Nana and I circa 1987 at Head Start.
I tend to try and be fairly stoic when it comes to my emotions and what I let people know about me in the realm of Al Gore’s creation, the internet. However, it’s been around a month since I’ve written anything of true substance, so that’s what this is a loose attempt at. It’s a bit of an autobiographical narrative, based on today and the person whose birthday would have been this coming Tuesday (November 13): my Nana.
I think about her often, but I’ve never actually taken the time to write about her or what she meant to me when she was physically still apart of my life. As an only child to a single mother, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Just about every weekend until I was 14 was spent at their house. Nana spoiled me rotten. She bought me a Nintendo Entertainment System when I was five, a Super Nintendo when I was eight, so on and so forth. If I wanted it, she found a way for me to have it. She wanted me to be happy and she made me one of the happiest kids around. Sure, I was a loner, never had too many friends through elementary and middle school, but I had my Nana and she always made me feel better.
When I was in seventh grade, I was bullied by a group of kids daily for a couple of months and just kind of took it. Never any physical harm, but plenty of name calling, stuff like that. One day, I was corner in the back of a classroom before the day had started. They were leaning into me particularly hard that day and I had had enough of it. I stood up, all 70lbs of me at the time, reared back with my right hand and threw the only punch I’ve ever thrown at another human being in my life. I remember bleeding, because I had cut my knuckles on the recipient’s braces.
Of course, I was in a bit of hot water for my actions. We were all pulled down to the principal’s office, reprimanded for fighting and told we were suspended for the day (I think it was a Friday). So, I did the only thing any other 12-year-old would do: I called Mom for a ride home. No such luck, she didn’t care (or believe) that I had been bullied for as long as I had and throwing a punch most of been my fault and no one else was to blame. As far as she was concerned, I could walk to the 2 ½ miles from Saco Middle School back to our house.
From there, I did the only thing I could think of: I called Nana. She had no reservations about coming down to pick me up and take me home. She was proud of me that I had stood up for myself through everything. She was always on my side like that.
The main thing she did for me was take me bowling. Every single Saturday she brought me to Vacationland for the youth leagues. She and Grampy took me to every single tournament, whether it was at home in Saco, or as far away as Bangor / Brewer. She never put any pressure on me to do better or criticized me for easy shots I missed. She relaxed me, told me to do my best and that would be just fine.
She also aided my bowling by playing a little game with me. Every time I got a 10 she’d put a quarter into a jar. A spare? Fifty cents? A strike? A whole dollar! Nothing motivates like money, right? It wasn’t about the money though, it was about the support she gave me. The love, the encouragement, the belief in myself that I could do things that I thought I was incapable of doing.
It was hard to watch when her health started declining, mostly because of Diabetes. I know she didn’t take the best care of herself, especially with her diet and that certainly didn’t help. It’s the reason why I get blood tested every single year for the disease. I remember seeing her hooked up to the dialysis machines. A bunch of people put in a room together, trying to survive together. It was horrifying and not unlike something you’d see in a cancer hospital.
Regardless, I remember the day she passed on. We had visited her in the hospital early in the afternoon. She was barely responsive. We were telling her that I was close to graduating high school, that she would be there to see me walk up on stage at Thornton Academy’s football stadium. I kissed her forehead before my mother and I left. We started the drive out of Portland and hadn’t quite made it near where Hadlock Field rests when Grampy called my mom’s cellphone. She was gone. My mother cried and cried. I just sat there, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t really believe it, she was the first person that I had ever been truly close to and she wasn’t going to be there for me again. Ever. It was almost too much to grasp.
I didn’t cry at the funeral, either. Everyone that attended went out to a lunch at a local restaurant, I told my mother and stepfather I wanted to stay home. They were resistant at first, but relented and allowed it. Distant family members didn’t like that I wasn’t going out to eat with the rest of them, but my mother understood I had a closer relationship with Nana than I did with anybody else in the world. I sat in my room with the door shut for hours. I was sat on the edge of the bed and sat there from the early afternoon well into the night just thinking. I didn’t shed a single tear about her being gone. Not from the time I found out she was gone, until about three weeks ago.
I always found it strange that I never cried over her death. I can tell you that I had never been sadder in my entire life, but I couldn’t cry. I don’t know if it was just too much for me to handle emotionally and there wasn’t anything there, but I really don’t have an answer and probably never will.
To start to wrap up this story, three weeks ago I bowled in my first tournament in 11 years. I didn’t have high expectations, I just wanted to bowl my average and prove to myself that I could make it through 10 strings in a row without being too tired. Well, after all was said and done on the weekend, I had finished in ninth out of 68 entries. Lucky for me, one in every five entries was paid, so I made some money out of it. I was pretty chuffed and nonplussed about the entire weekend.
On my drive home, I started thinking about Nana. How she was always there for me when I bowled. At every tournament, supporting me all the way. I thought about how I had just finished ninth, performed well above my own expectations. I thought about how proud she would have been of my efforts. That’s when I had to pull the car over on the side of route five, not even two miles from home. I had the biggest smile on my face because of all these thoughts, but my eyes started welling up and I began to bawl like a baby. I can only recall one other time in my life when I cried the way I cried on the side of the road in my car. But this wasn’t a tragic occasion like the previous time was. This was something happy and these were absolute tears of joy.
In two weeks I’ll be bowling in another state tournament, this time in Lisbon Falls. I don’t believe in an afterlife or souls or anything like that. But I do have her in my mind and thoughts. In my mind she’ll be there, sitting in the spectator area, cheering me on, smiling that warm smile she had, encouraging me to do my best, because that would be good enough for her. I learned from her that doing my best and trying my hardest is good enough for me as well.
Happy birthday, Nana. I love and miss you terribly.