Grandma Jeanne wasn't the stereotypical grandmother—we didn't bake cookies together or go clothes shopping at the mall.
Instead, we spent most of our time lounging in her hospital bed, watching R-rated movies and snacking on anything my heart desired. The hospital bed wasn't anything recommended by a physician—my grandma just felt they were more comfortable than regular beds. The ability to prop up the head lent to the optimum TV viewing experience. It also made eating in bed a less messy proposition.
"You want an egg an' onion sandwich, Pussycat?" she'd ask me late at night.
"Sure, Grandma," I'd say, and she'd disappear to fry me up a golden brown sandwich.
While she was gone, I'd grab the remote control to the bed, pressing buttons until the foot and the head bent my body into a deep V. And if that wasn't enough of a kid's fantasy, we also ate ice cream, bacon and sugar-free candies in bed. My grandma, who was diabetic, kept the candies in her night table drawer, along with Alka-Seltzer and an assortment of loose white pills that she occasionally slid into her mouth when she thought I wasn't looking.
One weekend, we watched "Scarface" together. I don't remember if it was her idea or mine, but we decided to tally up how many times they said "fuck" in the movie.
"He said it again. Did you get that, Pussycat?" my grandma asked.
I nodded and scratched another crooked hashmark on the piece of long, yellow lined paper my grandma had given me. So far, they'd said the F-word 95 times. I had also learned the word "cocksucker."
When gunshots erupted during the movie, I moved to the end of the bed.
"Rub my feet, will ya, Pussycat?" she requested.
I slid one of the towels that we usually used under our plates beneath her feet and massaged yellow lotion into them, watching as the deep white cracks that criss-crossed her feet smoothed out into a healthier shade of beige.
Another time, my grandma was clicking around and landed on Cinemax. Propped up with popcorn in my lap, I was stunned to see a woman sucking another woman's nipples. In the thick of puberty, I couldn't help but blush. She quickly changed the channel, but not before a thrill ran down my body, leaving me even more curious about my sexuality.
Despite all the TV sex and violence I was exposed to, my memories of grandma's bed are predominantly cozy, although she was always something of an enigma. Following a bitter divorce from my grandfather, my grandmother lived alone. She'd had a difficult yet mysterious upbringing—my mom only knew a few details, including that my grandma's father had killed himself when she was 13, leaving her and two brothers to be raised by their schizophrenic mother. She had a volatile relationship with my mother, and was sometimes unkind to me, as well
"You're a pretty girl, but you're going to need a nose job when you're older," she once said. "Don't stick your chin out like that, Lynn—it looks ugly."
When someone dies, we tend to round off the sharp edges of their life and those memories help form their essence, good, bad or otherwise. I was 15 when my grandma died and for me, she was the essence of cool.
"They said the F-word over 200 times!" I reported to my impressed friends the Monday after we watched Al Pacino and his little friend.
All these years later, I see her essence as something different. I see my grandmother as someone seeking refuge. Pleasantly propped up in her bed with an endless supply of comfort food and the benign distraction of TV, to say nothing of those round white pills, she must've felt safe, far away from whatever demons lurked nearby.
When I'm feeling sick or overwhelmed, my first impulse is to return to the womb of my bed, relying on greasy food and TV to numb whatever is ailing me. I can see why my grandma liked it there—when life becomes too jagged, the soft nest of a bed provides safe haven.
Although my grandmother was a wounded woman who perhaps lacked discretion, I have no regrets about our time together. She wasn't like any other grandmas I knew, and for that, I'm grateful.