Jun. 30th, 2014

bookishgeek: (piratized icon)
"Don't go in that lake!" my mother had warned as my cousins ran out the back door of my grandmother's house and down to the dock, shedding articles of clothing and whooping and hollering in true Southern summer fashion. I paused at the screen door and cast a look back at her over my shoulder: I was six, I was practically grown, I didn't need her help. I fingered the ties of my new shirt, blue with splotchy white flowers that tied at the front, some new nice, pristine white shorts.  I set my jaw and followed my cousins, basking in their shadow: they were loud, rough and tumble boys and like a new puppy I was desperate to fall in line, to be one of them, be accepted.

They bounded down to the side of the river and waded in, my oldest cousin at age nine beginning to pretend to do a newscast about the weather conditions. My aunt hovered nearby in a grove of pine trees, talking and laughing with us as the boys frolicked in the gentle ripples. I slowly kicked off my tennis shoes and peeled off my socks, placing them reverently beside a tree and picking my way across the pine nettles that cascaded over the forest floor, careful not to let on that it hurt my feet. My aunt Amy paused what she was doing and looked over to me, a frown creasing her brow.

"You sure about that, Tricia?" I didn't hear her, didn't want to. I needlessly rolled up my shorts and picked my way out into the water, tongue poking out of the side of my mouth, so pleased with myself: my mother would never, ever know that I was here! This was genius. I took a few more tentative steps and shouted out at one cousin or another when the icy fingers of the lake reached out and traced themselves down my spine - I tripped over a rock, stumbled, and fell into the water, blubbering.

I stood up immediately, drenched and absolutely humiliated. Peals of laughter rang from the dock and the water as my cousins laughed at my misfortune, and I could feel my lower lip wobbling. My aunt stood nearby, aghast but shellshocked, unsure how to react. I folded my arms across my flat chest and attempted to stomp out of the water, made my way across the pine nettles and scooped up my socks and shoes, carrying them in my limp arms to my grandmother's back screen door.

I wrung my shirt out and tried to bite back tears, fingering the tie on my lovely new short set that was now absolutely ruined. My four year old cousin was inside playing a tea party with Gran, and for a moment I wished I'd stayed inside and played a baby game with her instead. Slowly, tentatively, I eased open the screen door and let it clatter behind me. I could feel my mother's eyes from across the house, and as I shuffled my way off the carpet into the tiled kitchen, I wished I could melt into it.

"Patricia!" I heard my mother's screen before I saw her, like a supersonic bat, and I cringed: it was never good when she said my name that way. She went to fetch a towel and I felt myself burst into tears as she threw it at me, too angry to even form words. Tears dripped down my face, intermingling with the briny lake water, and I saw my grandmother's figure from behind my dripping wet eyelashes. She clucked her tongue and reached out to me, pulling me close despite being wetter than after a bath.

"Hey now," she said, smoothing my hair back off my forehead and planting a kiss on the crown of my head. "It's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house." she toweled off my hair and held me until the tears subsided. When my mother went out back to talk to my aunt, my Gran made me a big glass of chocolate milk in one of my favorite grown-up Libby drinking glasses, and I didn't have to share a drop with my cousins. She rubbed at her arthritic wrists and did a Polly Pocket knock-off of Where's Waldo with me, curled up on the sofa like two peas in a pod.

My grandmother passed away last month, and I remember a lot of things about her: her distaste for my rejection of dresses, bows and ruffles, her distrust for people who were not Christian, her inability to see that I didn't need to be married at 22 like my cousin to feel fulfilled. But as big as our differences were, are, after I found out she had passed and I fell sobbing into my boyfriend's arms, the darts we'd been playing clattering uselessly to the floor, I felt her smoothing my hair back all over again, the siren song of those words following me like the Pied Piper: "it's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house."

No matter where I go or what I do, if I feel defeated or beaten down, if I goof up a job at work or I fail in my duties as a colleague, a daughter, a girlfriend, I can hear her in my mind clear as the day she said it 19 years ago: "it's okay, there's no crying at Gran's house." And I know that somewhere, wherever she is, my Gran is free of her arthritis and dancing jubilantly with her God, pleased in me even if the words never fell from her lips.

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