When I was five-seven years old, my brother and I were sent to stay with our grandmother for weeks at a time during summer vacations. She would always go on about how ‘handsome’ I was when I arrived, and inquire whether I had a girlfriend. Grandmother insisted we sleep in her bed, and only in our underwear. She had two spare bedrooms, we packed pajamas, but this is what she decided for us. Grandmother didn’t wear a nightgown herself, but a bra and panties, faded and skin-colored. I recall this went on until she started to complain that my brother kicked her too much in his sleep; I’m not sure if there was a time when only I slept in bed with her after that, but she continuously brought up afterwards how sorry she was we couldn’t both sleep with her anymore.
The day after I had the flashback about my mother, I began to examine these memories and started to dissociate, to remember something sexual happening in her bed, but the process was aborted because I was so exhausted from my work the day before. I also felt a surge of resistance inside me due to an old fondness, and certainly heard my sister’s voice, who preferred to revise history in order to idealize our grandmother and shame me, my mother as a child, and anyone else who would criticize her. But I saw this was the exact same scenario in which my mother sexually abused us; in her bed, side by side. There was nothing we could do to resist (except possibly my brothers ‘kicking’) having experienced the same treatment from our own mother years before. The incest was intergenerational. I was sexually abused by my grandmother as a child, who also very likely sexually abused my mother.
In later years I overheard my mother waxing about her enjoyment in sending us away, saying that while we were gone her and my father “ran around the house naked and ate seafood…” I find this disgusting; there was a sexual dimension to the visits on both ends. She blindly sent us away to be sexually abused by her mother, and used the time to fulfill her own fantasies. I don’t really see that they needed even more time alone in the first place; my parents purposely arranged their work schedule so that they would work Saturdays, but have Wednesdays off, and all to themselves during the school year. On Sundays, they would spend the entire day in their bedroom, with the smell of marijuana smoke often wafting down the hallway. They avoided us, and thereby allowed me to be abused by other people because of their neglect and lack of interest.
My mother, grandmother, and aunt were all alcoholics. On our yearly trips upstate for new years, the three of them would sit in the dining room and get drunk, scream, cry, and fight for hours. This greatly disturbed me as a child; the holidays were supposed to be a fun time, one of celebration yet these people came together to perpetuate a sick, unstable relationship year after year. The truth is, they hated each other. My mother had bullied her younger sister mercilessly, and she told me stories from a young age about what a sick monster my grandmother had been as a parent, but she clung to these people anyway, as well as to the father who abandoned them when she was four years old.
I see now that there was not love at my grandmother’s house; while she never hit me, she was controlling and would yell, she sexually abused me, and just like my own mother, any affection was expressed through food. We were plied with copious amounts of greasy, fried food, desserts, snacks, koolaid…food was offered as the only consolation for emotional neglect, the only stand-in for real affection and care. But no amount of blueberry muffins or birthday cards filled with money could make up for what was lacking, or justify the fact that keeping her own abusive mother in her life made mine more unstable, abusive, and insane. This was the same for my aunt, who even had her mother live with her for many years, much to the ire of her own children, who thereby had another person to yell at them all the time.
By the time I was a teenager, my grandmother had lost any interest in me. She died when I was sixteen, and what I remember strongly was that no one cared what I felt at the time; I received only moralistic statements, condescension, and judgment for having any feelings of my own while she was dying or at the funeral, which they saw as an adult affair, as their event. It was a confusing and sad time for me. She was the only grandparent I knew. But I could have done with zero grandparents, I could have done without my aunt and cousins, if it meant having a healthy mother who wasn’t abusive and didn’t feel the need to reenact her own childhood via my life. Harboring illusions about these people would not benefit me; I was made to suffer as a child on account of my grandmother’s excess baggage, but now I can see her for what she was.