What It Means To Know Someone
Here are some things I know about my mother’s life:
- While she was growing up, she loved going to work with my grandfather on the weekends. They’d get up super early, grab breakfast at the same diner, and go into the floral shop in Cincinnati.
- When she was young, maybe eight or nine years old, she accidentally got locked in the flower refrigerator at my grandparent’s floral shop. Her teeth were chattering when they found her.
- My grandpa taught her to love baseball, but she never played on an organized team — after all, she didn’t know how to throw a softball.
- At one time, she figure skated. It’s how she can differentiate the lutz’s and triple loops and double axels every four years when the Winter Olympics roll around.
- She took Russian, of all languages, for four years in high school, and was part of a group that visited the USSR in the early 1980s (complete with their very own KGB Guide). She studied Russian in college until she clashed with a professor and changed her major to sociology.
- There was a time in her life when she lived in Salem, Massachusetts, and another when she lived in Chicago.
- She has always, always loved animals — especially dogs, cats, and horses. She was on the equestrian team in college.
My mom knows my entire life. Of course she does, she’s my mother. She gave birth to me, watched me take my first steps and heard my first words, saw me through elementary and middle and high school, read all my papers in college, helped me pack to move across the country — she knows everything about me.
But it’s a funny thing, being someone’s child. In some ways, you know your parents so well, know things about them that are difficult to put into words and don’t fit in neat descriptions. And they know everything about you, but your knowledge of them, of their lives, is so limited, so constrained.
In many ways, you don’t know them at all.
I’ve been thinking about this lately — by which I mean on-and-off for almost four years now.
In the months leading up to my grandfather’s death in 2014, I was working on a long-form narrative piece about his life and, more importantly in my mind then, his impact on my life. I did a bit of initial research by talking with my grandmother, Nana, and recorded a conversation or two with him while he was still in decent shape.
I never finished that piece — my professor excused me from the entire assignment because he knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it — and I haven’t been able to go back to it either. It’s been too difficult.
But that unfinished writing project is something I think about a lot — because, as my grandfather was dying, I was realizing just how little concrete fact I knew about his life. His life before me that is.
If you’re lucky in this life, you’ll have found someone whose soul matches your own.
For a lot of people, that person is their husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend. For others, it’s a mentor, a best friend, a sibling, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, maybe even a parent.
These are the people who know what you sound like when you sing off key and what you look like when you’re falling asleep. These are the people who can discern how your day went just from the way you say “hello.” These are the people for whom the guards of your tower immediately let down the gate.
These people feel like home.
I’m lucky enough to have not needed to look for my people. They’ve been right there my whole life.
Sometimes it’s been all of them at once; other times one of them steals most of the spotlight.
For a lot of my life, that one person was my grandfather. There were years and year during which I called him, not anyone else, my best friend.
Since he died, that spotlight role has been taken by women of my family — my sister, my mother, and my grandmother.
These days, more often than not, it’s my mom.
Now, at 23-years-old, living on my own and doing this whole “adulting” thing, I’m not the kid anymore. I’ll always be my mother’s daughter, Nana’s granddaughter, of course, but I’ve grown up. Back when I was working on that project about my grandpa, I stumbled onto a truth that I’ve been trying to untangle ever since.
The blind, unconditional love I felt for my parents and grandparents is still there, it always will be, but it’s changed. I’ve grown up, and it has too. Now I want to love them in the way they have always loved me — by knowing the details, knowing everything about them.
I don’t know exactly how my grandparents met, why Nana started making pottery, or when my grandfather may or may not have been a minor league baseball player. I don’t know what my mom ordered when she went to the diner with my grandpa. I don’t know why she took Russian, how long she skated, or what her favorite flower is. I don’t know whether or not she got a car on her 16th birthday, what her first memory is, what instrument she played in band, or if she was even in band at all.
But when you know exactly what someone’s laugh sounds like when they think something’s really funny, exactly the way their voice sounds when they’re stressed, angry, or sad, and exactly how their arms feel when wrapped around you, do the facts really matter?
Or, at that point, does it move beyond fact and become something else, something bigger?
Is that the definition of love?
Maybe; maybe not.
But I want to know those things anyway.
So, Mom, Nana, this is what I’ve been trying to say for a long time, but didn’t have the words to say.
I want to know the facts; I want to learn the timelines; I want to listen to your stories.
Share them with me — I want to know everything.