When I stare at myself in the mirror, I notice the few small lines etching around the corners of my eyes. I have my mother’s eyes: big and brown, always demanding attention.
We all complain about our DNA, the traits we are given without permission. I’m forever bitter about my zaftig physique and oversized ears; Why couldn’t I have gotten the skinny gene, or the one for blue eyes? These moments pass, however, when I look at photos and see the similarities to my family — the nose of my paternal grandmother who died when I was two, the ears I share with my Zada. These genetic inheritances remind me that other people in the world are part of me. When I feel alone, that connection makes me feel whole.
The riddle I tell people when they ask about my family is complicated: My grandmother died when she was only nine years old.
There is almost always a pregnant pause. “Nine? That’s impossible.” People assume I’m lying, or telling a bad joke, but it’s true. After a few more guesses I explain that she was born on leap year. A collective “Oh” ensues and the conversation moves on. As if 36 is a normal time to leave this Earth.
Sylvia Wise, my maternal grandmother, died when she was 36 years old, and I still feel the void of a woman I never met. There are bonds that shape us and guide us, and people who siphon love when the nuclear family comes up short. I imagined that Sylvia would have been the provider of such love.
For my mother, who lost her mother, that hole is always there, a wound that festers and grows with each passing year. This chasm has been passed onto me — like the color of my eyes; another trait I did not want to inherit.
When I was in elementary school, we had to make a special book for Mother’s Day. It was filled with crayon drawings, stick figures and a few pieces of crepe paper. The teacher gave us a series of prompts and our task was to complete each page. “If you could give your mother anything, what would it be?” Most kids answered hugs or puppies or chocolate, sweet stuff like that. Not me. I wrote that I would give my mother her parents back. I was still just entering this…