A while back I dreamed of my own funeral. It was very simple and there was only one scene: my four grandchildren sitting oldest to youngest in a church pew. The oldest was nearest to me and grown, maybe in her 20’s, and wearing a blue suit. Her hair was brown, and long, and loose. All four of them looked sad and sweet and composed.
Calculating their ages in my dream I’d say I have seven to 10 years to live, maybe slightly more. Or, of course, maybe less.
A few months after the dream, all four grandchildren were visiting us in Washington and I had agreed to sacrifice everything I value and take them to Dave and Buster’s for lunch. The oldest grandchild was about 15, maybe 16, and as she was ordering she turned into the young woman in my dream. I saw her grown-up face, serious and smart and bright-eyed, asking for her burger to be medium and just a little pink and her potatoes to be hash-browns instead of fries. For just that minute her face seemed finished, the sweet malleability of childhood gone, aplomb and wiseness in its place.
Now the oldest granddaughter is 18 and gone across the country to college. All the way across the country; she couldn’t be farther from home or from me. She’s thriving, working, partying and figuring out life, far from home. She’s far from the round-faced six-month-old who laughed and kicked and gurgled with me for half an hour while I very slowly changed her diaper. Farther every day, from her childhood and her life as a daughter, being taken care of every step of the way. She’s lucky; she was nurtured and understood, sometimes left alone to make mistakes and other times enveloped in her family’s arms when that’s what she needed. She’s doing her part; they’re doing theirs.
When I was younger than my oldest granddaughter is now, when I was 16, I had an abortion. It was illegal of course, and I had two conversations with my father about it. In one he told me we were going to the family doctor, and in another he told me to make sure that after “this” my boyfriends used protection. I remember no conversations with my mother about “this” and on the day of the procedure she stayed in the basement in her robe, crying. Two years later when I met the man I’m still married to, I told my mother he had asked me to marry him. She said “Oh, Linda, does he know?” About the abortion, she meant. Of course he knew.
I’m sure my granddaughter has secrets. All children have secrets, things that are theirs alone, things they don’t have to share with anybody. Lucky children have parents who don’t guess their secrets, who don’t suspect that their secrets are malevolent or evil, parents who don’t go through their diaries, whether emotional or written down somewhere.
I’ve always felt aborted, unprotected and raw. I’m trying hard now to knit myself a coat, a protective covering that will feel like skin and keep out the childhood demons, the ones who were always saying “does he know?” Because if he knew, he wouldn’t have me.
Because my oldest grandchild was protected and appreciated and told she was good, she’s free to move from the subway to the freeways, from icy winters to palm trees, from the caring eyes of her parents to the eyes of the world. For me it’s a race to get some kind of skin before my oldest grandchild buys that nice blue suit.