I wonder if there is anyone who does not contemplate erasure, even if they have never experienced it first hand. When I was a young child growing up in an atheist household, I’d often find myself frozen in a self-imposed terror while thinking about nonexistence when I should have been sleeping. It’s probably safe to say that the concept of nonexistence has driven many lives towards various forms of religions, spiritual quests, and existential crises. After one has experienced existence, the notion of nonexistence becomes a little hard to stomach.
This is not a post about erasure after we die. It is about erasure while we live. It is a story about my personal experience with erasure.
Yesterday, through a Google search, I discovered that my step-grandmother had passed away at the end of last May, at nearly the exact same time my maternal grandmother died. No one told me about her passing. In fact, if you read her obituary, I don’t even exist as a part of her life.
My memory, though, tells a different story. A story of a little girl and her older sister flown across the country to be integrated into a family that wasn’t theirs. A family that struggled, some parts more successfully than others, to accept them. And one of the more successful people with that acceptance was my step-grandmother. She, in my memory, tried the hardest to accept my sister and me as her own, at least for many years. And, my memory tells the story of a girl who loved her step-grandmother and longed to be loved in return. I think I was, at least for awhile.
I once wrote a poem about this complicated love. The poem was about a little girl and her step-grandmother mixing together the ingredients of zucchini bread on a kitchen counter. I couldn’t, though, get it right, as much as I tried to revise and rework it. Which seems fitting, I suppose.
My mind has not erased this memory, even if my muse cannot recreate it. My body remembers the rhythm of the shredding of squash against a grater, the stir of the wooden spoon inside a metal bowl, and the dusty perfume of cinnamon filling my nose. I still use my step-grandmother’s recipe for zucchini bread. I even corrected my mother’s intentional error in the recipe book she gave me years ago, crossing out my maternal grandmother’s name and writing in my step-grandmother’s. Making bread with my step-grandmother is one of my happier memories with her. A memory I have chosen not to erase.
And there are more. The days when she took us on the “fun” instead of the “educational” outings that came with required essay writing. Those rare days when my step-grandmother, my sister, and I would ski through the snowy woods of the White Mountains, or slide with gleeful abandon down the water tubes at Weir’s Beach. My tongue still recalls the sweet pleasure of butter crunch ice cream at the end of a hot summer’s day…
And, that inner child inside of me still wants to be beloved.
Yet, she has been erased. Again. Erased from a life because she didn’t fit herself into it in the way that was expected. A product of conditional love. Still, I refuse to believe my step-grandmother and I didn’t share a love for one another. I refuse to erase the proof that lives inside of my cells. And so I will allow myself to feel this complicated grief, and try as best as I am able, to process its messy, uncomfortable form.
The last time I saw my step-grandmother was approximately 17 years ago, even though we lived, for most of those years, just 15 minutes away by car. I didn’t see her because that was my mother’s wish. Yet, my mother was not erased from my step-grandmother’s obituary. Instead, my mother erased her own daughters.
In the years before my maternal grandmother passed away, she would often talk about my mother and wonder why she had chosen my stepfather over her daughters and grandchildren. I could never answer that question because it was not mine to answer. All I could tell her was that it hurt me. It has hurt a lot of people in many different ways.
Everyone bears their own unique story, but love is the light that threads through all life. Instead of erasing the darkness, it illuminates its shadows and allows us to see them more clearly. I’d like to believe the nudge I have felt over these past several months to Google my step-grandmother was from the thread of love that comes from her. She, after all, didn’t choose to erase me. And, I have not forgotten her.