Last week a friend mentioned how he can turn heaven into hell just through the art of obsession.
Right now I'm sitting with my two lovely Grandparents in their nice home filled with art on a pretty hillside in a beautiful part of the world. And my head will still reel with non-stop banter of "What are you doing with your life???" and "You should be in NYC, LA, or London..."
I first moved into this house when I was 14 years old. It wasn't that I hated hated it. I just felt painfully horribly uncomfortable with how comfortable and quiet everything was. My sister Margarite and I were fostered and adopted by different families at 13 and 14 years old. My foster parents were headed towards divorce before the adoption was even finalized and Margarite's new family moved her two states away as soon as the papers were signed, to keep her out of gang trouble. A year later I landed in the care of my adopted Grandparents.
Margarite and I are only a year apart and up until the foster homes at 10 and 11, she had always been with me. She had stepped up and parented me as we bounced around from caregiver to caregiver. Now we were states apart. There was some chunk of me that wouldn't allow myself to feel content or be happy in this house with these nice people because she wasn't here to enjoy it with me. It felt like if I appreciated it, I'd be somehow betraying my biological family and more importantly, my sister. No one ever said anything to suggest that that was the case, I just took it upon myself.
I spent years in my room staring out the window to the large twisted oak tree, talking on the phone, and waiting for nightfall so I could sneak out to go be with my friends. My adopted Grandparents were lovely people, but they weren't the ones who had signed up to parent me, which I reminded them regularly. I'd lock myself in my bedroom emerging only to eat dinner or get cookies from the cookie jar. (So Grandma met me where I was at and kept the cookie jar full at all times.)
When I'd do something disrespectful or abusive, they wouldn't punish me, they'd just firmly restate whatever original boundaries they'd set. 'Call if you won't be home for dinner', 'Curfew is midnight on weekends', 'We agreed you wouldn't drive your car into the city.' I would fall short and lie to weave my way around their rules, but they loved me regardless and let me spin out of control. Most importantly they were consistent. They are good parents.
I was judgmental of them for the most ridiculous things (like how their kids lived nearby...?), but one thing that made me feel better was that they both came from working class families- his parents were commercial artists and hers were farmers. They worked for everything they had and raised 4 children by selling pottery at crafts fairs and making commissioned pieces for architects. I also liked that his art was utilitarian; not some fluffery but real useful pieces of art.
At 19, still pretty thick with resistance, I realized that living with the Grandma for 5 years now made her my longest consistent caregiver next to my sister. Slowly my ability to let her parent me was seeping in. I moved away for a few years then came back, then moved away again, and moved back. Grandma let me know that this was my always home and I could leave and return as many times I wanted to.
Most recently I landed back here in October after two years of choppy traveling around the US/UK while working on my memoir (which morphed into trying, unconsciously and quite unsuccessfully, to find a person to make me feel whole). I came back home feeling defeated and irritated at myself and the Universe. But it was good to be home. Familiar ground, familiar air, familiar food, friends, and family.
Grandpa's Alzheimer's has accelerated in recent months and we spend our days talking about things that have nothing to do with everything and somehow or anyone. It's like a Rorschach test, but in conversation form. He starts a sentence and Grandma and I lead it in whichever direction we think he was heading, he giggles then says something else and we carry it in a new direction. Just like they let me be where I was at- an angry, defiant, cookie eating teen- I get an opportunity to be present for them where they are at. We take walks, Grandma is teaching me how to cook, and I get to hang out and pretend I'm retired while I try to finish the book [writing a memoir is way harder than I thought it'd be] and try consciously not to find a person to make me feel whole. I've been making art (and movies) going to meetings and being present.
I feel like for the first time I am kind of able to show up for them. For whatever reason, I no longer feel guilty being here. I feel okay. I feel like I am repaying them the gift they gave me of being present and loving. I feel grateful.
That's not to say my head doesn't pop up with occasional insane panic of impending doom and fear of failing as an artist... it does, but at least I know I won't regret being here with them.