Friday, August 5, 2016
Twisted Fairy Tale
My Italian grandmother walked around the house in her old age and her old age was the only age that I can remember, whimpering. I've written this before, but I carry her in my cells. Pray that I die, she muttered in her thick accent, pray that I die. She fingered rosary beads. True. She was always of old age but not always old. She also pinched the skin on the top of your hand and played a sing-song game whose words I've forgotten as they were in Italian. I knew the Lord's Prayer in Italian, but I've forgotten it. For a moment I forgot the Lord's Prayer in English, and lord knows her meatballs and spaghetti were hallowed. I twist language to avoid what I avoid. It's unbelievable that I still can't deal with Sophie's bad days in a way that I believe I should be dealing after twenty-one years. I leaned over and wiped a drop of drool off the floor, a trail of drops from her bedroom. I had walked her out and down the hall to put her in her chair. I propped a pillow under her fragile elbow so that she didn't bruise her arm. She has tiny bruises on her arms and legs, the skin so fragile over bone. My grandmother was strong in body but looked soft. She carried bags and bags of groceries through the streets of Harlem and up the stairs to the apartment over the firehouse. She had burns along one arm. We were told they were scars from tomato sauce that had spattered while she stirred it as a child in Calabria. She never went to school. She was illiterate. I look soft but am strong in body. I read all day long for a living and because it keeps me alive. I read an article today about a black firefighter in upstate New York whose home was torched and burnt to the ground along with everything in it, including the two family cats. The man, his wife and two children weren't at home and are alive. The arsonist was a racist, a fellow fireman who had written him an ugly note a few days before. Niggers are not allowed to be firefighters. No one wants you in this city. And so forth. What do we do with this information? Who are these people who live amongst us? I feel a whimper at the back of my throat, and it burns. I felt it earlier when I leaned over to wipe the drool off the floor, the trail of drops like crumbs, my grandmother's rosary. I have scars, but you can't see them. Why do I feel fragile, like skin over bone? Why can't the drops of drool be crumbs that I can use to find my way back?