This week you hear from Gradylee Shapiro. I’ve never met Gradylee, he’s the best friend of one my best friends. But I feel like I know Gradylee because of the stories he tells on his blog, You Said You Would Pray for Me. They’re funny, they’re tender, they’re raw, they’re so completely authentic that you almost wince when reading them. And I knew when I was taking a hiatus from writing, that I’d like Gradylee to do a piece for the blog, so that you all could hear his voice, too.
Gradylee is a storyteller in the Southern tradition. You can see it in this writing. Read it out loud and you can really hear it. It reminds me of the work of Jim Grimsley in the way that it doesn’t flinch in the face of the writer’s own pain, in the way it will have a single line so poignant that it breaks your god damn heart or stuns you with recognition and surprise. You’ll see that in this blog post.
So sit back and grab a cup of coffee and read about the time a young Gradylee had to spend the night on the porch, in the dark, in his pajamas. Then be grateful that this voice survived to tell the tale and be thankful that you never had to crouch in a dark corner and pray for light.
The Authenticity Experiment, the cold, dark night edition. I’m going to tell you a story. And it’s real horrible. I debated not telling you because of its horribleness but I’m working something out and there is some horrible stuff that comes along with that—so try to stay with me in this.
When I was a tiny kid, I was super scared of the dark. There were times when I would wake up just terrified and run as fast as I could to my mom’s room. I would drag my fingers along the wall in the dark hallway just for something solid to hang onto. Often she would let me into bed with her and then I slept soundly. These were some of our best moments, asleep back to back, nightgowns just touching—my dad asleep in a room nearby, me too young to understand why they never slept together. I could feel the warmth from her sleeping form and hear the rhythm of her breathing. As I lay there, my fear would subside and our breath would match and I would drift off safe for the next few hours. But, my mom raged—and it was inconsistent—and I always knew that this request for comfort was a gamble. The very last time I ever asked her for this tiny act of parenting is the horrible story. The one I’m still unsure about sharing but am going to anyway.
I was seven. I tried to crawl into bed with my mom. She woke startled, slapped me hard across the face, and dragged me out into the night and onto the front porch. I was informed that I would be spending the night outside because only babies were scared of the dark and I needed to grow up. I sat there all night with a bloody nose, a copper taste in my mouth. I was cold—in just a thin nightgown and bare feet.
There was a warm welt across my cheek from the slap. I kept touching it. Tenderly at first, and then harder so I could recreate the pain. This would become a habit over the years, to poke the tender spots she wounded.
I cried a little as the hours passed, but I did not beg for her to open the door. I never begged. I just waited and willed myself to sleep.
The morning came and my dad let me in on his way out. Not asking any questions. He never asked any questions because he couldn’t be bothered to know. That’s not what he was there for. He was there to be on his way to something else every morning after a horrible thing happened.
She would later tell me that story with pride. Then, eventually, she just denied it all together. But it happened. And it was a really mean thing to do to a kid.
That story is what I woke up thinking about on the morning of my mom’s death-iversary. It’s been two years and I really feel like I’m making progress with my grief about her death, I really do. However, I’m really just now starting to think about my grief over her life. The life where she lived trapped in an undiagnosed mental illness. The one she spent alone and in pain. That one that looks more different than mine in every single way. That grief is a far more tender proposition.
It’s like Sisyphus and that goddamned boulder, grieving our complicated relationships. You work every muscle bone tired to find some sweetness in it all, even managing to roll it all the way to the top and then a memory pokes its dumb head out and everything tumbles back down again.
That’s why that particular mom story sticks in my craw. Over the years, as her mental health continued to deteriorate, her punishments grew far worse. But that night she officially took away one of the few real nice moments we had. I never again went to her for reassurance and she never again offered it. Something broke officially. My belief in her, in us, just hardened. My hope transformed into that boulder and I was careful to never let it roll me over again. But of course, it did. You know it did, right?
My sweetest grandma once told me that nothing is so broke it can’t be fixed, but the fix might not look how you thought. It’s just true and she was such a smarty. Like that mug you got from that place and it’s kinda ugly but just the right shape and weight, and you love it. And then the handle falls off and you glue it back on and it works, but you can tell it’s glued and the mug sits at just a slightly different angle now. But it still works. It’s fixed enough.
It’s like that with relationships too. When two people agree that something is broken and you agree to a repair—you can see the glue and the odd angles, but you do the work because you appreciate the shape and weight of the other person in your life.
So, what happens when the only available repair is release? That there is not and will never be enough glue to put that shit back together. I have felt like such a weak guy for so long for not being willing to repair things with my mom. Petty and small. And then she went and died. She just up and died. And with her went our last chance.
So now it’s just me. And the boulder. And that stupid horrible story about the dark and being tiny and scared. And my dead mom. And my want to repair what can’t be fixed the way I want it to be fixed. And release. Which is its own fix, I suppose.
So I guess I’ll do that. I suppose that’s what I’ll do.
Gradylee Shapiro currently resides in Kalamazoo Michigan, a state shaped like a mitten in case you were unaware. He spends his life being an uncle, friend, holder of hands, lover of a good sandwich, and most recently writing. You can find more of his writing at You Said You Would Pray for Me.
#DarkAndLight #AuthenticityExperiment #GuestPost #GradyLeeShapiro
Today I sent Two Sylvias Press the manuscript for The Authenticity Experiment: Dispatches from a Season of Grief. I won’t lie to you. While I’m relieved it’s done, it’s never really done—now the worrying starts. But I want to sincerely thank you to all out there for reading, for wanting more. I’ve got two more guest writers line up for you, but next week I promise to give you a special lost in the dark in Mexico edition that I wrote. Meanwhile, feel free to buy a copy of Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. They make great solstice presents. They are also excellent gifts for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, and Festivus, too.