Vices we love: Going home

Friday, July 15, 2005

Going home

Death makes me uncomfortable. Squemish. I remember sitting on the family couch for hours as my parents narrated the black and white photos spread out over the course of 4 albums. With rare exceptions ("this is your dad in medical school"), the narrations consisted of eulogies. ("this is your uncle. He was beaten to death at a slave labor camp in Russia.")

I don't get close to other people. Not only because most people are deeply loathsome creatures but also because I know that, be it by moving, the passage of time, a change in interests, or whatever else, I will wind up losing them. One of the few people I allowed myself to embrace is my grandmother. While her daughter wallowed in Boomer self-pity, emerging only on the rare occassions when she wanted to lash out at me for, well, being me, my grandmother took a more philosophical approach. Yes, she wailed endlessly like many other 80something Eastern European Jewish women. But through it all, there was a steely determination about her that her self-involved offspring lack.

Life isn't fair. It wasn't fair to target my family for extermination. It wasn't fair when I was being harassed at high school on a daily basis for being Jewish (among other things.) It isn't fair if someone's mother becomes a drug addict and pursues her own selfish indulgences over the welfare of her daughter. But I watched as the daughter of a woman who survived hell drifted further and further into self-pity and victimhood- and I couldn't stomach it.
One of the strangest things about America is that an apology makes everything okay. "showing remorse" as the lingo goes. There seem to be no limits to what you can do if, afterwards, you are sufficiently apologetic. At some point, my parents bought into this pleasing scenario. And why not? It's the ultimate dodge. Fuck anyone over, any way you damned well please, as often as you'd like and at the end of the day, wipe some tears from your eyes (onions help- buy some before going on television) and everything is okey-dokey again. If, by chance, someone is unmoved by this performance, they are accused of "holding a grudge"- which is made to sound like a bad thing.

I hold grudges. I hold grudges going back sixty-odd years. I hold grudges against an entire nation (several nations, actually) who enthusiastically embraced the idea of exterminating an entire race of people. I hold grudges against their descendants, wrong as that admittedly is. I hold grudges against the doctors who botched my mothers' delivery and then left me to die for two days while looking for ways to cover their asses.

Holding grudges is a healthy thing. The memory keeps the mind alert. You learn about people- the good and the bad- and file away what you learned so that you never make the same mistake twice. But it does wear you down.

I'm the sort that needs closure. I need to see my grandmother so that I can affirm the strength of our relationship and make sure (again) that she had lead a decent and fullfilled life in spite of it all.


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