“We Will Return After These Messages,” by J.D. Ho, appeared in the Fall 2018 – Caregiving Issue of MQR.
When I was ten, social workers came to my house and took me away from my mother, who was on welfare, struggling with alcoholism and mental illness. After a brief stint in foster care, I was sent to live with my grandparents. At the time of my arrival, my grandmother sat watching television. There was nothing vegetarian for me to eat, so she cooked spaghetti, drowning it in canned tomato juice. In the cluttered kitchen, she sat like a queen in her turquoise plastic-covered chair, swishing her feet back and forth on the floor as she did her arthritis exercises. The pungent scent of freshly picked oregano filled the air. The oval leaves lay in an aluminum pie tin she used as a work surface to separate the leaves from the stems with her guillotine fingernail. All the while, she stared at the TV, which sat like an altar in the chancel of the kitchen.
I only knew my grandmother for thirteen years. During some of them, I was away at college. During one of them, I cared for her as she died. She lived sixty-five years without me. Most of her life and loves were a mystery, but I know she loved television because she passed that love on to me. Primetime was the world in which she and I met each evening, where we communed without speaking.
I think of my grandmother whenever I delight over rotting corpses and the life cycle of maggots, when I research methods of picking locks, escaping from car trunks, or working myself loose when I am tied to a chair and someone is trying to pull my teeth out with pliers. I think of her when I see unmarked vans with suspicious drivers. I think of her in dark alleys, or when I read news stories of cat murders. During laser tag, when my heart is thudding in my ears, and I’m about to be shot, I think of her.
My grandfather rose to local prominence, appeared in the Honolulu newspaper, headed organizations, schmoozed with politicians, and was interviewed about his war experience. Not much was written about my grandmother, either by herself or others. She didn’t regale me with tales of her youthful suffering, the tribulations of her Chinese immigrant family, or how things had been harder for her when she was my age. My grandmother raised five children and kept silent.
We were two different people from two very different generations. She was a Republican. She thought a lot about banks and interest and stocks. She wanted me to take sewing lessons. Even when it came to TV, we had our differences.
Image: Adobe Stock Photo.
J.D. Ho received an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas in Austin, and has work in Ninth Letter, Georgia Review, and other journals.