My grandmother putting a bracelet on me while I'm wearing a badass Sgt. Slaughter helmet and sick sunglasses.

Doritos, Prank Calls, and Death

My grandmother putting a bracelet on me while I'm wearing a badass Sgt. Slaughter helmet and sick sunglasses.

There are better pictures of us, but I’m not wearing a Sgt. Slaughter helmet and officially licensed Macho Man sunglasses in those, so fuck ’em.

Marion Louise Estes was married somewhere between 2 and 5 times and had 4 children that we know about. Her favorite hobbies included buying things, lying about the prices of the things she bought, and eventually returning those things in exchange for new things. She once cried when changing cable providers.

She was a complicated woman who was equally capable of making friends with all the neighbors and pretending she wasn’t home when those same neighbors knocked on her door. She was the type of woman who once gave away my winter boots because I didn’t wear them in the summer, but also told me that “shit” was my first word because she knew that’s what I wanted to hear. She once accused me of watering down my medicine, but hid a cracked hip from me for three days because she didn’t want to go to the hospital. She was my grandmother. She died on Monday.

Last time she spoke to me, she thought I was dead and had been replaced by an imposter who looked just like me. That was a strange day. The last time I saw her, she didn’t speak at all. She wasn’t eating. I told the aides at the nursing home that I could get her to eat some pudding by pretending I bought it for myself and planned on eating it when I came home from work. I don’t think the aides could tell if I was joking. I was not.

She once ate a family size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in an 8 hour period. I had been looking forward to enjoying those Doritos over many moons, but I wasn’t angry at her for eating them. I was, however, very angry at her for carefully arranging the empty Doritos bag so it would look like it was half-full. She truly believed I would not come home from work and wake up an old woman by screaming “Did you eat all these fucking Doritios then put the bag back on the counter?” She was wrong.

She was wrong about a lot of things. She had a habit of randomly moving cross-country leaving behind her responsibilities/kids. That all happened before I was born, though she did move to Virginia when I was 13. She came back in time to attend her eldest son’s–my father’s–second wedding, but chose not to on the basis on stomach pains. We were all skeptical of these pains, as she had a taste for medical drama, but later in life I would spend many a day scheduling her for surgery to correct her hiatal hernia only for her to decide the morning of the procedure that she wasn’t going through with it. I burned a lot of sick time taking her to get pre-op EKGs.

I mention my father’s wedding because that was when I began to understand my grandmother as a person and not just an endless source of raisin spice oatmeal and hugs. I heard stories about how her wacky, flighty manner had left some wounds in it’s wake. But those are not my stories to tell. My story is about how her relaxed attitude towards paying her charge card shuttered the video games division at Sears, but meant I had more Sega CD games than anyone really should.

It says a lot about my grandmother–and probably some not great stuff about me–that the closest picture I have of her is one of me holding her severed head by a dumpster. Fifteen years ago, I used that image for the front cover of an album and it brought us both great joy when someone would ask “Oh my god, what does your grandmother think of this?” and I’d say “She took the picture.”

A poorly Photoshopped CD cover of me holding my grandmother's severed head by a dumpster.

No lie, she kept a framed version of this in her house for many years.

She wouldn’t remember that at the end. Dementia had snuck up on her brain. It’s tough to say when it started, because she was always one for a little drama, but at some point she changed.  For narrative purposes, let’s say it was the time she ate both her sandwich and the napkin it was wrapped in. Eventually, we had to put her in a home. At the time, I felt like I accepted that decision too easily, like there was a solution I would have found if I just worked harder or beat my head against the wall long enough. She gave me a lot and back then I felt like I didn’t give her enough. I’ve either come to realize it would have just been prolonging the inevitable or my brain has decided to make it look that way to make me feel better. I suppose that’s a nice little tribute all by itself.

But writing these few words have helped me remember more about a time before she was my responsibility and was just my grandmother, sitting on the couch and politely pretending to have a phone conversation with an old friend so that her common-law husband wouldn’t find out that the people at Jenny Craig were calling with empty threats of criminal action because her 11 year old grandson was using three way call technology, impeccable timing, and an old answering machine to connect their next available operator to a 1-800 smut line and record the results. That version of her has been gone a long time, but this version of me wouldn’t exist without her.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Fall is beginning and I’m going to eat a caramel apple and remember the time I came home from a hard day of working in the laser tag arena and yelled “how did you manage to eat all three of those caramel apples with no fucking teeth?” at an old lady. I’ve missed that for a while, but I miss it a little more right now.

Me putting my grandmother in a headlock. Or a hug. Who can tell?