When I was young, I was in a such a hurry to grow up. I remember an earnest prayer by the window one afternoon when I was seven, maybe eight. Looking out into the hibiscus hedge growing over my backyard fence, my fingers closed firmly around the window grilles, I said, “God, please make growing up faster. I don’t want to be a kid anymore. Make me a grown up.”
There was definitely some magical thinking behind me focussing so hard at the hibiscus hedge and holding on so tightly to the window grilles, as if by sheer determination I could will anything to happen. Well, maybe something did happen, because from that moment, it seems time went by in ten-year chunks, and little milestones along the way were forgotten, or passed over quickly from memory.
I remember very little of my teen years, and sometimes I don’t want to. I simply went through the motions, never really understanding why I was where I was or doing the things I was doing, except that I had to. There was a distinct sense of disconnect with all that was going on around me, and no real anchor by way of hobbies or pastimes that fulfilled me on a meaningful level.
Then, when my uncle and grandfather passed away in quick succession and I saw my erstwhile strong grandmother lock herself in a perpetual state of grief and basically become inconsolable for the rest of her life, I swear, that was the point where I lost track of time. This period I call the “black hole”, because aside from finishing secondary school, going to junior college, and then entering university, my knowledge of everything else during this time is sketchy. Maybe my closer friends can tell me the sort of person I was then and what I liked doing, but I can’t always connect the dots.
However, what frustrates me the most about the “black hole” is that those memories associated with my grandma around this time are the dimmest. Did we still visit her on weekends? Would she make dinner for us? How was she spending her days? What are some things we talked about? I haven’t the foggiest idea. And why? What was I even doing?
When my grandmother died, she was but shadow of her former self, her body ravaged by old age and her spirit dimmed by years of grief. The demise of this version of grandma I hardly knew was like losing her all over again, but this time permanently. At her funeral, I was asked to deliver an impromptu eulogy, and oddly enough, I found a way to speak with eloquence about an extraordinary woman and her life, of whom a large chunk I’d lost to the “black hole”. I still don’t know how I pulled it off.
Another thing about the year she died. It was 2012, a dramatic year on many counts for me. That February, after a two-year battle with an ED, I resolved to get better; in April, I started writing Tea in Pajamas; three months later, I successfully conceived my second child, only to miscarry six weeks later; and by November, in the midst of shifting into a new apartment, I received the news that grandma was gone.
When the year drew to close, I was understandably relieved and looking forward to a quieter, calmer 2013. But in true dramatic fashion, on grandma’s first death anniversary, Belle was born. Say what you will about life, but there’s no denying (at least in my experience) that it’s equal parts weird and wonderful. Now with each birthday that I celebrate with my daughter, grandma’s memory will live on as an indelible part of our lives.
Now almost three decades since that prayer by the windohw overlooking the hibiscus hedge, I’m more inclined to utter a different sort of prayer. Dear God, please hit the “pause” button so I won’t grow old so fast, I want to say. But that window and hibiscus hedge are long gone (my parents had the old house rebuilt in the late 90s, shortly before the start of the “black hole”), and these days I do most of my praying in the swimming pool anyway (strange but true).
One particular morning, submerged in my little blue cocoon, I thought about the “black hole” again, and something clicked. Up until that point, the subject would typically bring up feelings of frustration and guilt at my inability to recall more about myself or grandma during the time. But that morning, the more I swam, the quieter the head noises became—and a tiny voice popped to mind: “What does it matter if you can’t remember everything? Maybe love isn’t quantified by the number of memories.”
That morning in the pool, I decided it was time to swim my way out of the black hole.
And so I did.