My grandmother, in her later years, had breasts the size of watermelons and a belly to match. That never kept me from crawling into her lap while she sat in her armchair in front of the TV. When I was very small, I'd crawl under that same chair and watch "Wagon Train" from between the carved wooden legs. I'd pretend I was a rabbit living in a hutch.
I still have that chair.
Spending every Saturday night with Nana, sucking Mountain Dew through a black licorice straw, watching "Gunsmoke" and "Leave it to Beaver" and sometimes "Alfred Hitchcock." I wanted to be Beaver with his perfect parents, perfect house, perfect neighborhood, and understand teachers, none of which I possessed. My own homelife was uneasy at best, chaotic at its worst.
Going to church with her every Sunday morning, how her clear shaky voice sailed above all the others as she sang "The Old Rugged Cross," her favorite hymn. Once she snuck me a piece of a Host because I was too young for Communion and felt very left out. It taste like nothing and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I kept it there as long as possible, waiting for magical things to happen.
Nana chasing my sister and her fiance out of the house with a broom when they announced their engagement. Nana wasn't too fond of the fellow, haha. She slammed the kitchen door hard enough to crack the window (another scene used in Before/After).
Nana telling me how beautiful I'd be "as soon as you get those teeth fixed." How she promised me many boyfriends, none of whom materialized.
How she let me read everything and anything I could get my hands on, even True Confessions magazines and "forbidden" novels like "I, the Jury" and "Peyton Place." How we'd sit on the front steps on the Fourth of July and eat crackers and jelly and watch the fireworks. How I'd curl up in her living room after school and read, and read, and read, and read. How we'd discuss the books, and anything else that came to mind.
How she adopted an elderly mutt and named her "Dolly" which, coincidentally, was her nickname for me. Dolly was soooo sweet! I'd dress her in a bonnet and take her for walks. She loved me, she loved my grandfather, but it was pretty obvious she loved Nana the best.
I remember the guilt I felt when I realized *I* too loved Nana the best. Yes, it was true: I loved my grandmother more than I loved my parents. I remember the burning shame that filled me, how I wished it weren't true, how I was powerless to change it, how I was sure to be punished.
One night as I was getting ready to leave (I lived only four houses away from her at the time) she hugged me tighter and longer than usual. "I love you, dolly!" We were never shy about saying "I love you"--but she held me for so long, it struck me as odd and more than a bit disturbing.
"See you tomorrow!" I'd said.
The next morning I was over there by eight a.m. Nana wasn't yet awake--very unusual for a woman who religiously got up with the birds to drink coffee, mutter over the newspaper, and fry up an artery-clogging breakfast. Dolly greeted me at the door--and you know the expression on a dog's face when they know something is wrong?
Dolly had that "look."
I followed the dog through the house, calling "Nana! Nana!" and found my grandmother still in bed, tucked neatly under the covers as if she hadn't moved all night. When I pulled the sheets down, her skin was mottled blue, hard and cold to my tentative touch.
Dolly whined, and stared at me expectantly. But what could I do? I was eleven years old.