by Annette Covrigaru
Annette Covrigaru is a gay, bigender American-Israeli writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. They've been awarded a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices Nonfiction Fellowship and a Home School Hudson Poetry Residency. Their work has appeared in Hobart, Entropy, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Yes, Poetry, among others, and is collected at annettecovrigaru.com. Annette’s debut chapbook, Reality, In Bloom, is forthcoming in spring 2020 with Ursus Americanus Press.
The day my grandma died I woke up as if a pipe had burst above me, all its murky contents seeping into the pillows, wetting my neck, drenching my body in silence and discomfort, still limbs with pulsing thoughts.
A year later, I woke up with a heavy head, thoughtless, spare one insistent notion emanating from my hollowed core; I don’t care. And this uncaring, for the day ahead following a night at Henrietta Hudson drinking vodka with Coke or Red Bull and exchanging looks with women I didn’t much care for either, led me to the freezer wherein a Tupperware protecting four tabs of acid hid in the back with a slick, frosted lid for safekeeping. I stuck one tab under my tongue, then another, certain I had somehow fucked up the first.
Spotlighted by a brass Target floor lamp, I performed the first half of Hamilton in the living room and ate my roommate’s entire pint of fudge core Ben & Jerry’s. In the tub, I watched shower drops shatter on my stomach and ring like dancing pennies, water harmonizing with itself. I followed light, all of it, all I could see, throughout my apartment wherever it took me. Then I remembered what day it was and puked.
I refused to drive to Queens alone, which meant visits to my grandma were never solitary occasions and always included my mom, dad, or brother. They were car rides hungrily anticipating her sarmales and crêpes with the sweetened ricotta filling topped with a spoonful of strawberry jelly. They were early winter strolls in MacDonald Park, admiring her body enveloped in a thick faded blue coat and retro Revlon sunglasses peering from a scarf flawlessly wrapped and knotted, but also fearing how her body continuously swayed and demanded rest.
They were, more times than not, oral histories nearing extinction, in need of constant interpretation and safeguarding. This is where my mom or dad or even brother, with his six extra years of exposure, came in again and again, to translate RomanianHebrewFrenchYiddishEnglish to English until my ears were trained in patience and understanding. If there ever existed a version of her life that was afflicted by the weight of RomanianHebrewFrenchYiddishEnglish on her tongue, or where her tongue foiled her mind, she did not make it known.
Aspiring to seem grown or independent, as I should at this age, or perhaps an innocent impulse to have my grandma all to myself, to have her see me and only me, I take a subway trip to see her alone.
Walking along Queens Boulevard, I think of all the car rides in which my mom, pointing at the wide fenced-off sidewalks, told halftruthed tales of elderly folks wandering across the road and being hit by cars and “That’s why they have those partitions,” she’d say, and I’d wonder if anyone ever stepped out with the intention of death or if it was always an accident. But today there was no clear thought of suicide, and I would not nod near-catatonic at my mom going on about her work on Hillary’s campaign or the inevitability of my brother and his wife “Donna,” as grandma’s accent dubbed her, having a baby. I would not sob for no reason and exist as if veiled by my own darkness, as if my grandma couldn’t see me right in front of her, void of strength to lift my head.
Instead I approach her door, green like a bed of moss, knock, and hear shuffling, closer, a palm brushing the banister, closer, and she appears, smiling, “Allo!”
The day after my grandma died I wanted to save her. The clearance of her decades-old wardrobe of velour jumpsuits and boxy floral dresses, her décor of slender porcelain vases, empty but for one propping an unwithered chocolate rose, and the faded IDF military portrait of her late husband, was swift. My dad was determined to sell the apartment that fostered our past lives.
Since her stroke a month earlier, he’d been so eager for her to go that, upon being admitted to the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital, he chucked her dentures and told the nurses to stop feeding her through an IV. When she stirred awake a week later asking where she was and her condition, her pharmaceutical background and perspicuity quite evident, she wondered where her teeth were.
“Oh, they’re back home,” my mom lied, furiously texting her ex-husband to get another pair. My dad’s actions weren’t guided by malice. If anything they were manifestations of his own sect of sympathy and his attunement to her longstanding desire for death. But her life couldn’t be willed out of existence.
A month later, a month shy of her hundredth birthday, sleep took her somewhere, but I could’ve sworn she was still there. When the homecare bed was removed from her apartment, I laid back flat on the floorboards in its spot, stiff but for my half-opened eyes peering straight up to the chipped crown molding and the half-bath’s exposed bulb emitting burnt yellow light. Her visions stitched into my sockets. Her penumbra absorbed into my spine. I could’ve sworn she was still there.
The day I visited my grandma alone stays with me as a sequence of snapshots originating from a Kodak disposable camera, every frame marking distance from the 64th Avenue sidewalk, the newly installed intercom, the double sliding door elevator (inside of which, at the age of eight, I had learned from a neighbor’s laughter that “Ima” meant “Mom”) and the automatic gesture of pressing 5, that muted stretch of hallway, further and further from the moment I tell her that I am gay (but not trans, as this identity has yet to state its name), and she assures me, with eyes and speech soaked in heart, that I am loved.
And this, too, is what I whisper in her finality – that I am in love, the words landing on her temple like a queer Kaddish.
Still, my grandma would never know the clumsy love, the confused love, the spoiled and obsessive love—which was something else entirely—and all the innocent love that had proceeded, or the honest love that would follow. She would never know the surgery I pursued to extend love inward and claim this form as self.
Still, she would die lulled by the word, and certain of its presence.
She would die knowing the love I gave was hers.