Family is the Strangest (2/2)

Even when they lived far away, the weight of Gig’s expectations, her standards, what she’d said God wanted, still preyed on them. But when they were close, she actually lost her hold on them. As they spent more time together, these followers would come to see Giggy as a friend. That feeling was not mutual, and their growing expectations of reciprocity from her would cause her to be nasty to them. She lost friends in dramatic and frequent fashion for a woman in her sixties. One manager she had appointed was the single mother of a teen girl my sister and I both made fast friends with. My grandmother’s quarreling with her friend was interfering with our ability to hand out, so we orchestrated reunions and reconciliations as often as we had to.

It helps a lot that other people call my grandmother a cult leader. That eliminates a lot of potential self-gaslighting, where I wonder if I’m not drawing connections that didn’t really exist or imagining sins she didn’t really have. I came to see her as a cult leader because I Googled her name (Carol Balizet) and the word “cult” and pages of results came up. Death and sadness and children removed by social services and mothers gone to jail or died in childbirth filled the sites. I stayed up that whole night, talking with my kindly weed dealer who came over with freebies to help me through the shock. I couldn’t go to sleep with such knowledge in my head.

I confronted her, once. She’d already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved into an elder home before I Googled her name, so I knew I didn’t have much time left for her to be lucid, for her to understand my questions and remember the events I was talking about. It took a lot of work, steering the conversation back to the topic, over and over, but I got there in the end. I asked her about her culpability in a particular child’s death that had hit me hard because I knew him. She spat back angrily, “Well what do you want me to say, I’m sorry?” That helped too. Painful and awful as it was, it let me let her go. It let me find her repulsive, and rebel.

Now it’s been eight, almost nine years since that troubling night online. I’ve had to come to terms with the parts of me that are influenced by her, for worse but also for better. I’ve had to integrate the monster and the mother-figure in my head together, the woman who loved me and the woman who didn’t care if she caused death. It’s not easy. Some days I don’t think of her, and those are easiest. Some days I think of her a lot, painfully, with nostalgia and longing. She’s still alive, in a high-care nursing home in the city I live in. In theory, I could go see her. But my feelings are such a mess. I don’t know if I’d hold onto her and cry, sobbing for my grandmother who I miss, or if I’d want to yell at the shell of a woman who can’t remember the sins I hate her for. I love her. I hate her. I miss her. Family is the strangest thing.

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