Yellow Bird

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This personal short story is in memory of my grandmother, Roselyn Levinson. She wrote poetry and had so much love and kindness for life. If I had one more day to share with her, I would tell her how much she meant to me and how much I learned from her. I will always remeber her saying to me, "They can steal everything from you, but they can't steal your education or what your family has taught you." She will always be remebered for all of the wonderful and sweet life lessons she taught to her family and friends.

Submitted: March 24, 2007

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Submitted: March 24, 2007

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As soon as I heard my phone ring, I knew. I speak to my mother every morning at eight, but this time the ring sounded different. It sounded peaceful. Later that day, I found out when my father got the phone call at 10:15 pm the night before, he knew also. When I answered, there was silence and then a whimper and I felt a chill inside my body that I will never forget. Although my mother's number appeared on my phone, it wasn't her; it was my father on the other end. "Samantha, she died late last night." I was lying in bed and became frozen clutching and squeezing my hands and feet. I couldn't cry; it was too late to. All I could think about was how I was going to explain to my professors that I needed to take another week off from school. I took off so many days already being depressed, lying in bed, anxiety written over getting that phone call. I thought to myself, I was too busy being depressed that I never went to see her. I felt the guilt that I knew for so long I was going to feel anyway. I could have sworn I saw her that morning, but it was probably a hallucination from the entire bottle of Jack I drank the night before. I thought to myself, I was too busy drinking that I never went to see her. It went on and on. I was too busy studying that I never went to see her. I was too busy filling out applications for PhD programs that I never went to see her. I was too busy working that I never went to see her. And then there was the truth. I was too busy pretending I was too busy that I never went to see her. My sister had warned me. "Now is the time, Samantha if you don't you will always regret it." And I sure did. I knew at that very moment what she had meant. I never considered it any other time because I was in denial. The Friday before, my father had told me that hospice was getting the discharge papers together because they felt she was ready to go home. When I heard that, I figured I had all the time in the world, but before it was Sunday; it was all over, she was all over.

Later that day, I drove to my sister's house and as soon as I saw her belly, I broke down. I have always been a strong person; I have hardly let any one see me cry, a trick I had down back since I was five years old. Growing up, my father treated me like a boy, a son he never had. "Toughen up Sam; crying is for sissies and for kids like your sister." I went into her basement banged the wall and sat down there for fifteen minutes letting the tears roll down my face trying to fight every last one of them. Next I drove there, the house I grew up in, the house of suppression on Marigold Lane, as I like to call it. My father was sitting at the kitchen table starring into space and my mother was cleaning, a nervous habit she never got rid of and was at its worst when someone died. "The funeral is tomorrow, are you staying here tonight?" I had already packed a week's worth of clothes. In my culture we mourn for one whole week, and I needed comfort from them. I needed comfort from anyone and I knew I wasn't getting it all alone in my apartment.

The next morning, I couldn't get out of bed. It could have been depression; it could have been the xanax I took to calm my nerves; it could have been not having alcohol in my system. My father came in screaming, "If you hadn't missed enough, you aren't missing the funeral, god-dam it Samantha." I rose with out saying a word. I didn't bother showering. There was no point. I wasn't allowed to look in the mirror anyway. I remembered when we younger when someone died my sister and I would dare each other to look in a mirror which was rather hard not to because mirrors were like paintings on Marigold Lane and it was virtually impossible to cover all of them. I would always be the one to look, I was too vane and too self-centered not to. That morning, I didn't dare. She was a strict Jewish woman who never broke any of the rules. I put on black slacks, a blue button down shirt with a black vest. I knew I probably looked like Ellen Degeneres, but I tried to girly it up by wearing purple jewelry and a purple hair clip. Purple her favorite color. It took us two and a half hours to get there. We went to her apartment first. I had to use the bathroom and I guess apart of me wanted to see what was up there. A part of me wanted to make sure she was dead or some how hope she were still alive. I sat in the bathroom remembering the "no privacy" rule in the Levinson family. I thought about all the times she and I would leave that door open with one of us on the toilet and the other standing by the door talking together, naturally as if nobody had their pants down. I pulled myself together because I remembered what my mother had said to me that morning, "You must be strong for your father, he is becoming a sick man." In the Levinson family, "sick" ranged from severely mentally ill to a massive heart attack. He could have any of those and anything in between.

 

Then there was the funeral.

 

We arrived an hour before we were suppose to and the funeral director took us to our room. I immediately began to have flashbacks of four years prior when my grandfather died and how her soul and mind died with him on that day. I did not shed one tear at his funeral, a regret I still have to this day. I saw how distraught she was, but I was emotionless. I hadn't been on medication yet and between the manic episodes and the paranoia there was no time to digest his death or for crying. There were whispers about how this was the same room Grandpa was in four years ago. The funeral director came back in and asked my father to identify the body. I wanted to go in, but I could not face seeing her in there. I knew it wasn't my place. I watched my father through the glass that separated the temple from the mourners' room. In essence it separated the dead from the living. He looked like a lost boy who couldn't find his mother. More people began to gather in the mourners' room and I felt I was becoming less of a person than I had been four years ago or even forty hours ago. A woman came up to me and introduced herself as Katie. I knew exactly who she was before she even said her name. "And now you show up." I screamed so loud that everyone turned around. Katie had been her best friend since they were little girls, but ever since my grandfather had died, Katie claimed my grandmother was too stoned deaf and complained too much for her to see her any more. "And now you show up," was all I kept saying and thinking, but I must have been really saying it about myself. It was easier to blame her best friend then to blame myself. My mother and sister dragged me out of the room and into the bathroom where my sister slapped me as hard as she could across my face. I didn't flinch; I deserved it. I knew even if I was some how right, I couldn't fight a pregnant woman. I couldn't fight my sissy sister.

 

And then there were the eulogies.

 

My dad's first and then my sister and I together...

 

Mom was a woman who dedicated her life to taking care of others. Her dad passed away when she was only fourteen years old and she promised her mother that she would never be left alone. After she got married, she made sure that her mother lived with her. When my father got sick, she spent thirty years taking care of him; only bringing him to the best doctors in Manhattan. Even his last few years when Mom was starting to get sick, she still managed to take care of him with out ever complaining and with a smile across her face. To list all of her good deeds would probably require writing a book. There is one good deed that I would like to share with you and that was her weekly Friday trip to the post office from August 1965 to August 1966. While her nephew was in Vietnam she would walk to the post office which was a mile and half from the house carrying a big package of food to send to him and his army buddies. She never missed one Friday even during snow storms, rain storms, and extremely cold weather. After a few months when the clerks at the post office got to know her and her routine, they would all say, "Here comes smiley" as soon as she walked in. When I would question her on how she did it in such extreme weather, she would just say, "You do it." Her whole life was three things; family, family, and family. I remember when I went to college and I was struggling, she would always encourage me by saying; "good better best never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best." Our late President JFK once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country." If there was one sentence to describe Mom it would be "ask not what you could do for me ask what I can do for you."

(Larry Levinson, 2006)

 

We are so lucky to have had a grandmother like Grandma Rozzie. Her incredible smile, kindness, friendliness, and love for life were just some of her many, wonderful traits. Anyone, who knows Grandma Rozzie always has the same two things to say about her; "she is an amazing women with a heart of gold" and "does she ever stop smiling?" I will never forget our many scrabble games that she always won, ice cream and the Golden Girls, walks on eighty sixth street, and her always telling me that Damon has the same dimple on his chin as her father did. I know that she could not wait to meet her great granddaughter and although she will not be here, I am certain that our daughter will inherit one of her special qualities; whether it is her ever lasting smile or love for life. I can not wait to share stories with my daughter to let he know what an amazing women my grandmother was.

(Jennifer Levinson, 2006)

 

As Jennifer mentioned I will always have the fondest memories of spending precious times with grandma. Whether it playing scrabble or singing "The Rose", bagels and lox on Sundays, I shared such a closeness to her that I will always cherish and hold dear. One of the greatest memories I have is walking on Eighty Sixth Street with her stopping and talking to every single person that passed her by-she knew everyone and I mean everyone and she would love to introduce me to all of her many friends. It would actually take us two hours to walk two blocks. I will never forget her smiling face when she was with her family. She valued her family as the most important aspect in her life and she was always so proud of all of us. Grandma was the most caring person I have ever known in my life and I am so lucky to have shared such sweet memories with her. Grandma will always be remembered with that lovely smile across her face. She will be missed dearly.

 

During the last part of my sister's eulogy, I rubbed her back and brushed her hair to calm her down. She did the same throughout my entire eulogy.

 

In the front row of the temple sat my mother, my father, my aunt, my two cousins, my sister, my brother-in-law, and me. As the Rabbi spoke, I heard my aunt hyperventilating and gasping for air. "And now you show up" was still ringing in my ears. I knew she was just as guilty of the crime as I was, but it was different she was the daughter. I justified it in my head by telling myself that she lived fifteen minutes away and I lived two hours away, but there was nothing to justify now. It was too late, she was dead. I stared straight into the Rabbi's eyes as if he was going to be the one who would answer all my concerns. As if he were the one I was going to have to answer to when my day was up. I thought about how there would be no more nagging from her. "When are you coming over Samanthaitchka? I need you around, I am so lonely." "Tomorrow Grandma, I promise." At a certain point when I knew her short term memory was gone, I would say tomorrow because I knew she would never remember any way. There was no lying now. In fact if there were a place called heaven, she would probably be shaking her head with dismay. "When are you getting married Samantha?" "Leave me alone and never ask me that again." "Samantha what happened to that nice boy you were seeing?" "He broke up with me because I am messed up." That was the truth and I must have told her a thousand times because she would never remember.

And then there were her last words to me when I had visited her three weeks prior, "Don't wait so long to visit me again" the exact same and last words my grandfather spoke to her before he died."

"Samantha when are you getting married?" was all I could think about for the remainder of her funeral. For so long she had just wanted to see mine and my sister's weddings. She saw my sister's wedding, but she would never see mine. I felt like a disgrace to the Levinson name and to womanhood.

 

And then there was the burial service.

 

The drive down to the cemetery I laid my head on my sister's shoulder and did not raise it until I felt the car stop. I watched as they lifted the casket from the car by a crane and gently placed it in the ground. I got out of the car and waited anxiously by the hole. The rabbi began. This time I didn't listen to a word he said, but prayed that this could be over in no longer than ten minutes. I watched my father scoop the dirt and throw it in and then my mother, next my sister and then it was my turn. I dug as far down as I could. I didn't care about being refined, I was angry. I was digging so hard that I didn't want to stop after my two digs. I could have buried her myself from the adrenaline that was racing throughout my body. I passed the shovel to my brother-in-law with such a harsh grip which felt like we were exchanging some sort of business deal. I was on the ground at that point, I had fallen. It could have been from the exhaustion or it could have been the guilt. I picked myself up as quickly as I fell down. I didn't want to be attended to; I wanted to be left the hell alone. My brother-in-law came over and hugged me. I resisted quickly, but acted gracefully. Gracefully, something that is foreign to me.

 

Then there were the Shiva calls....

 

On the first day, my cousin sat beside me. "It's so empty with out her here." I didn't reply. I just kept on eating. I ate seven cookies and two corn beef sandwiches. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and I saw her next store neighbor. "She died two days ago." "I know I am really sorry to hear that." "You should really quit smoking it will help you lose weight" as she pointed to my stomach. I stuck my middle finger up at her and walked away. I thought to myself very mature. It could have been a language barrier; she was Russian and spoke broken English. I knew I gained some weight, but every pound I gained was for a dam good reason. I walked directly across the street to a supermarket where I bought a bottle of Rum, two packs of cigarettes, three boxes of laxatives, and one liter of diet coke. I walked back and sat on a folding chair in her alley that separated her apartment building from another. I began mixing my cocktails and popping the laxatives like candy. I thought to myself what would the Russian lady think now? And then I broke out into hysterics; I was laughing and crying at the same time. I began thinking about the alley and about how when I was a little girl, I would always play with the next store neighbor Larry; dodging balls at each other and roller skating. I wondered what Larry was up to these days. I saw his parents at the funeral, but I didn't bother asking because I didn't want them to ask me where my life was headed. In fact whenever a person at her funeral asked me what I was doing with my life, my reply was always the same, "Now is not the time" or "excuse me, I have to use the ladies room" and I would walk away as fast as I could. I started shaking, it was the beginning of November and I really felt the coldness. I began singing The Rose her favorite song in my head and then eventually aloud. "It's the one who won't be taken who can not seem to give..." "and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong..." I never got to the part of "just remember in the winter lies the seed that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose." I refused to get to that part. I didn't want the song to end; I didn't want her to end.

 

The next four days of the Shiva, I spent alone in my parent's house. I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, I didn't take any of my medication, I didn't shower or look in a mirror. I wanted to feel something and remember it for once in my life. I watched her favorite movie Beaches over and over again and when the DVD got to the last song, I blasted it as loud as I could. "You got to laugh a little, smile a little...that's the story of that's the glory of love."  She loved that song also.

 

On the last day of the Shiva, I showed up. I arrived there late evening around 7:30 and I noticed in the hallway the first floor light was on. I hadn't remembered that light being on since I was seven years old, a day there that I would never forget. My grandma and I were upstairs playing scrabble when we heard the downstairs neighbor screaming, "Rozzie get down here right now." She told me that I needed to stay in her apartment and she would be right back. I heard yelling and screaming and then a loud bang. I went running downstairs, praying to God that she wasn't killed, and I saw all of the glass shattered from the front door. "Get up stairs Samantha" I went back up and watched from the staircase. My grandma was hysterical. "My husband just put that glass up, you piece of shtickgrubb. You will pay for this someday." She walked back up the staircase and smiled at me and said, "Now, let's finish our scrabble game, sweetheart." I never asked her what exactly happened on that day. I was too scared to. I never had seen my grandma that angry, but I knew I could just comfort her by playing scrabble, her favorite pass time as she would call it.  She was so graceful.

I walked up to her apartment and there were only a few people left paying their last respects. I helped my mother and my Aunt clean up the food and I went out into the alley to feed the cats I saw down there a few days before. I came back up and took a deep breath and walked into her bedroom. It looked so different. Her bed wasn't there, but a hospital bed my dad had ordered because they had thought she was coming home that week. I sat on the bed and starred at the picture of her and my grandfather. There were so many pictures in her room. I took the one of me, my sister, and her that was taken at my twenty first birthday party. I packed it into my bag and then I noticed the glass yellow bird I had bought her four years prior. I picked it up and wrapped it in a towel and began to say my last good-byes. I got up from the bed and I noticed that my shoelace was untied. I bent down and I saw a piece of paper sticking out from underneath her dresser. It was a card; on the front cover was written, "To the Best Grandma in the World" inside was written, "and I MEAN it" underneath that I had written:

 

6/8/01

 

To my Dearest and Kindest Grandma Rozzie,

 

 I found this yellow bird in a small glass shop in Italy and it reminded me so much of you. I will always remember you singing to me...

Yellow bird high up in banana tree, yellow bird you sit all alone like me. Did your lady friend leave the nest again....Yellow bird...........

 

I am so sorry I haven't come to see you in a while. I have been really busy, but I promise as soon as things quiet down for me, I will visit you so much more because I love seeing your smiling face.

 

I love you grandma with all of my heart.

 

Love always,
Samanthaitchka



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