As usual I woke up this morning long before my alarm went off at 7 am. I had to be at work by 9, but I decided to go in a little early, because, face it--the house was clean thanks to not having TV or internet, and our heating doesn't really work, so what else was I supposed to do? While I still lay warm in bed though, I floated through the usual torturous thoughts that have been chasing sleep from my eyes for the past couple months. But, unexplainedly, and within a matter of minutes, my thoughts almost immediately turned to my two grandmothers, who I'm lucky to have and know. Thinking of them gave me a great deal of comfort and strength, and whisked me away from darker thoughts as if they were actually there with me. We haven't lived in the same state since I was two, but I still feel close to them both, and I identify with them very strongly.
They are both very different women: my father's mother (Nonna) is 82 and a practicing physician. She listens to Rush Limbaugh while driving in her Mercedes Benz to and from Lord & Taylor, where she eats lunch every afternoon, in heels, usually with a twinset, pearls or a thick gold chain, her Louis Vuitton bag, and matching tights.
My mother's mother (Nanny) is in her late 70's and works part-time at a Real Estate firm, devoting the rest of her time to making tote bags which she designs and sews herself and sells at craft fairs around New Jersey. She regularly sees a psychic, shops on QVC and loves Marshalls and American diner food. She really thinks that in a past life she was a Jew, talks often with her dead siblings, and has a strong affinity for Paris and for Saint Mother Cabrini.
Both got divorced after their spouses were unfaithful and abusive. Nonna took their divorce trial to the supreme court of New Jersey, spent what would be the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars on trials which ultimately ruled in her favor and resulted in changes in New Jersey State law. Nanny asked for a divorce and my grandfather cut her credit cards in two. She had to ask her brother for a check to serve divorce papers, and he asked her why. "Does he hit you? [Yes] Does he drink too much? [Yes] Because you are married and these things should be worked through." It was only when she told him, my uncle Ace (Adrian Hollywood) that her husband had been sleeping with his secretary for years that he put pen to paper and cut her a check.
Both of my grandfathers (Grandpa and Pop-Pop) married the vapid, boring women they chose over my vibrant, intelligent grandmothers. Both of my vibrant, intelligent grandmothers never remarried.
I honestly can't imagine what they went through. Mind you, this was the 50's. Women didn't get divorced, being Catholic and of immigrant descent was already kind of iffy (my Nonna still thinks the Italians are the oppressed people...), not to mention it was super-unusual to have a job or to do anything but bring their husbands their slippers and make themselves presentable for bridge games with the ladies.
Nonna still wears her wedding ring because she "likes it." And if he was going to break the vow that made that ring mean something, then it was just a pretty rock in a bit of gold. Nanny thanks god for the day she got the divorce. She knows she'd be a different person had she not gone through with it. (She would probably be an obese alcoholic doing what my grandfather's new wife did: waited around while he played golf or took naps, or slept with other women.) Or maybe not. (Nonna would have probably been a bitter millionairess, had she invested her money instead of going all the way to the top of the food chain over in Jersey.) Nonna doesn't see it as a blessing or a curse. She just won't refer to my grandfather as such, or by his name. Just "my ex."
Well you guys probably know why I'm writing all of this at this point. Nobody ever cheated on me, but I've dealt with a lot of varied levels of betrayal and disappointment. Most of the time, though, these setbacks have led me, like them, to unexpected changes for the better.
Thinking of my grandmothers' heartbreaks, and how utterly pulverized they must have felt in the wake of such trauma helped me put things into perspective a little. But thinking about how awesome they both are in their own ways, made me want to jump out of bed, thrice clear my chakras, and think about what I might have been in a past life. I have a lot to live up to, and like them I have a world of undiscovered potential, and a world of un-lived thrills and disappointments around me.
As a wise fictional character once said: "I love my life! Sure it can be hard at times, but that's part of it." Here's to you, Nanny & Nonna. Hat's off.
That said, and not completely unrelated...maybe this was my past life...Let's dance!
notes - Mel Chin talk at MCAD
4 weeks ago