My grandma died a couple of weeks ago. My sister broke the news, calling me in the middle of the day. “Are you at work?” she asked. “Sorry to call you at work. You know what happened.” I did know. A year ago my aunt—my grandma’s only daughter—died. “Are you at work?” my sister had asked then.
Last Friday while passing my neighbors on the doorstep, I tell them what happened. “Ella murió de dolor de corazón,” one murmurs. She died of heartbreak.
A discarded product of my parents’ divorce—too naïve to raise two daughters unaccompanied, too angry to raise them as a pair—I lived with my aunt and grandma.
My grandma hand-washed our socks, scrubbing until they looked brand new. My aunt hummed to herself in the car. They both took us to Disneyland. They prodded and pestered us, edging us toward womanhood until our parents decided they were ready. And then they stepped back—accepting this independence, proceeded with their own lives, all of us becoming mired in our histories, all of us becoming islands.
When my aunt died the enormous weight of her own echoing fear and anger at her failing physical form bore down on me.
My grandma’s death yields confusion. I find myself untethered without knowing exactly what I was tethered to in the first place.
I do know my grandma and aunt were proud of me in a way that will never be replicated, a pride born from a place I will not be able to rebuild. A place with blueprints half-plotted, a language to which I am illiterate, this unremarkable skillset wholly untaught.
I scrub my own socks now, as my grandmother did, but despite the bleach I use, despite the temperature, despite the rawness of my hands and the embedded lines on my knees from kneeling on the tile in front of my bathtub, they still look gray.