GP (Grandmère Paula)
I don’t see my grandmother very often since she moved back to Haiti several years ago. For as long as I can remember, she’s been meek and almost comical in her unassuming way. I can still hear her mumbling from her front porch in Jacmel, “That vendor sure is carrying a lot of chocolate. I hope she doesn’t get run over by a motorbike.” She worries a lot, I suppose like many grandmas do, and always thinks I’m too thin. When she sees me, she squeezes my arms and ribs, like she’s looking for something that she’s misplaced. She listens to me talk about my job or my dog or whoever I’m dating while her fingers knead along my shoulder and my neck. She thinks a woman should be soft and full. There must be something wrong with me.
Grandma doesn’t understand MS and I don’t try to explain it to her anymore. The clarity of certain details just don’t make a difference at this point, especially when all she does is tell me that I need to eat more, drink milk, and see if I can find another husband. She’s never really gotten over my getting a divorce; I think she compares it to a leg amputation or going completely bald. She shakes her head in disapproval when I tell her that I ride my bike in the streets of New York. She purses her lips in fear when I talk about training in martial arts. She positively panicked when I told her I was doing the Spartan Sprint. “Sa sa ye?” What is that? She had to sit down when I explained.
Grandma doesn’t get why I would want to do something that involves me getting hit on purpose, or that makes me have to climb ropes and run through muddy fields carrying 30lb sandbags on my shoulder. Jumping over flaming logs and scaling walls for no apparent reason seems crazy to her. She wants to know what it’s all for. I pause for a moment because I don’t have a clear answer, at least not one that she would understand.
I want to tell her that I’m terrified of ending up in a wheelchair and that all this physical activity is protecting me from that. I want to say that I want to be tough enough to defend myself if a man were to ever put his hands on me in violence whether he was my husband, a boyfriend, or some jerk in the street. I want to say that pushing through a series of burpees when I have no strength left, or running around the lake with “El Carretero” jamming in my headphones and my heart bursting out of my chest stops me from worrying about things I can’t change and helps me focus on the things I can. I give her a kiss on the forehead as I strap on my heart rate monitor under my shirt. She gives me a wry smile and squeezes my wrist.
Grandma likes to remind me that a lady always carries a purse when she goes out and that she still can’t believe I cut off all my hair. She wonders whether I’m actually hurting myself with all this exercise and making my illness worse. She thinks I’m crazy. She thinks I’m being wreckless. She won’t understand no matter how much I explain. When I go for my jog around her neighborhood, she stands at the door watching me turn up the hill. The furrow between her eyes relaxes only when I come back, tired and sweaty. She’s waiting for me with a cheese omelet, bread with peanut butter, a banana, and hot chocolate.
Maybe she does understand.