She gently reached for my face and stroked my cheek:
– We were talking about that with my sister earlier. You’re the spitting image of your grandma Mitra. Just as kind and beautiful as she was.
I looked at my other aunt from the corner of my eye. I wondered if she knew how much this comparison moved me. Coming from my dad’s oldest and youngest sisters, being compared to my mum’s mother meant so much more.
My grandma Mitra was the most loving person I have ever met. She was tiny and quiet, always dressed in dark clothes because she was in constant mourning, either for someone close or for a distant relative – that was how much she cared. She was discreet but she could surprise you. She cracked me up a couple of times, like that day one of my aunts asked me if I had found a boyfriend. Baba Mitra did not turn from the stove where she was cooking to almost whisper: “She’ll find him if she lost him.”
I only saw her during summers and only those we travelled the 2500 km to my parents’ native place. One could therefor think I have an idealised image of her, but I doubt it: I have not heard one person say something bad about her. She would have given you the food off her plate. I don’t think I deserve being compared to the saintliest woman I have ever met.
In 4 months, it will be 20 years since her passing. I wish she was still alive so I could ask her for advice. I’d ask her if she’d ever been disappointed by the world. Was her love so strong that it did not matter what they did or did not do? She did not hold grudges, that I am sure, as I never once heard her criticize someone other than the person who’d made me cry, but how did she keep on giving love? Where did she get that love from? Was it her Faith? Was it her God that kept on replenishing the source? Did she ever feel like she’d given so much that there was nothing left for herself? Or was she perfectly selfless?
I don’t know if I deserve the comparison. My grandma was soft and quiet, I am hard and outspoken. Last night I was thinking how she was so fragile that she would faint at the sight of blood. It was something else to separate us, I thought, but then it hit me: baba Mitra fainted because she was hypersensitive – that’s where our hypersensitivity stems from. Blood made her sick because she could feel other people’s pain. I do too. I feel emotional pain. The thing is… I don’t faint. I just soak it in, make it mine. That is why I’m such a good friend: I’m an empath, I relate. It is kind of a superpower and I am proud of it. The opposite of sensitive is not brave, it’s insensitive; I’d rather be the first than the latter.
Until I can’t anymore.
You see, in beautiful Mitra fashion, I don’t hold grudges. Whilst I’ll never know whether she kept tabs, I can tell you I do: I’m not resentful but I have a good memory. I forgive in the blink of an eye, but I don’t forget that easily. Hurting me is like chipping away at my core love. You need to be at it for a long time for that love to snap. When it does, it is not that it was that one tiny little thing you said or did that made me lose it; it was that one tiny little thing that chipped the last thread holding the whole lot together. I have been trying for the past years to be less subtle, to stop assuming people will understand me if I don’t explain but I am tired. I’m the understanding friend, the one who does not get upset if you ignore her message, don’t return the call because you fell asleep or decided to take a bath instead, don’t ever contact her when you’re happy… but I am tired of being that person. I am tired of understanding. I wonder what baba Mitra would have said if I had told her this. I swear, baba… “Don’t swear, honey.” She would have said that.
These past years have been quite traumatic. I kinda knew but it took my younger sister to underline it yesterday morning for me to realise. Oh, yeah… all the loved ones I was worried about, that was all in the past couple of years.
– You threw yourself in there. You jumped in to help…
– It’s true… I did.
I don’t regret having worried for others. They were worth my time and love. I gave them pieces of my heart without thinking twice but as I laid in bed crying yesterday, I could only think that I wanted those pieces back.
I’m not one to talk about other people’s lives publicly but in this instance, not only have I been given permission, I want to consciously stop erasing myself from the equation. It is not because it is not happening to me that it is not hurting me. A bit more than a week ago, my cousin was diagnosed with cancer. She’s a warrior (in heels – she and her people will get it), she’s positive and bright; I have no doubt she can kick this dark thing’s butt.
Still… I was 11 when she was born. I babysat her more than once. I have pictures of her that I took myself when she was a year and a half maybe and that is the image that hit me every time I think of her. She’s my 31-year-old baby cousin. It is so unfair. (F*ck cancer and the horse it rode in on!)
My heart can’t take it, I need my pieces back.
I feel empty and sad; I can’t stop crying and I know why: because there is nothing I can do. Sure, I could be the rock she needs but you know what? My cousin and I share some traits: similar lips according to her recent reproduction of one of my selfies and the fact we cry easily. We have matching t-shirts that say “I’m pretty cool (but I cry a lot)” so I know she won’t judge my tears. She’s a carer too; she’ll understand why I’m disheartened by my inability to help. She thinks the world of me so she won’t think I am writing this because I consider myself the centre of the Universe. She knows this comes from a place of love, that one source that will always be replenished, the family one. She knows that I will tag along when she will cry tears of happiness.
My grandpa died in March 2000. 10 months later, my grandma did what she had been telling us: she left to meet him.
Baba Mitra died of a broken heart. She was a saint, I am not; I am taking my pieces back so my heart can take this.