Coming Out of GrandmotherPosted: August 31, 2014
I saw a woman at the bank the other day. A bank teller. She had the same kind of liver spots on her face that my grandmother used to have, right on the side of her cheeks by her eyes. She had laugh lines like my grandmother did. The shape of her face was almost exactly like hers. So was the texture of her skin. I wondered if the woman’s skin, like my grandmother’s skin, is what old lady Filipina skin is supposed to look like… like a coconut but not so hard, smooth even though it looks rough.
Seeing this woman was like looking at grandmother again, as if she were standing in front of me even though it wasn’t really her. The teller also had drawn in eyebrows, except my grandmother never used black eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows. She always used a brown pencil. (Although when my grandmother was in her seventies once, she drew one of her eyebrows in blue because she was in a hurry and didn’t notice. When my sister pointed it out hours later my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.)
I wanted to touch this bank teller’s face. I wanted to press my face next to hers and inhale deep to see if she smelled like Pond’s cold cream and Johnson’s baby powder, just like my grandmother. If I could have stood in front of the teller window longer I would have looked at her hands to see if they were wrinkled in the same places where my grandmother’s fingers had been wrinkled too.
As a little girl living in the Philippines, when it it was time to take a nap, I would get into bed with my grandmother and wrap my arms and legs around her until I’d fully sunken into her down comforter softness. I would hold on to her tight because I knew that once I fell asleep she’d find a way to free herself from my limbs and get on with the rest of her day. I didn’t want to let her go.
When my grandmother died in 2006 I didn’t make it to her deathbed. I wasn’t able to fly back from the U.S. for her funeral either, so I never got to hold her goodbye. For that first year after, the longing to hug her one more time was this big, constant ache inside of me.
Until one day, while moving in my body—which is my way of going inward and working out stuff in my life—the realizations hit me:
I come out of the womb of my mother, who came out of the womb of my grandmother. We’re like a Matryoshka doll—only human, not wooden; Filipina, not Russian. My body comes in part from my grandmother’s DNA, which still very much lives on in my DNA. My grandmother is right here, right now, alive in me.
Knowing this doesn’t make the hurt of losing her any less, but it does make the pain feel a little less tender. Now, when I miss my grandmother, rather than looking everywhere and wondering if she’s out there, I sink into my body a little more deeply instead. Because I know that’s where I can always find her.