Beauty in Rejection

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
The one word that changed my life the most was "no." This is a nonfiction account of the most powerful word in our language, written in loose essay format.

Submitted: July 14, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 14, 2012



When was the last time you were told “No?”

It was probably something trivial: something along the lines of “Hey, want to hang out later?” “No, sorry, man. I’ve got to finish this essay- haven’t even started and it’s due tomorrow.”

You probably just wrote it off as an everyday occurrence. Something normal. Something that happens to people daily.

But imagine for a second. Let’s say the dialogue went something like this: “Hey want to hang out later?” “Totally! Who cares about the essay?” and the next day neither you nor your best friend had the essay to turn in. Your grades drop irreparably, and before you know it you’ve lost your chance at getting into the college of your dreams.

No is the single most powerful word in the English language. It can create. It can destroy. It can shape your future like no other word can.

And most importantly, it can generate forgiveness.

I never met my grandmother. My mom refused to tell us why: we got along fantastically with her father. We’d spend days in the small towns of Iowa walking alongside train tracks with him, conjuring fantastic kingdoms out of thin air for our energetic grandfather. He was a smoker once, and although he didn’t quit in time to avoid emphysema, he didn’t let it stop him from enjoying his life. We worked out secret handshakes, sent coded letters, and developed key phrases to certify our identities. My siblings, my grandfather and I: we could be anything from the FBI to a brigade of wandering artists to research scientists scrambling for proof of our hypothesis.

We never questioned the absence of a grandmother. Our grandfather was enough.

The first time I asked about my grandmother I was rewarded with a fantastic story about an insane nurse, striving to save lives in some run-down hospital in Waukegan. Assuming this was my long-absent grandmother, I dropped the topic. A few other times I would bring her up, but my mother never explained fully who she was and why we never saw her.

One day, my stay-at-home mom was strangely absent. Our father, gone sporadically due to his job as a pilot, wasn’t home either. Instead, there was a note that read: Gone to meet with Bonnie. If not home before school lets out, NO EATING THE ICE CREAM. I’M SERIOUS. Her customary red lipstick mark on the bottom of the post-it-note ascertained its honesty. Of course, I had no idea who this Bonnie was.

Needless to say, when she finally arrived home, I was stuffing my face with ice cream. She was terribly red-faced, and her eyes were bloodshot. It was obvious that she’d been crying. When she saw me sitting there, she burst into tears again. I immediately assumed it was because of the ice cream. She seized the opportunity to explain that she was crying because I was disobeying her.

Although I later learned she was crying because of Bonnie, I thought I had made my mother cry. One of the worst days of my life, in all honesty.

I asked who Bonnie was, after being grounded and thoroughly chewed out. Apparently, it was my mysterious, heroic nurse of a grandmother. It struck me as odd that she called her mother Bonnie, not Mom. I certainly will never call my mother Kristina. I respect her too much.

Almost a year went by. Birthdays flew past, visiting relatives remarked on how much we grew, and no one mentioned Grandma Bonnie ever again.

Then came the phone call.

“Hello?” said my mom, answering the frantic beeping of the land line. “Oh my god. Is she okay? Will she be okay?” she paused, a look of stark horror emblazoned on her face. “I’m on my way out, Dad. I’m bringing the kids.”

She hung up, and ordered us to throw on coats, boots, and whatever apparel was necessary for a long drive in the snow. We piled in the gray minivan, and my mother sped off, my father berating her from the passenger seat for speeding in a snowstorm.

I will never forget that car ride.

“Kids?” said my mom. “I’m going to tell you about my mother, alright?”

And she did.

Her mother was no superhero. She did not save lives like Florence Nightingale, fighting to protect the wounded in a hospital.

While she was a nurse, the image I had of her was probably the farthest one could get from the truth.

Bonnie was abusive. She hit my mother. She burned my mother with the fireplace poker. She would yank out my mother’s hair for bad behavior. She called my mother fat, ugly, and stupid. She nearly killed my mother by throwing her off the two-story house’s roof. Her husband, our beloved grandfather, was the one to catch her.

I’m sure my mom left out some of the parts of that story. My little sister, innocent can be in the backseat of the car, was only six at the time. She didn’t need to hear it all.

Frankly, I didn’t think I was quite ready either.

As we neared a giant edifice adorned with the words “Waukegan Community Hospital,” my mother explained why we were there.

“My mother is dying. She slipped on the ice on the sidewalk by her house and fell. Due to complications from her emphysema, she has internal bleeding and a lung puncture. She will not survive the night.” My mother inhaled deeply, shuddering as she sighed. “I’ve come to forgive her.”

We filed out of the car in complete silence. No one dared say a word. My dad put an arm protectively around my mom.

I was a bit too stunned to remember any pertinent details. I don’t remember what the hospital assistant who showed us to Bonnie’s room looked like. I don’t remember the room number. I don’t remember anything anyone said.

If someone says they remember everything that happened during a crisis, they’re lying. Believe me.

I do, however, remember the exchange that happened just outside of Bonnie’s room.

My mother opened the door hesitantly. We moved to follow her in. She said, “Wait.”

We didn’t ask. We lined up against the white walls in the hallway and waited.

The walls were rather thin, however. We could hear everything happening inside.

We heard our mother say, “I forgive you.” There was no response. Then, “Would you like to meet you grandkids?”

My grandmother’s voice, raspy and barely audible, spoke one word.

“No.” Seventeen minutes and twenty-three seconds later, my grandmother died.

I like to think she was recognizing the fact that she didn’t deserve to meet kids like us, the joy in our parents, and that in her own contrary way she was apologizing. I like to think that she put into that word all of the sorrow and regret that haunted her life, and for that, I forgive her. I like to think that I understand. But in all honesty, I don’t. I can’t understand that word, the one most powerful word that allowed me to forgive a lifetime of hatred and violence. No other word can do that. I will remember this experience for the rest of my life; it has become part of who I am. Facing the world around me, I can remember this and I can realize who I am and what my values are. This world doesn’t faze me anymore, because of that one word.


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