This morning, my mother saw a woman in a JC Penny dressing room stuffing clothing into her purse. She told me this as we drove down Firestone blvd. by the Target and the Golf-N-Stuff and the LA riverbed. “The thing is, she was white and looked kind of like a trashy version of Martha Kendall (one of my mom’s friends.)” I asked her if she did anything about it. “The thing is the stores can’t prosecute shoplifters anymore because they get sued for defamation if they do.” I’m back living where I grew up for the first time this year, but it’s different because it’s not my home anymore.
It seems like the things familiar to me as a youth have corrupted with time. Dad tells a story about a man in a Cadillac with tinted windows pulling up across the street for a drug deal. News reports blare with stories of another man shot dead today after an argument goes violent—more after these messages from our sponsors. Half-finished McMansions bursting on their small lots sit empty; their dirt lawns cook in the sun because the owners took out a bad loan and lost it all in the mortgage crisis. Even at home, the familiar pillars of my life are cracked and mossy.
“No, someone else may have called but it wasn’t me. I didn’t call you at all when you were gone.” My grandmother was trying to tell me that while my family was on our three-week drive she hadn’t called us at all, which was incorrect because she called over a dozen times every day (except three.) She was sitting in Grandpa’s tattered brown La-Z-Boy recliner. Dark brown washcloths served as makeshift arm-covers for the chair where the fabric had worn thin and stringy. Grandma wore faded navy-blue sweatpants that seemed to veil her thin, bony legs. A dozen wadded up tissues lay on her lap and between her legs. Her head was limp, pointed at her shoulder, and her grey skin seemed to have melted from her face.
“Grandma, you called me no less than eight times in the last three days.” I pulled my phone out and looked at the missed calls list. I thought about showing her how many times she had called me, but then slid it back into my pocket.
“No I didn’t. The only time I talked to your dad he told me to go to sleep.”
“That’s because you called at midnight repeatedly until he woke up and talked to you. He told you to go to bed because you should have been there instead of on the phone.”
“Well, that’s not how I remember it, but I don’t see any point in arguing it.”
I wonder if she knows she’s wrong, or if she just doesn’t want to argue, I thought. She took a hard candy out of her mouth and half-puckered her lips. “It’s not working, my mouth is still too dry.” Grandma placed what was left of the candy onto a white plate among 15 other pieces just like it—small buds of colorful hard candy, some re-wrapped in their clear plastic.
“Have you tried drinking some more water?” I asked. I grabbed her almost empty glass and stood up.
All that remains of the vibrant Grandma who spent my childhood showering me with toys and compliments and who told me she was so proud of me all the time is a shell of a person, a corrupted body of flesh that has stolen another piece of my home forever. I am not home; I’m in LA.