A wise friend read my astrological chart last year and wrote me this:
"there are things about your family history that have sunk into the
unconscious of your family but that you embody. this has a lot of power. i
think it might scare you sometimes - a vague feeling that you're acting
something out that isn't even your script. something your family may have wanted and
strived for for several generations but this got blocked somehow..."
When I was about 6, my Grandma King and her boyfriend Bob took me on a road trip from my hometown of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta all the way to Vancouver Island, British Columbia where they lived in a beautiful house by the sea. Someone gave me a little Kodak camera, the kind that comes in a box. I snapped those funny, skewed kid photos: random mountain tops, blurry views from the backseat window, a few (what are now identified as) 'selfies', and one of Grandma and Bob standing near the car smiling. The smell of the car was a mix of hot, mountain air, cigarette smoke, dusty seat covers and an acrid, cleaner-like smell I couldn't yet identify.
It was a sweltering hot day, my grandma was dressed in short green shorts and a light floral blouse. She had her giant rings on, her dyed blond hair was nicely coiffed. Only 5'1'' tall and composed like a frail bird, she was a very, serious force of a woman. I was kind of scared of her, but her powdery soft skin and lipstick also warmed me to her. Those lips bore a lot of sharp words for a lot of people, especially her family, but she's one of the few people in the world who gave me compliments or said important things I've never forgotten.
"You're a beautiful swimmer, dear," she said as I swam in the roadside motel pool. The following day, we were packing up the car and I spotted something in the trunk.
"Are those vodkas, Grandma?" I asked her, looking at a case of 60s. It was 1986, people rarely wore seat belts either.
"No, you never mind nosey girl. That's fresh B.C. water."
"That's right, darlin'. Fresh B.C. water!" Bob managed to slur out. She had a few boyfriends in her lifetime but Bob really took the cake. This was clearly a romance based in alcoholism cause he was sloppy and fat, kinda looked like Rodney Dangerfield. My grandma had very high standards - as she should have! She was a stylish, brilliant beauty who dreamt of being a playwright. She was just born in the wrong time.
When she knew she didn't have a lot of time left, she labeled a few of her possessions with names of those who would receive them. My name was shakily written on a piece of tape on the bottom of a bronze ballerina statue in mid-twirl. It makes me think of how she always found me a beautiful swimmer. A few months before she passed, I visited her at her Douglas Street condo in Victoria - we ordered Chinese food which she barely touched and watched the movie Ratatouille. She had her bottle of vodka nearby, not an expensive one mind you. Her cigarettes, too. She smoked and we talked a little bit. I can't remember about what exactly, but maybe I told her about my years in Japan, maybe she shared some memories.
I think she'd given so much of her good years to a man who "saved her" from a life of poverty, a man who was exciting, commanding and wild (more on Gene later), but his carousing and control made her deeply unhappy. She was a censored artist in a way; frustrated. This was the 50s after all. Her anger manifested in her as criticism and vitriol...and alcoholism. In her later years, she wrote me letters reminding me to abide by my own rules, to stay true to myself. While I was living in Japan, she sent me one that included the advice: "...don't place all your hopes on a man".
As I was on my way out the door she called to me from her beige settee, a genie of smoke rising from her cigarette.
"Carmen dear, take care now."
"I will Grandma."
"Love yourself, dear. Love yourself."
I thought that astrological reading was about being a great artist. I did. High on my own delusions and piecing together stories of my grandparent's ambitions, I read that reading and was immediately awash with fantasies about being famous. I'm embarrassed to tell you that but I think it's important because delusion is addiction's best mate. Even though addiction has wreaked havoc on my family, it remains virtually unspoken, almost an afterthought.