I don’t really use hairspray anymore, and it’s not because I don’t like it or need it. I choose to curl my hair and have it fall flat, frizzing pitifully in the Texas humidity.
The reason? I don’t want to throw away my hairspray–my grandma’s hairspray.
After her funeral two years ago, my family was handing out random items from cabinets–“Which teapot do you want? Which porcelain figurine?” I know they had good intentions–they wanted us all to have a memory or two to take home. But I just felt so weird about it all. I wanted to go home, away from my family and away from all the teapots. My mom gently said something like, “Alysha, there must be something you want to remember Grandma. C’mon, just pick something.”
I asked if I could have her hairspray. We were standing by the restroom, I looked and saw it, remembered mine had run out recently. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Mom laughed and handed it to me.
That was two years ago…and the silver bottle is still sitting next to my sink. I use it sometimes, but never too much, and I always get anxiety afterwards that I used too much, that I’m going to run out soon.
Because I mean…what will I do? Throw it out?! I’ll feel like I’m throwing out my grandma! A freakin’ hairspray bottle has become a weird version of an urn.
The truth is, every time I see it, smell it, feel it in my hair–I remember her wispy white curls and salmon dress pants and funny little British laugh. I miss her cooking and I miss her calling me “my dear” and I miss sitting in her kitchen on those awful wooden chairs telling her about my day.
I can’t throw away the hairspray, because it’ll be like Uncle Chuck’s salsa all over again. I kept the most giant jar of Uncle Chuck’s homemade salsa in my fridge for SO long after he passed away. I couldn’t even open it–the seal seemed to be intensely fused on. I finally made myself throw it away and have regretted it ever since. I miss seeing it every time I open my fridge.
It makes you wonder what weird items people would take from your place if they had the chance–to remember you by. Does anyone care at all about my favorite yellow cup? My wacky paintings, dusty books, giant seashell? Will anyone want my grandma’s teapot that’s on my stove or her porcelain figurine that’s on my writing desk?
Have you seen the trailer for This Is Where I Leave You? It looks phenomenal; I can’t wait to see it. I also just found out that it’s a BOOK. So now I of course want to read it first. I think the reason I can’t stop watching the trailer is because of the symmetry I feel it has to my life right now. A monarch of the family passes away and brings the family together. They are a crazy family to say the least. Spending that much time together is like torture. Yup. And then of course there’s the line that we can all relate to: “Is it the whole world or is it just this family?”
I hope it’s the whole world.
I’ve lost two people this year—my amazing Uncle Chuck and my lovely grandmother. It’s strange to me that there are so many different reactions to death. Funerals seem to bring out the best and worst in some people. And I guess that makes sense when you think about it.
I find myself NEEDING to write about it—not to vent, not to talk shit, not to complain or whine or bitch or moan or whatever—but this is MY way. This is what I do. I think that’s clear to my friends and family by now, that I write (about everything). If they haven’t figured that out, I’m not sure what more I can do…I’ve already published a freakin’ novel.
In This Is Where I Leave You, in true movie fashion, the family comes together even though they’re insanely different and maybe-kinda-sorta hate each other at times. Tina Fey’s character puts it perfectly when she says, “You guys are idiots, but you’re MY idiots.”
I wish I always felt like all the people in my life (friends, family, coworkers, students, ex-students…) were MY idiots. But ya’ know what? It’s OK to just think they’re just idiots sometimes (or most of the time…or all of the time).
When a student decides to say, “Chinga tu madre!” to another student riiiight in front of you, it’s OK. When your cousin chooses to go to a sorority function instead of Grandma’s memorial, it’s OK. When people freak out about what’s was left for them in the will even though everyone knows there was barely anything more than a teacup collection…it’s OK. When a student decides it’s acceptable to bite your arm…it’s definitely fucking OK.
[See how I sandwiched that? Teachers: you can always use funny student stories to buffer real-talk.]
I wish I hadn’t started bawling for no apparent reason last night at Aunt Gigi’s as we were celebrating her birthday. But I was looking around that house and suddenly, all I could see was the absence of my uncle, flipping tortillas and laughing. I wish no one was that interested in money. I wish everyone cared about celebrating peoples’ lives more than they care about celebrating their possessions.
I wish everyone could be calm and collected and poised and respectful about death, but that’s like saying I wish everyone was the same, which would be terrible. I guess, mainly, I just wish that love was visible—in everything, in everyone, even in the darkest, most selfish times. If it was only peeking out, barely noticeable, I don’t think I’d feel as rage-cage.
But just like it’s OK to feel like some people are idiots and not MY idiots, I guess it’s OK for love to hide. Maybe it’s one of those, “How would we really know what it was if it wasn’t gone sometimes?” things. Whatever.
All I know is funerals are the worst, people can also be the worst, everything is the worst sometimes. But love is drinking tea with your grandma and flipping tortillas with your uncle and when those people are gone, love is hugging your idiots who know exactly what you mean.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the not-so-feel-good topic of loss and how to deal with it. I guess a lot of it was sparked by the recent death of Joanna, a girl I met in Europe on a Contiki. We weren’t super close or anything—but seeing her picture splashed on news stories really got under my skin and I’ve been thinking of her pretty smile every day since they found her body.
It’s natural to think about death—it’s normal to feel anxious about your loved ones growing older, more fragile. I feel like losing someone you love is the one thing in life you can never prepare yourself for—but you wish you could or you might even feel like you already are prepared, ready, accepting of fate.
My best friend recently lost her grandmother, who was living with her. I walk by that empty room in her house now and my heart feels tight, uncomfortable. I think about them surrounding her with love, reading her poetry. Jo’s sobs still ring in my ears—I had never heard pain like that. Yet, I am envious of her. I told her this recently—that I feel like she’s stronger now, more prepared than I am, for the next inevitable passing. It’s stupid, I know. It’s not like one family death will make the next hurt any less.
Then I think about my aunts—they’ve both lost their husbands and they’ve both dealt with the loss in their own way.
My Uncle Rick was a racecar driver. I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen so many pictures and watched a couple home videos and I’ve heard about a million stories—that’s enough to know he lit up a room. He had that charm, that smile, that laugh—everyone adored him. Whenever I think about him, for some reason I get this ‘80s Tom Cruise image in my head—this cool cat who could make a rock fall in love with him. After a racing accident, he was in a coma for years before he passed away. My Aunt Debbie focused on her kids and then focused on their kids…I didn’t think she’d ever truly open back up to love. Her story made me fearful—I felt like she had this perfect marriage that ended too soon and once you have that kind of happiness, you just never get it again. I thought maybe people aren’t allowed to have that twice. But now she has John and I see this light in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. It reminds me of the pictures, the home videos, the stories—it reminds me of Uncle Rick. I don’t think she finally “filled a void,” as the saying goes, but I think she finally made room for that same kind of big love she once had.
Our hearts are bigger than we think. I feel like we’re constantly trying to cram love into a box—focusing on taking things out instead of expanding.
My Uncle Mac drove an 18-wheeler. He was in a terrible accident and became paralyzed—a quadriplegic. My Aunt Kathleen had been taking care of him for over 20 years before he passed away in 2010. I’ll never forget how positive he always was—if he was unhappy lying in that bed all day every day, he never let on, to us at least.
My Aunt Kathleen has similarly amazed me with her outlook on life. She is one of the craziest, most hilarious women I’ve ever met (she prefers the term “eccentric”). I asked her this past weekend if she’s dated at all. Her response was a big ol’ grin, a sip of her giant Long Island, and: “Not yet, there aren’t any men in Kountze! Unless I want a crazy old man who has a wife. My neighbor won’t stop calling—he wants phone sex! Can you believe that?! Anyway, I’m gonna move to Gruene and find me a man with at least a six-figure salary. That’s just the way that it is. That’s what I’m lookin’ for. I know what I want!”
Priceless. And the best part? The next day, she actually bought a piece of land in Gruene. She loved Uncle Mac deeply and always will, but she’s figured out that whole expanding-heart thing. It’s so great—and I know that both my uncles are smiling down, relieved that their loves are open to loving again.
I wish I could’ve taken a lesson from all of this sooner. People should view every hardship in this way. I always thought the key to getting over ex-boyfriends was filling the brokenness with someone new. But other people don’t fix you—you have to fix yourself. Your wounds might always be wounds, your holes may stay deep and barren—but your heart isn’t a box with a limit. There’s room for whatever, whoever, and however much. I’m still working on realizing this (isn’t it funny how you can realize something, but never really be done realizing it?). But I know that feeling worried and unprepared for loss is normal—all I can do is keep trying to expand my heart. Current effort: making room for each and every one of my new students. Even the one that guessed my age today: 49.
I wrote the following when I was staying with my grandmother in San Antonio last year. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever met–full of stories–my favorite kind of person is one who is full of stories. But she’s also probably the loneliest person I’ve ever met. I’ve realized that I’m not afraid of aging. I’m afraid of the combination of old and lonely and divorced and depressed and stuck in a place I despise, full of stories. My grandma is a writer; I am a writer. She and I both love books and judging people and Luby’s (almost as much as we love books, to be honest). I guess that’s the way it is with family. There are so many things (whether you realize them or not) that you’re already emulating or you want or wish you could emulate…but then, in other ways, you strive to be that person’s utter opposite. It has sadly become one of my life goals, to be yellow where she is black. But I know she would approve.