My mom is a clown. Yep, red rubber nose, orange wig, funny clothes – the whole nine yards. And if that’s not bad enough, my gran is a motorcycle riding social worker with tattoos from one end of her body to the other. She works at a women’s shelter. Imagine my life.
My name is Bliss. A clown named me, what do you expect? I am fifteen years old, and I live with my mom and grandmother in a little house in a big city. We are not your typical family. To begin with we are the ages of fifteen, thirty, and forty-five. You do the math. My mom says I am going to be the first woman in three generations to make it through her fifteenth year without progeny. Gran says there is no way she is going to be a great grandmother at forty-five. I say, no problem.
Although my family is unusual, I am not. I am a very ordinary, verging on boring, teenager. I am tallish and thinnish, with straight brown hair that I usually pull back and clip with one of those hair thingees. Gran tells me I’m beautiful. She says it all the time, even around other people. It’s entirely embarrassing.
It’s the first week of summer holidays, and I already have freckles on my face and arms. Why don’t my legs freckle? I’ve always wondered that.
When I think about it, I guess I work hard at not being noticed. There. I always feel like I have to introduce myself when I start a new journal.
It’s the middle of July already. Time flies when life is crap. Gran is sick. She had been feeling bad for a while and finally went to the doctor. They did exploratory surgery a week ago, and what they found was so terrible that they didn’t do anything at all. They just stitched her back up and told her she only had a few weeks left to live. She looks awful. A nurse comes to the house every day to give Gran her medication. This perky, happy little nurse tries to talk to Mom and me about stuff, but I can’t listen to her. She just wants to help, Mom says. I know that, but I can’t help it. I’m suspicious of perky people at the best of times. And this is definitely not the best of times.
I spend a lot of time in the living room with Gran. She takes the couch, and I get the recliner. Yesterday we watched Baywatch reruns. Gran scoffed at all the hot bods and kept telling me I was gorgeous and that I didn’t need to worry about trying to measure up to some lame media standard. I nodded and agreed, but in my heart I think that I wouldn’t mind looking a little like Pamela Anderson. Except maybe with smaller boobs.
Mom is acting weird. I think she is trying to pretend that everything is normal. Gran has tried to talk to her a few times, but Mom just changes the subject or says she has to make dinner or something. But last night I got up to go to the bathroom and I heard her in the kitchen. I peeked and she was sitting at the table, still dressed in her clown stuff from the gig she was at earlier. She was crying in that choking way that people do when they try to not make any noise. I haven’t cried at all.
Gran is fading away. The pain is okay so far, but she is so white it is scary. Her tattoos look like photocopies on white paper. I’ve seen Gran’s tattoos all my life, so I don’t think about them too much. But today I asked her why she got them. She said she got the first one the day she found out she was pregnant. A tiny yellow daisy above her left ankle. She was so lost and scared, she said. She felt like she was going to disappear. But she could look at that daisy and think, I am here, I am someone special. She loved it so much she just kept getting more. Each one marks something significant in her life. The butterfly next to the daisy is from when I was born. I guess her tattoos are like my journal. Writing things down is my way of saying, this is who I am. I’m not just a skinny, invisible nobody.
What a crazy summer. I haven’t gone anywhere or done anything. I just hang out here at home with Gran. It’s like if I go somewhere, she might be gone when I get back. Like if I stay with her, she won’t slip away. We listen to Joni Mitchell a lot. She’s Gran’s favorite singer, from when she was younger. I have to say, she’s not bad.
Yesterday, after the nurse came, she asked Mom to go into the kitchen with her. I could hear them talking. Miss Perky said that we need to think about moving Gran to the palliative care ward at the hospital. I could feel my heart actually stop for a second when I heard that. I don’t want Gran to go there. I’ve been to that place before. Sometimes Mom performs at the hospital for the patients. I don’t want Gran to go there.
An ambulance came and took Gran to the hospital today. I hated seeing those strangers touching Gran and loading her into the ambulance like you load groceries into the back of the car. I am so angry. Mom could have stopped them if she wanted to. We could have looked after her for a while longer. I think Mom is being selfish. I heard her talking on the phone to her friend the other day. I’m only thirty, she kept saying. That doesn’t seem so young to me, but when I think about it, she is definitely a lot younger than any of my friends’ moms. A lot of those moms are the same age as Gran.
Mom got her hair cut and highlighted. It’s like Gran is already gone and she is moving on. What happened to my life, I heard her say to her friend. What about me, I want to say to her. But we don’t say anything to each other right now.
I have been at the hospital every day this week. It’s not so bad, I guess. The room is small, but it is decorated like a bedroom. I guess they want the patient’s last days to be as normal as possible. There is a painting above Gran’s bed. It is a prairie scene, a lonely looking little farm house surrounded by an endless field of yellow wheat. But most of the picture is of the sky, blue and cloudy white, and looking like it would go on forever. I spend a lot of time looking at that picture. It does something to me inside that I can’t explain.
Gran sleeps a lot. She seems smaller in the hospital. I take Joni with me and we listen quietly. Gran can’t talk much. Mom is there a lot too. We just sit and look at her. Every once in a while Mom has to leave. I know she goes out to the hallway to cry. I guess she doesn’t want to upset us.
Last night I went into Mom’s bedroom and crawled into her bed with her. I haven’t done that since I was three. We held each other for a while. I’m worried about her. She’s bought some new clothes that are way sexier than she usually wears. It’s like she’s turning into a kid again. I wanted to say, you are beautiful, you don’t have to change. But we didn’t say anything. She put a message on the phone telling clients she was on holiday for a few weeks. I am so sad.
Gran died. The funeral is tomorrow. School starts next week.
Today I went to my grandmother’s funeral. She was a great lady. She lived her life the way she wanted and didn’t care what other people thought of her. She was unusual and funny and blunt and kind and I loved her so much.
I didn’t know most of the people at the funeral. Mom said many of them were women that Gran had helped at the shelter. They all cried and said what a wonderful and caring person she was. One older lady cornered me and kept saying how Gran had saved her life, that she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Gran. She cried and hugged me over and over. I just kept saying, well thank-you for coming. We all ate egg salad sandwiches in the church basement after. Mom did okay. She cried a lot, but she did okay. I was glad she wore a normal dress, not one of those crazy new outfits. I wore my usual clothes, jeans and a shirt. I didn’t want to feel like somebody else by wearing something fancy. I think Gran would have wanted me to look like myself. Mom said it was fine. I still haven’t cried.
The house feels strange and sort of hollow, like it has to adjust to this awful space that has been created. I used to feel cramped in here. Now its kind of like wearing clothes that are too big. It doesn’t fit us anymore.
I have a picture of the three of us. I took it out of the album and put it in a frame so I can keep it on my night table. In the picture I am seven years old. It is the day Mom graduated from clown school, so she is dressed in her clown stuff. Gran is wearing her black leather motorcycle jacket, and the two of them are standing together. I am sitting on Gran’s bike in front of them and I am looking straight at the camera with a huge grin on my face. Mom is looking down at me and her hand is on my back. Gran is looking at Mom and there is such love and pride in her eyes. The three of us.
School starts tomorrow. I feel like I have been living on a different planet all summer. In some ways it seems like these two months have flown by, yet sometimes it feels like years since I was in school last spring. I am nervous about seeing everyone. I haven’t talked to anybody all summer. What do I say when people ask me how my summer was? I think I am a different person now.
This morning was so great. Mom came into my room early and sat on the edge of the bed and said she wanted to do something special for Gran. She said she wanted us both to go and get tattoos. I almost fell out of bed. But after I thought about it I realized it was the perfect idea. So Mom called Gran’s tattoo guy and explained the situation, and he fit us in this morning.
Mom got a small, yellow daisy on her left ankle. She asked the guy to change it a bit, so there are a few petals missing. I get it.
I had a hard time deciding what to do. I knew I wanted a butterfly, but I didn’t want it on my ankle. I didn’t want to have to explain it to everyone. So I decided to get it below my left collarbone, close to my breast. That way I feel like I am always holding Gran close to my heart. Kinda corny, I know, but it made sense to me. Getting this tattoo was not about beauty, or trying to be sexy or cool. It’s about love. I read a story one time and the boy said to the girl, I will love you through all enduring time. That is what my butterfly is about.
When the tattoo guy finished he handed me a mirror so I could see what he had done and when I saw that beautiful butterfly, I cried.