I always end my phone conversations with my grandmother by saying, “Love you, Nana.” Her response is to hang up the phone abruptly. I attribute it to her flagging hearing or the fact that she was raised by a woman who thought scrubbing her hands with lye until they bled was affection. Toward the conclusion of our last chat, I readied myself for the collision of her phone with the receiver, but was caught off guard when she asked, “What do you think about the romance?” I wasn’t sure of which romance she was referencing since she has born witness to a great many in her 94 years. I discounted any of the couplings happening in popular culture since it wouldn’t be Nana’s style to comment on the dating habits of Jennifer Lopez. “What romance?” I countered.
“Your brother’s girlfriend.”
I was stunned. First of all, my grandmother has never ascribed the title of boyfriend or girlfriend to any person romantically linked to one of her grandchildren. The guy I dated for four years in college was always introduced as my study partner until we moved to Australia together, at which time he became my travel companion. My own husband was my tax accountant before we married. More to the point, I was bowled over by the news that Shaun had a girlfriend and that Nana knew about it before I did. As she shared the facts she had, a dull pain began to radiate through my foot.
I broke my foot the last time my brother brought a girlfriend around. It wasn’t her fault, but it did happen as a result of her presence in our home so I can’t completely dissociate her name from the pain of my fifth metatarsal snapping like a brittle twig. Shaun was in high school then, and he had fallen hard for a lass named Suzie. You would think a girl with a name as plain and muted as Suzie wouldn’t be in the business of bewitching men, but whatever pizzazz she lacked in title she made up for ten-fold in personality. She was boisterous, loud, and prone to ending each bout of riotous laughter with a slap of her hands to the knees. Except not to her knees. To my brother’s knees. See, a part of her body was in constant contact with a part of his. It was grotesque if you were looking on as a sister, as I was, but it was the stuff of Oedipal night terrors for my mother. Every time Suzie sat on his lap or massaged his scalp, my mother would shoot me a panicked glance as if they’d begun copulating on top of the dining room table at which the rest of us were still eating dinner. When Suzie accompanied our family on a beach vacation, my mom spent every night posted at the window of the room we shared, peeking through the shades, wildly determined to catch Suzie stealing out an open window to join my brother in his room.
Because my mom was so fatigued during the day from her night watchman duty, I was made to chaperone their daytime outings and directed to sit between them as often as I could manage, a task only possible for someone the size of an Olsen twin, and even then only the one with the body image problem. Whenever I protested, my mom – a distant Catholic at best – would invoke religious rituals, piously moving her hand through the signing of the cross, pleading that I put a little room for the Holy Ghost between them. And with that plea, God had become a part of this hormonal equation, and I couldn’t refuse or I would find myself eternally damned to proctor the sins perpetrated between Suzie and Shaun in the fiery clutches of Hell. After three days of following their every move, my attention waned and I outsourced my job as warden to a cousin, which would have worked seamlessly had she not been so easily duped by the conniving ways of horny teenagers, as eight year olds so often are. I must have been so verklempt by my emancipation that, once home, I leaped in the air, and landed in an unfortunate fashion. My mother watched my body crumple to the floor, clutching my mangled foot in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as the bruise crept up my foot.
My mom drove me to the hospital at a screaming velocity, lips pursed and fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel. With every minute we waited in the exam, she stared at me with narrowed eyes, only opening her mouth to fume, “They are probably doing it right now, and it’s your fault.” I figured it wasn’t the time to tell her that I’d overheard Suzie say she was taking birth control to regulate her menstrual cramps.
Years later I confirmed that Shaun and Suzie had in fact consummated their relationship while my mom and I were detained in the hospital. To this day, I’m not sure my mom has ever forgiven me. I catch her staring at my foot with a venomous glare every now and then. And, it’s weird, I swear I feel a twinge of pain in that same foot every time my brother has relations with a woman, which can be really inconvenient given our time difference.
Now that he’s in a romance, as my Nana said, I’m going to have to keep my foot on ice.