Last fall I found the dishes that my grandmother had while I was growing up in my favorite antique mall. The blue and white Currier and Ives print was in everyday use in our house until I was well into high school. I almost bought them even though the original set likely still exists at my mother's house and they are not even close to being my style. It was odd to find an item that seemed so unique and private to my past on a display table over 400 miles from home, but it was also comforting to know there was possibility of replacing some things I thought were lost to me in the new life I've created for myself.
My grandmother died two years ago today. With her went the recipes for the dinners that she served on these plates - spaghetti with meat sauce, pepper steak, chop suey - because she wouldn't teach anyone how to make these dishes. There were times when I tried to learn culinary skills from her, but those times always ended in angry exchanges because she couldn't relinquish control and I couldn't learn just by watching quietly. I had the annoying habit of needing to touch things, try things, maybe even make mistakes.
I know there were things about the way I needed to live my life that just terrified her. From the vantage point of a woman whose agoraphobia got worse with each passing year, the thought of her beloved granddaughter moving to strange cities, doing god knows what with god knows whom must have been a source of constant worry. She was always telling me to be careful and I always brushed her off because her opinions almost always seemed based on the latest inflamatory news story or some vague memory from her past. Our ideas of what pain was seemed horribly mismatched. To me it was being trapped in one place, observing life through the frame of a window or a television set. To her it was the heartache and loss that could come from trying something and failing horribly.
In the last face to face conversation I had with her about a year before she died, she told me that the reason that I was getting divorced was because God was punishing me for marrying an atheist. She didn't mean this to be a hurtful statement. Like most devout people, her religion was a source of making sense out of the universe. She was seeking an explanation as to why something so horrible could happen to someone whom, despite our differences of opinion, she always saw as having good judgment and great intelligence. She was seeking to help me regain control. If I would just follow the rules, then I could be safe from hurt and harm. In the end, I couldn't make it clear to her that even though the pain was tremendous from the dissolution of an eight-year relationship, I did not hope to try to avoid the future hurt that life held for me anymore than I hoped to avoid the future happiness that was just as inevitable. We could never quite connect even that one last time. I could not hold her to what I believed anymore than I could allow myself to be held to what she believed.
Two years ago, I let her go. When she died, the outcome of this argument that lasted most of my life, seemed less important than the struggle itself and how it helped me to form key parts of myself. Rather than hold a grudge, I want to encounter things that remind me of her with a fondness and a lightness that lets both of us be who we are with our strengths and our weaknesses.