It's really not anything in particular that she does that scrapes against my nerves. She is very nice, doesn't want to be a bother in the least. Maybe it's the smacking of the lips and mouth when she eats. Loud smacking. Why does she do that? Or maybe it's the constant, bored droning. Or the restlessness. It's probably the chronic, high-intensity, east-coast neurosis deeply ingrained in her; she's a Woody Allen movie packed tightly into a fifty-something Puerto Rican woman, though the PR in her has nearly faded completely away. Every once in a while she'll say something in Spanish and it's shocking, like the Queen of England just muttered some PR jargon.
Grandmutter is visiting, Husband's blood mother (Note: not Mama Luz, who is really Husband's step mom), and I do love Grandmutter because that's what family does, right? We love them unconditionally, but to be quite honest, I'm not used to family etiquette and allowances and consideration. I was raised a lonely wild child; there was erratically random strictness, but other than that I made my own way. Time with my kin was irregular and sparse, and I didn't learn much about familial tolerance.
I've been a quick study, I think, but sometimes I question if I even like people in general, especially when they come to stay at my house.
It's not the fact that she's a Jehovah's Witness either, because we all steer clear of this topic. We all edit our conversation; Husband and I carve down our usual loose, irreverent way of talking -- all f-bombs are gone -- and Grandmutter doesn't shove a Watchtower in our face at every waking minute. She'll subtly leave one or two in strategic places, but nothing more, which we appreciate immensely. She'll read the bible to Mina -- Husband and I are a lost cause -- and that's perfectly fine with me because, really, I do love bible stories. Not the misogynistic and clearly propagandous tales that were indicative of the perception and time in which the stories were written, but there are some classics in there. I took a Bible as Literature class in high school and I loved it. And there was that Seventh Day Adventist trip I went on in my late teens. So, this morning when Grandmutter read to me a passage from a Watchtower about what the Israelites ate back in the day, I was all ears. You know I have my own agenda regarding whole, healthy food -- that's what I'm preaching -- and our worlds meshed this morning. The Israelites ate mainly a vegan diet of bread and olives and figs and almonds and fresh and dried fruit and all kinds of veggies, 30 different types she said. And I was all, see? And Grandmutter was like, yes. And I think then she was willing on me that I (re)accept Jesus, and I was willing on her that she not eat Walmart pot roast and oreos and boiled-to-mush broccoli.
This morning went well because usually she reads the newspaper and she has a knack for finding the most horrific stories. Yesterday morning she read to Mina and me at the breakfast table. "Oh my dear," she said, and you have to imagine the most nasally Bronx accent on earth, "four boys raped an eight year old girl. Took turns on her." I looked over at Mina. I'm not opposed to her hearing such terrible stories, but usually I follow them up with long talks and discussion. "Oh my, the boys ranged from nine years old to fourteen. They lured her into a shed with chewing gum." I stopped eating, anticipating where this was going. Mina, thankfully, had tuned her out because she has already mastered this trait which she learned from her dad. "The fourteen year old boy is being convicted as an adult. Oh dear, this boy has ruined his life," Grandmutter said. I couldn't say nothing. "The boy?" I said. "Forget that boy. What about the poor girl?" And then Grandmutter read the rest of the story which almost crushed my will to live because it turned out that the girl's family was from Liberia and when the father found out about the crime, he told the police he didn't want the daughter back; she had brought shame on them. The girl sits in protective services, unclaimed, unwanted. I almost blacked out from the panic of the situation. Good Morning.
When she drones out Husband's childhood name in a long, slow Bronx drawl, Husband's neck jerks into his shoulders. He closes his eyes and puts his head back. Grandmutter will repeat the name until he yells out, "What is it, Ma?" She says my name the same way now, with the slowest, most nasally emphasis on the second syllable. Repeatedly. And it's that she calls for you the second you've just sat down with a book, after the dogs curl up on your lap. Or after Husband has just gotten into bed. Or you've just sat down with lunch. Or gone into the bathroom. She says the sinus-toned name and then apologizes when you come to see what she wants.
You know what it is? It's that she doesn't want to do anything, but she's clearly bored out of her skull. She had visited a few years ago, and she was on a "health kick" back then. She had spring in her step. She loved exploring all of Santa Monica on her own by bus, on foot. She seemed alive. And I'm not sure what happened. She admitted that she was on a "diet" back then and now the diet is over and so is everything else, it seems. Her leg hurts. She wears ridiculously painful sandals to walk around. Her feet hurt. It's hot. She's bored. She doesn't like TV though I see her watching medical examiner shows where they reenact autopsies. Last night's episode was about a teenage girl who died from a tubal pregnancy. "Oh my dear." No conversation interests her. She doesn't want to sit by our new community pool. "The life guards can't always see drowning children. Sometimes they drown when they are excellent swimmers." She will go to the mall, but everything is so expensive. I thought she would enjoy the Santa Barbara farmers market. She did like the drive up, but the only thing that sparked her interest was a Marshall's she spotted along the highway. Could we go there on the way back? If it's not much trouble. "Look at the strawberries!" I said, trying to spark some enthusiasm. Nothing. She did raise her eyebrows when she heard how much they were. She really liked a tamal she bought from a vendor at the market. "I've never had tamales," she said. I told her they were like pasteles (a PR equivalent) but made out of corn. "Have you ever had one of these?" she asked me. I told her that Mexican food on the west coast is like Chinese on the east. Lots of it, cheap and good. I said, "What about this lettuce though, huh?" And she wandered off.
She wanted to fly back home earlier than her scheduled flight on Wednesday. She said at home she's always doing something. And by something she means cooking or cleaning (and going to the Kingdom Hall.) But here she can't relax. She's so restless. We're driving her nuts too, apparently. And usually Husband would have changed her flight by now, but the thing is is that she's taking Mina back to NY for her annual NY Family Visit. And if Grandmutter leaves early, then so does Mina. And I'll brave the neurosis and droning and smacking (loud smacking!) to get two more nights with my love child. So, Grandmutter is going to have to suffer two more nights with us too.