August 2020, my cousin shared that she would be getting married…at my grandmother’s house. It had been six years since I was there. Six years since the shoveling snow, can’t catch my breath incident. Sending a gift would have been sufficient, especially in a time of COVID, but I felt compelled to attend.
“Are you gonna be alright?” Dwight asked as we traveled toward her home.
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I’m a grown-ass woman,” I replied as more of a mantra than a confident truth.
Just for the record, I really thought I was fine. Day one was simple. I ignored how my grandmother wore her mask around her chin, ignored how she talked about how stupid my cousin and her fiancé were for not setting things up sooner or asking for her help, and I ignored how she demanded we speak up louder, instead of wearing her thousand dollar hearing aids.
Turns out ignoring is what used to work for me. Ever since I’ve been more aware and in tune with my emotions, it’s harder to let things go.
I realized this on day two.
“I’m going to get chicken, but not for everyone, just me and Belle,” my grandmother hollered loud enough for all of us to hear.
That was unnecessarily rude, I thought.
Then, Dwight walked over and whispered, “Your grandmother wants to know if you want some chicken?”
The only person I can control is myself, I thought.
“Grannie, I don’t feel comfortable getting chicken for just me and no one else.”
She didn’t care what I did, as long as everyone knew she wasn’t asking or buying chicken for anyone else.
And that, my friends, is where the heat rose, and spiral began.
We got the chicken and sides and headed back home, which is when my grandmother decided to stop at her friend’s house to “see what she wanted when she called.”
“Now?” I asked.
“Yeah. Why not?”
How selfish, I thought.
Was it a coincidence that I listened to a podcast focused on triggers when I returned to Florida? I don’t know, and I don’t want to intellectualize or woo-woo this. But according to mental health experts, a trigger can be a tap on the shoulder, the way someone speaks, or a familiar scent. Any of these and more can send someone back into time.
What I do know is by the time we returned to her house, I felt helpless and silenced. I was seventeen again, just like in 2014, just like in 1990. But I had two drumsticks, unseasoned green beans, and a mound of mashed potatoes to suffer through.
I felt alone. My aunt had driven to her hotel. My two cousins and their friend have a closeness that didn’t need my intrusion; they sat on the couch and giggled about something or another. Dwight was in the basement talking to my soon-to-be new cousin. The only place left to eat was at my grandmother’s table. She sat to my left; my ninety-eight-year-old great aunt sat to my right; and across from me, was my mother’s cousin. Though we are all grown, I felt like a child surrounded by adults, just like when I was growing up.
All I wanted was to finish my food. All my grandmother wanted was for me to outline my mundane online teaching job to her because, “I don’t know what you all are doing in this century.”
Even as I’m typing this, it seems a trivial thing. But it’s not. We were at an impasse. While I cannot tell her to put her hearing aids in or to please stop calling people stupid, in that moment, I could refuse to detail how I teach via computer, for no other reason than I didn’t want to.
The wrinkle between her brows furrowed, signaling her annoyance.
All I wanted was to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy. I wondered why we weren’t discussing the other actual exciting event: Her granddaughter was marrying the man of her dreams at her house. A conversation about how I grade assignments was insignificant. Finally, she let it go.
I cleaned the drumstick and excused myself.
“l’ll be back,” I said to everyone and to no one.
And I never returned.
Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.