of remembrance and regret
By Megan Xing
This essay is a tribute to my grandmother and an immortalization of my biggest regret.
My grandmother was a kind person. She grew forgetful in her later years, and often fretted about things of little importance, but I remember running in from a snowy day and being greeted by her warm smile and gentle words. We used to be closer, back when I was still young enough to require looking after; she would stay in our house all winter and spring and go back to her small Queens apartment when the rain clouds gave way to blue skies.
I regret that now—regret letting our connection break, letting school and work and the harried blur of everyday life take over my world and jumble my priorities. Somewhere along the line, I began making decisions—subtle enough to evade my conscience, but impactful enough to strain our relationship. I thought of my grandmother every now and then, but dismissed it quickly—after all, I could go visit her anytime, but my middle school friend was only free this weekend. And maybe I hadn’t seen my grandma in a while now, but I had procrastinated a biology project that couldn’t wait any longer.
Over time, this became our relationship—a fleeting, easily dismissed afterthought that flitted by every now and then. Now all I have left are snippets; flashes of memory so intangible I can’t tell if they were reality or merely dreams manufactured by my subconscious to ease my guilt. Small, delicate hands working to prepare dinner, blue veins pulsing beneath translucent, paper-thin skin; black-lined eyes creasing in an endearing smile; and then those same eyes, closed forever within a shiny mahogany casket. I have that purple glass necklace on the red silk string—the one she gave me for one of my birthdays, God knows which—the one encasing a snippet of beach, filled with purple sand and shells and a small starfish. I can hear my grandmother’s voice, saying Mui Mui, sik fan le, but I have nothing left of her beyond dim fragments and a paltry collection of objects.
Sometimes, when it’s so late at night that the only sound left in the world is the rumbling of a passing car or the fierce howling of the wind stirring the branches of the old oaks, I wonder how it all slipped away so fast. How do people grow apart so quickly? How did I go from seeing my grandmother every day to kneeling at her funeral, my head bowed and my senses clouded by the cloying smell of incense? How is someone who used to be an integral part of my daily life now nothing but a passing memory?
And what do I know about her, really? I know she loved to dance, even when she was a young girl. That didn’t change, even after she had wandered out somewhere and fallen on the concrete or taken another tumble down the stairs. But what else do I know? How many siblings did she have? What was her favorite food? What did she think when she first came to America? What did she think when she first met me, saw the small, red-faced, crying baby, her first (and only) granddaughter?
Near the end, she was in and out of the hospital frequently. I only visited her once, that final time. I walked in, and by then her memory was so bad that when my mom asked her who I was, she studied my face and then called me by the name of her younger sister. There was a distant look in her eyes, like she was looking at me but not really, like she was seeing not the hospital room but her village and her childhood, surrounded by her family and friends. When she called me by that unfamiliar name, I stared at my hands and pinched the fleshy part between my thumb and my index finger, physically suppressing the threatening tears. When it was time to go my mother repeated the question, and she looked at me then, looked at me like she saw me, and smiled. “Mui Mui,” she said, as if it were obvious. I almost cried again then, out of shame and regret—because what kind of person was I, to not see that it had gotten so bad? To go out with my friends and read my books and think nothing of my grandmother’s deteriorating memory and increasingly lengthy hospital visits?
Occasionally, during those overly introspective periods of night, a shard of guilt buries itself in my heart, spurred by the knowledge that it was so easy to move on, almost as if she’d never even existed in the first place.
I think about that a lot, too. Because what is death, really? In the end, all that matters is the life you lived, and the things people remember you for. Perhaps that’s why my greatest fear is not death, or pain, but being forgotten. Erased, bit by bit, from the minds of everyone I cared about. Remembered once every so often, but only briefly—accompanied perhaps by a flicker of pain, a flash of guilt, like an indent in the sand before a wave washes it away.
This piece was the product of a series of late night introspections and inordinately long showers. Since my grandmother died in April, a jumble of suppressed thoughts and feelings had been locked in a box in the back of my mind, and after a few consecutive hours of sad music and depressive contemplation, the clasp snapped and I finally found the words to express them. After Girls Write Now began, I worked with my mentor Jihii to refine the tone and polish the flow of what had become my catharsis piece.
A junior in high school, Megan Xing began writing at a very young age. She had loved to read even before she started school, and upon discovering her father’s computer in kindergarten, she learned she had an attraction to writing as well. Her favorite genres are narrative, memoir, fiction and fantasy, and she is increasingly eager to explore the worlds of poetry and film as well.