August 01, 2006

Flies On the Butter...

When I started writing this column, I had to have a serious talk with myself. If I were truly interested in writing about my life, the triumphs and tribulations of being a twenty something year old gay boy in a big city, in an open and honest way, it was either all or nothing. If I was going to be okay exposing the quirks that make me me to the general public, I owed my family the same courtesy.

I knew exactly who to start with.

I picked up the phone and called my Grandmother, Alice, back in Rogersville, Missouri, who, until this point, I had spoken to only a handful of times and had seen once in over a decade.

“Hey Grandma. It’s Rob.”

“Well, hey there kiddo,” she replied. “Whatcha been up to?”

“Well, I thought I’d stop being a stranger and call and say hello. That and I have some cool news. Remember how I always said when I was little I was gonna write a book one day?”
“That’s all you talked about.”

“Well, I still haven’t written a book yet, but I’ve started writing a column for one of the papers out here…and um…well, it’s a gay paper and it’s called The Empty Closet and it focuses on the gay community out here, and well, I am a member of the gay community, so why not?”

Smooth, Robby. Smooth. Had I pummeled the poor woman with too much information? How many times did I say GAY in that sentence?

“Well, it’s about damn time you started doing something with your writing. You better send me copies,” she answered.

“Really?” I was a bit shocked.

“Sure. I wanna read what you’re writing. I’m a big girl. I think I can handle it.”

Apparently my Grandmother was so much cooler and more secure with certain facts of life than I was.

That was the start of our new relationship.

For the next nine months, I made sure to send copies of the paper to her. She in turn would show it to the rest of the family and her neighbors. Every Sunday we would telephone and she would always make an effort to point out something she has read in the paper. During this time, I managed to cart myself down to Missouri for a long overdue visit (which I wrote about in my November 2005 column.). I was touched to see that sitting beside her easy chair was the stack of the papers. She had saved every one. Of course after spending a week with her, I didn’t want to leave. I’ve never been big on goodbyes. But my Grandma had a special way of making me feel better.

“This isn’t goodbye. This is I’ll see ya later. Besides, you can get home and write about your visit”.

Which of course, I did.

Then in late March, I received the news that my Grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The doctors, she explained, were hopeful that aggressive treatment would take care of this situation. Everyone was pretty confident.

“Don’t you worry about me,” she offered. “I’m gonna be fine. I gotta lot more bitchin’ and hollerin’ to do to check out now,” she would reassure me. “But I do need you to do me a huge favor.”

“Anything,” I answered.

“I need you to find me some hair. I know you can handle that.”

Of course we both busted out laughing over that. My family is fully aware of my preoccupation with all things hair.

As it turns out, though, I would never get the chance to follow through on that favor.

It became obviously quickly that the situation was a lot worse than anyone had anticipated. Then came the call that she was being sent to the hospital. My Dad started to make flight arrangements. I couldn’t get a grip on just how quickly the situation had declined. I sat at my parent’s kitchen table and cried like I haven’t cried since I was a child. I kept telling my Mom I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready to let my Grandmother go. I just got her back in my life. I wanted more time.

It was pretty clear that this trip back to Missouri would not be a good one for me emotionally. I decided to remain in Rochester and look after my parent’s house. That may sound bizarre to some people, but it was the right thing for me to do at the time. I just couldn’t handle the idea of going back there to watch my Grandmother die.

I did, however, need to do one important thing. Almost exactly like I had done a year prior, I took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

I called my Grandmother’s hospital room. Thankfully, though medicated, she was perfectly coherent and was able to talk on the phone.

“Hey Grandma. It’s Rob.”

“Well, hey there kiddo,” she replied. “Whatcha doin’?”

“I just wanted to call, you know…I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it back this time.” I started, my voice beginning to crack. “But I want you to know that I love you very much and I’m sorry I waited so long to get back in touch with you and hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings that I’m not….”. I had to cover my mouth at this point because I was choking back my tears.

“Now, you listen to me,” she began. “Don’t you go feeling bad for what happened yesterday and I promise I’ll try not to feel bad for not being around for you tomorrow. We’re with each other in sprit. Deal?”

“Deal,” I answered.

“I’m happy we had the time we did. I sure did get a kick out of reading your articles. Maybe when you’re ready you’ll write about me again”

“I promise.”

“I love you,” she continued. “I’m going to be just fine where I’m going, so don’t be sad. Remember what I told you when you were down here visiting? This isn’t goodbye, it’s I’ll see you later, okay?”

Those were the last words my Grandmother said to me. She died the next afternoon.

The moral of this story is simple: if there is someone in your life that you have been meaning to reconnect with, stop whatever the hell you’re doing and do it right now. Don’t waste another moment. Nothing is worth putting it off.

I try not to regret the years I didn’t appreciate and spend with my Grandmother, and per her wishes, try to focus and think fondly of the time we did have instead. She was my biggest supporter and my brightest inspiration. I miss her everyday. Especially on Sundays. But I know that somewhere out there, Alice Smith is still paying attention and keeping tabs on a certain Serial Blonde. And for that I am truly grateful.

Essential Download: "Flies On the Butter"
Artisit: Wynonna Judd
Available On: What the World Needs Now Is Love

Originally published in the August 2006 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.