My life has begun to form around the ache. I had someone who, in her purse on the day of her death, kept a copy of the first poem I ever wrote, folded and dated 20 years back. There were also multiple pictures of Micah and I and a list of our various phone numbers. The lockets in her vast collection of jewelry hid my face on the inside. My 4th. grade school picture was decoupaged on the back of her hand-mirror for Pete's sake. At her funeral, I cannot count how many people came up to me, introduced themselves, and said, "Oh goodness Melissa. It's so lovely to meet you. Your Nanaw sure did love you. You were her whole world." I would answer, "Yes. I know." I was blessed enough to know, from a very early age, that I had someone in my life that would love me unconditionally, unlock my imagination, fill me with so many beautiful dreams, and stuff my heart full of poetry and music and romance and utter happiness.
I look at old pictures (And recent-- Her friends and her dressed up and got crazy well into their 70's.) of her and her best friends and I see modern replicas of scenarios, costumes and sheer silliness, mirroring those of mine and my cherished friends. I identify myself with her in way that I do not with any other person. So much of me, was made by her. My gratefulness knows no bounds.
I must have been around 7 or 8. My Papaw had just got a new car and the Nanaw had come to pick me up from my house and take me to hers for the weekend. A bi-weekly ritual. Well, somewhere in the course of the 10 minute drive from Reddington to Seymour, I convinced her to let me paint my nails Fire Engine Red in the brand new leather interior of the Cadillac something or other. Of course, I spilt the nail polish. Red smeared the seats and splattered the console. I looked at her rapt horror. Instead of the rage I braced myself for, she started laughing so hard she eventually started crying.
She always laughed when the shit hit the fan. Someone would fall in a ditch in the newspaper or I would spit juice out of my mouth or she would let Micah wear dresses and let me put make-up on him or we would both trip in the front yard simultaneously. All she could do was laugh hysterically. I am realizing as I write this, she is where so much of my self-deprecating humor comes from. If you can't make fun of yourself and your strange existence, I probably can't relate to you. Thank God for her.
Ok, back to the story. We're in the car. I am freaking out. The Nanaw is clearly not. She keeps laughing until I finally start laughing too--at her. I remember this feeling and moment so vividly. She tells me, "This is our secret. Add it to the list. I'll tell your Papaw I did it. He won't be mad at you."
And that's what she did. He was furious and I was off scotch-free. Eventually, when I was in my late teens, we finally told him the truth. It had been too long and his hard exterior hiding a heart made of complete mush, could only laugh and shake his head at us.
Which was totally typical.
Papaw resigned himself to a life of the most loving abuse long ago. Nanaw would be goading us to torture him; put screaming toy tigers under his pillow (pillows which Micah and I had stolen moments earlier while he was brushing his teeth. We would then run around the house screaming, "You can't sleep now! We got your pillow! Nana nana boo boo." Like feral brats.), and he would, like clockwork, fall for the prank. Nanaw would be hunched over and scream-laughing in the hallway, him muttering, "Those damn kids. Peggy! I know you're out there!", a smile playing at the edges of his thin mouth. She was whimsical and mischievous. He was strong and stern yet generous and loving. He is where so much of my iron will comes from. They both taught me to love, and love hard, yet remain impenetrable. I am tough as nails and like my grandfather, complete mush in the middle. Similarly, I have heart that, like Almasy's, is filled up each morning-- even if I try desperately to cut it out each night before. These qualities are from them both. I know this. And I miss them more than my tears can cry and my words can express.