Chores with Grandma
“YOU DON’T CARE!!!” I shouted so loudly that even the neighbors could hear. “You just think I’m your SLAVE girl!”
I wanted to say more. To show Grandma who I was. I wanted to rid myself of my anger and let it spew all over her, but something inside me knew that I would regret it later. Afterall, this was the bargain I had struck with her in order to stay. I was supposed to want to help her with chores and now I was breaking my own deal. Even if we had worked for four days without ever once going to the blue and beckoning Noyack Bay to have fun, I was supposed to like it here. And I was supposed to be proving that I was kind and nice, and not a cruel little girl like my cousin Rosemarie.
I choked back the anger, holding it in the heat of my shut mouth.
But my conscience started to creep forward. My words sounded so wrong as they seemed to echo through the air, repeating and repeating. As an 8-year-old, I had broken the cardinal German household rule of never yelling at an adult; done what usually commanded a strong and immediate, humiliating slap across the face. And I had done even worse, I had yelled at an adult who was so respected that even my mother couldn’t yell at her.
My confusion translated itself into my legs which turned and ran off far into the backyard and then through the thick brush of the woods. The undergrowth poked its tiny branches into my skin and the mountain laurel’s thick, viney branches slapped my calves and thighs, but I hardly felt it. I knew I needed to keep running through the woods, throwing my weight against any branch that was in my way, crawling when those branches got too thick. As I moved forward, the me I knew came back — again a powerful force that could break through any barrier. The woods would have to bend for me. Crawl spaces would have to appear to allow me to freely move. Because I was the most powerful thing around, and the will of the woods was mine to bend. That was the way of the woods. The forest was my domain.
But as I ran, I began to feel as twisted as the vines that roped across my path. I tried to shut out my thoughts, but was overpowered by the feeling that I had done something so terrible, that running away from it would only make it worse. Yet going back would also be wrong.
I wanted to be invisible then. So I could just be me and not have to change with every hard day of work. So my mom could come back and I’d be the same old me she had left behind, and she could gather me in her arms and tell me how much she had missed me.
I knew my footsteps could still be heard as I ran, rustling the leaves and snapping twigs with every movement on the flat ground. I couldn’t be invisible if heard, so I found a clearing and sat on a green carpet of moss under the swaying shade of the trees. The oaks that surrounded me didn’t care. They stood tall and pleasantly detached from my thoughts. Even their lowest branches soared over my head, and when they whispered to each other, it was high and far away. It was safe to be small here in this quiet place.
Drawing my knees up under my chin, I hugged them, drawing comfort from the closeness of my own body. I rubbed my cheek across my kneecaps and licked the salt from the place where they touched. It felt good to taste my skin. And then, quietly, I began to rock to and fro– the tightness of my self embrace giving me comfort but the tension in my mind creating a steady and slow rhythm.
I wished life was easy. Grandma was so confusing. Now I had ruined everything by raising my voice to her. That made me a bad and irreverent child, more like Rosemarie than ever — a girl she certainly would never want to keep or love. She would send me off to yet another relative while mom was gone.