mistake of loving him!
Something exploded like a bomb inside me. How dare he blame my pain on me! I never wanted to love him, I had resisted in every way possible, even running away from him. He had maneuvered, manipulated, and pursued me, broken down all my defenses; for what?
And what about the risk to me? How could I know that the problems I had with healing after the abortion weren’t because of his loose morals and lowlife habits? And I just went berserk.
A three-foot-tall model of a Rodin statue, the Kiss, stood on a pedestal near the door. Grant had given it to me. The Kiss was the perfect symbol of Grant’s lies and my stupidity for believing him. I picked up this heavy statue as if it weighed nothing and aimed it at his head. He ducked. The statue hit the screen door, knocked it open and went sailing across the porch, landing on the sidewalk and shattering into a hundred pieces.
That felt pretty good. How about a stereo?
Grant had given me a stereo too. I rushed over and grabbed the receiver, the speakers dragging along behind me. “Get out! Go! I can’t stand to look at you! You disgust me!” I heaved the stereo and speakers out the door to land beside the shattered statue on the sidewalk. I looked around for something else to throw at him, but didn’t want to debase any of my grandparent’s things, so the only available object was a chair. I picked up the chair and hefted it up to my right with the intention of swinging it at him. Grant grabbed it by the legs and wrestled it away from me.
Grant tried to grab me by the arms. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I had to tell you the truth!” I guess I was on some sort of adrenaline autopilot because I just spit in his face and told him to take his filthy hands off me.
His hands dropped. He started to go around gathering up his things and loading them in his car.
I sat at the table and watched his every move as he packed and loaded. He looked utterly forlorn and bereft. But, in that moment, I was in icy control. I never spoke a word until he had finished. Then he came and stood at the door and tried the long “looking in the eyes” maneuver. Telling me how much he truly loved me and how Fate was acting on him in such a tragic way. Would I please just give him one last kiss? He moved toward me, holding out his hand.
I simply could not believe the nerve! A kiss? I remembered that I had on a pair of earrings he’d given me. I reached up and jerked them out, not caring if I tore my ears to shreds, and slammed them into his outstretched hand.
“Get out of here before I call the police and have you arrested. You disgust me.”
He gave me one last lingering, grieving look and said “I love you, you know.”
I was exhausted. And the Valium was taking full effect. I closed the door behind Grant. I went to bed and cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up alone some hours later, the cold isolation of my position became clear. Of all times that I needed my grandfather, it was now. But he was gone, because I hadn’t been home, and I hadn’t been home because I was with Grant. Insult to injury. I had been out with a slimeball and my grandfather was dead as a result.
But wait…after so great a trauma as Grant’s abused childhood, his experiences in Viet Nam, his divorce, I expected too much of him too soon! My own needs, my grief for my grandfather, for my abortion, were more than he could bear. I had driven him to seek emotional support from other women because I had been inadequate to heal him. It was, indeed, my failing that was at the root of the situation.
I decided that a couple weeks of space would help him sort things out. And, fortunately, Carol was looking out for Grant for me. Carol was the one who held and rocked me in my grief. Carol, my dear friend, assured me that in time everything would work out.
I quit my waitress job and went back to work at school. It was nearly impossible to concentrate, to keep my mind on my work, on my studies. I tried to talk to people, to act normal, but I knew I was doing a really poor imitation. I lost more weight. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that I looked positively skeletal. My eyes had an unnatural, feverish glow. I barely recognized the gaunt person looking back at me.
Waking up with diet pills, keeping my nerves calm with Valium, settling my stomach with Donnatal, and going to sleep with Seconal, I decided to let Grant know I still loved him. I would be “there for him” and when he was ready to “come home,” I’d be waiting.
Carol was “watching out” for Grant on my behalf. She told me he’d found his own place. A “light touch” would work best. A brief visit, a thoughtful housewarming gift, and no pressure. She offered to come along for moral support.
We pulled up to an old Victorian house converted to apartments. I could see Grant inside the lighted windows of the ground floor unit, carrying boxes, putting things away. He answered our knock at the door.
“Hi!” I smiled, holding out my gift. “Thought you could use…” and a woman’s voice came from the room behind him: “Who is it, Honey?” A [blonde in a housecoat] came up behind him and Grant began to stutter: “It’s not what you think, Babe…”
I just turned around and walked away.
Grant came tearing after me. “Wait, wait! She’s just a friend helping me move! Stop! Let me explain!” And he reached out and took hold of my jacket to slow me down. I just shrugged out of it and kept walking, leaving him there in the moonlight holding the empty garment. I think he knew there was nothing he could say to explain this perfidy. I heard a terrible howl of grief and turned to see him sunk to his knees in the dirt, clutching my jacket to his face, sobbing. Can you believe the drama?
I got in the car and said, “Let’s go.”
A few days later Carol brought me a message. I was to come to Grant without delay, because he would be dead soon. I dropped everything, found someone to fill in for me in the lab at school, and signed out. I rushed over to his apartment. He came to the door looking fine. “What’s wrong? Has something happened?”
He sank wearily into a chair, his head hanging down: “Yes. I’m at the end. I can’t go on. I’m destroying you. And that is destroying me. I don’t know what I am doing anymore, or even who I am. I know you can never forgive me. I can never forgive myself. I’m the scum of the earth. I’m nothing.”
What happened to the woman who had been there with him? Why wasn’t she the one he called on for help?
“She’s gone. I told you she meant nothing to me. She was just a friend.”
Well, sad to say, I bought it. Only I could save him! I sank to my knees beside him. “What can I do? I love you! I’ll do anything to help you!”
Grant truly felt that his experiences in Viet Nam had done something terrible to his mind and he simply could not be responsible for his behavior. He loved me to distraction, but he could not control his compulsions to hurt me. He hated himself for being alive while all his friends were dead. It was too big and terrible a wound to heal. He knew it. There was only one solution. We must die together. We were soul mates, but it simply was not possible for us to deal with the problems of this life. We could only be happy in another life, and the surest way to bring this about was to die together; to make a pact.
I didn’t want to die. At least not right then. It took a few hours to talk him out of his suicidal plan.
Saving Grant became my reason to live.
The idea that we were doomed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet, preyed on my mind. Yes, maybe we were doomed. If he died, I would want to die too. And if I couldn’t be with him, I didn’t want to be with anyone.
Strangely, now that he had me back in the palm of his hand, the next time I saw him he was determined to keep me out of his life. To make it “sink in,” he had clearly decided that overt cruelty was the way to go. He told me he wasn’t going to see me anymore, that I must not call him or come to see him. He smiled wickedly and said “Payback is Hell, isn’t it?” I was stunned. What was he talking about?
These whiplash scenes of “yes I want you, no I don’t” were breaking me in pieces. I needed somebody to talk to. Dear Carol. Always there to pick up the pieces and help me put myself back together.
But Carol had her own problems. Her marriage was crumbling because her husband was tired of being both mother and father to their two children while she went to school, worked, and kept up with her activist groups. She sent messages back and forth between me and Grant, keeping the modern day Romeo and Juliet together. Grant called Carol, she rushed over, patted his back while he wept for his cruelty to me, and then came to my house to shake out another Valium and pour me a glass of water. Sweet Carol. Rocking me while I cried and patting my back and cooing like a mother. I don’t know how I would have survived without her.
When she asked me to watch her children for a few hours, it was the least I could do. But her husband came by to pick them up early. So, with the evening ahead of me after all, I decided that I’d drive by Grant’s apartment and maybe, depending on how I felt, I would stop in. I was hungry to hear his voice, to look into his eyes, and see just how the land lay at the moment. I was surprised to see Carol’s car in his driveway. She was supposed to be at some sort of planning meeting.
Grant had left the door open and the screen unlatched. I wondered if they had gone somewhere to walk, so I decided I would just go in and sit and wait for them to return. I walked in and, as soon as I did, I was able to see through the bedroom door . There, through that door, was his bed. And there in the bed was a monster, a monster with four legs. Two of those legs were short and stubby, kicking in the air, while a most familiar backside heaved and humped and two voices joined together in moans of desire and declarations of eternal union.
I froze and stared in stunned fascination. Watching the swaying motion was like watching a cobra dance. A cobra. One must move away from danger slowly and carefully. I backed out the door, trying not to make a sound, but something bumped and the two bodies froze and the flushed and sweating faces looked at me and there was fear in their eyes. I turned and walked out, left the door hanging open. I got in my car and drove home.
The house was utterly silent and empty. I went into my bedroom and sat down on the bed, dry eyed for a change and numb with shock. I had destroyed Grant’s marriage and the future happiness of his family. By loving him, I had conceived a life. I had destroyed this unborn child to prevent further damage. By loving Grant, I had caused the death of my grandfather. And, by the death of my grandfather, I had ruined my own potential to give support to Grant when he needed it most. By failing him, I had forced him to seek support elsewhere.
And through my most grievous fault, my own choices had destroyed so many lives. I must surely be guilty of something even greater for Carol to betray me. We had been closer than sisters. We had shared our deepest secrets. She had been my one source of strength and confidence that truth and honor and beauty existed in this world. I had come to see her as one of the most beautiful people I had ever known. I had long ago stopped seeing the awkward structure of her physical vehicle and only saw what I thought was a true and honorable and courageous soul.
But all that must be a lie. And the fault was in me.
There was no “true love” anywhere. Not from Mother or Father, not from Grant or Carol. If my grandfather had been the only one who truly loved me, what good did it do? He was dead. Love could die.
I wanted no part of such a world. I could conceive not one single reason to continue to draw breath.
I can’t say how the idea occurred to me.
Perhaps I had been haunted by the same ghosts that were attached to Keith and Grant.
The ease that it came to the surface suggests an unacknowledged presence. Now, it pushed its way out with the unremitting pressure and torment of giving birth. The idea emerged with an anguished cry from the depths of my being into my consciousness fully formed.
In the peaceful silence of my room, moonlight filtering over the bed through the slats in the blinds, I realized that it would be very pleasant to have such peace in an absolute way. Forever.
Again, as in the moments when I yielded to Grant, there seemed to be two of me. And again, these two parts of myself came into conflict in my massive and overwhelming guilt. I knew I could turn away now, and drown in my guilt, or I could yield and be at peace.
The moment I did, tremendous relief and a sensation of a “presence” embraced me, emanating a sudden ease and overpowering calm that flooded my being. I could do nothing to heal my own pain, but I could certainly free many other people of the source of their pain: me.
Once I had yielded, this presence took over, as if operating under remote control. With new eyes I saw all the little bottles on the dresser; the ones that helped me get up, go to sleep, stay calm, digest my food; and there was a carafe of water. I began to empty the bottles one by one into my hand, pouring each little pile into my mouth and swallowing them down with water dripping from my mouth and chin. One by one. All of them. Then I lay down and began to make patterns in my mind out of the dots in the acoustic tiles of the ceiling.
After a while, I thought happily that I would just go to sleep, and I would wake up where Grandpa was. I hadn’t been able to bring him home, but now I could go to him and everything would be all right again.
My eyes were closing and consciousness was fading; I was floating; almost there; but the damn phone beside me was ringing and ringing and ringing. Disturbing the peace.
I tried to ignore it. I thought about just knocking it over, but a voice whispered to me that I had better get rid of whoever it was. If I just knocked it off the bed, or took the receiver off and said nothing, someone would get suspicious.
It was Eva. “Hi! Eva! Whatcha doin’? Jest gonna sleep a liddle here…” and I couldn’t hold the phone a second longer. It fell to the floor with a clatter.
Eva. Two strange men. Rolling through the side doors on a magic carpet into the cool night air. Noises. Engines. Voices. Someone holding me in their arms – a strange man saying over and over: “come on baby, come on… come back… you can do it!” Tubes in my throat and nose; needles in my arms. Feeling a horrible shock and a sensation like a rubber band that is snapped across the room. Nothing else, just that. September 28, 1974. My mother’s birthday.
It had been almost exactly nine months since I yielded to Grant on Christmas Eve. Seeds of destruction had been planted in the fertile womb of my soul, and in due time, had been born. What child was this?