breaking the boy
I remember my grandma shouting at me for playing football in the back yard. She said I was going to end up smashing one of the windows of her greenhouse. She said it was the only place she could go and have some peace. I called her an old witch because I had heard my granddad call her that so many times before. She called me a bastard. I had never heard my grandma swear. I told her I would tell my granddad that she had swore at me. My granddad always stuck up for me, and we hated my grandma. She said bastard wasn’t swearing: it was what I was. When my granddad came home I told him what she had called me. He got his axe and smashed every single bit of glass, and every bit of wood, and threw all of her delicate flowers onto the ground and slowly crushed each one under his big dirty work boots. He dragged her outside to show her what he had done, and told her to never open her old clacking jaws again. I watched her cry, and, as he dragged her back inside, she looked at me, and I smiled.
Years later, I remember that smile, and I remember how she looked: completely defeated and broken, like whatever small bit that was still alive inside of her had died; that the one bit of her that my granddad had not beaten out of her had simply given up the will to live. I remember that smile, and each time I cry, and each time I feel her first, and most tragic death. I would like to say I was too young, I would like to say that years of my granddad’s influence, or my innocence were to blame, or some kind of mitigation of any sort. But I clearly remember how I felt at that moment: a feeling of triumph, a feeling of utter revenge; a feeling of don’t you ever fuck with me, don’t anyone ever fuck with me; and even if those words would not have been part of my vocabulary then, the meaning, and the intent, most certainly were.
Another memory of my grandma haunts me. It is the last time I saw her alive, the time before her second death: the death that committed her to the care of worms, and to lonely decay. She is on her bed, and there is something wrong and spastic with the angle of her body, and she can’t make her mouth move to say what her frightened eyes desperately try to plead. Her nightdress is twisted around her stomach and there is a disgusting mess of hair between her thighs. Her legs are covered in hideous raised patterns of forked lightening, and her toes are twisted like tree roots below her swollen, bulbous ankles. I stand paralyzed in repulsion and fear; she is like some disgusting and frightened animal: something subhuman. I shout to my granddad that there is something wrong with grandma, and he says that there is always something wrong with the old witch, and starts off on his rant about how he never should have married below his class, that she grew up in the gutter, and she should have stayed in the gutter, and that the old hag can go rot in hell; the same stuff I’d heard him say over and over again. When he finally comes into her bedroom, his angry diatribe abruptly stops, and I see him take her hand, and I see him break down in tears. Looking back now, I guess there must have been love at some point in their lives, but at the time, it felt like my entire world had turned upside down. He shouts at me to stop standing there like a fucking imbecile cunt, and to go and get help. I am eight years old, and I learn three new words, and watch the solidity of the only world I know evaporate into something alien, and into something profoundly terrifying.