Not. Like. The. Last. Time.

This morning as we sat on the tarmac waiting to take-off for Phoenix I started to think about the last time I visited.  It was the fall of 2010 and everything was different.  Every.  Single.  Thing.

I had come with my mom and brother to visit my grandma and aunt and uncle.  My grandma moved to Phoenix when I was maybe 8 or 9 and has lived in a retirement golf community ever since.  She is a two-time widow and has lived alone in her home for years.  Having just turned 83 that summer she was still golfing nearly every day, driving, and living a full and active life.

I’ve mentioned before that the woman has an edge.  This is not your typical warm and fuzzy grandma.  Always quick to offer criticism when I would do things like…oh I don’t know…wear my hair curly instead of straight on a particular day, she was never one to hold back her true feelings.  I remember on that trip in 2010 having just told my mom that I would be getting botox the second I was able for the line between my eyebrows.  My mom had been telling me that it was completely undetectable and that I was likely the only one who could see it.  A few hours later, after she’d had a couple of glasses of wine, my grandma came very close to me and started tapping the supposed undetectable wrinkle between my brows and said “CARRIE!!! (tap, tap, tap, tap, tap)  Stop scowling!!! (tap, tap, tap, tap, tap)  Look what you’re doing to yourself!!! (tap, tap, tap, tap, tap)”  Obviously, this did nothing but strengthen my resolve to get botox the second I’m able.

Later on that trip, my brother and I were heading back to the house after going to the gym, and we were driving her golf cart.  My brother had questioned the fact that the battery on the golf cart was covered in green goo.  She assured us it was “just fine!!!”  About a mile and a half from home I said to my brother “wouldn’t it be so fitting if this cart died on us?!”  Three…two…one…and the cart did in fact die.  Some of her neighbors came to our rescue by crankily ordering us to get back in the cart and they’d push us home.  The battery had died.  Obviously.  But my grandma was certain my brother and I had been tearing up and down the streets and that we’d broken it by driving recklessly.  Because really, when given the chance to drive twelve miles per hour, who doesn’t go a little crazy?

When we were last here she was more ornery than usual, more annoyed than usual, and more dismayed than usual.  But here’s the thing…the woman has always had spunk…and I kind of appreciate that about her.  She was always so active, and doing her own thing, that you couldn’t fault her for being a little bent out of shape when we descended upon her world and she had to work around all of us.

Today we went straight to her new “apartment” from the airport.  We weren’t really sure if she’d even remember me.  Since I was here last, she’s been moved to a memory unit of an assisted living facility.  My mom comes regularly but this is the first time she’s seen a grandchild in a good long time.  My uncle has been prepping her for our arrival but we just didn’t know what would happen.  The good news?  She remembered me just fine…even called me “Care” which is what she’s always called me.  Unlike the last time, however, she’s not living in her own house.  Not golfing every day.  And not able to be on her own.  And she’s cheerful.  Disconcertingly so.  Warm, and friendly, and cheerful.  It’s not that I’ve never seen her like this.  She always had her moments of warmth peppered in with her edginess.  But it was never consistent like it was today.  And while it’s nice to sit with her and know that there won’t be any overtly rude or crabby behavior?  It also makes me incredibly sad.

The last time I left my husband to go to Phoenix our marriage was in serious trouble.  We had gotten to a point at which I had said that by my next birthday, if things hadn’t significantly improved, that I would need to leave.  I’m not the kind of girl to lay down deadlines or ultimatums but if I had learned anything thus far it was that I LOVED being a mom and I’m good at it.  At 34 I knew that if this marriage didn’t work out I would be on a tight timeline to mourn my marriage, start dating again, meet someone new, get married, and start having kids of my own.  At some point, I had begun to realize, things either needed to get much much better or we’d have to cut our losses and move-on.  For all of our sake.

I remember that when I’d left we’d been fighting.  When we landed in Phoenix and I turned my phone back on I had several very angry texts from my husband.  And I remember feeling so tired.  Tired of the turmoil and fighting and of trying to make it work.  I was exhausted from the constant struggle.  But I wasn’t relieved to be away from him either.  I was really scared that my being gone would make him realize that it felt a lot better than having me around.  It was this impossible contradiction of not wanting to actually be home but being terrified to be anywhere else.

So I spent my time in Phoenix inundating my husband with text messages in the beginning and then really wanting nothing to do with any more discussions about anything with him by the end of the trip.

Today I left my husband working on our bathroom remodel.  It’s a project I so wanted to work on alongside him.  Our marriage is in great shape and I’m incredibly grateful that we were able to stick it out through really challenging times.  When I was sitting on the plain I felt a brief pang of nervousness about leaving…likely leftover from a couple of really hard years…this irrational fear that I’ll leave and he’ll think ‘hey this isn’t bad at all!’  And then I remember how amazing things are for us now and I let it pass.  And as he sent me pictures of his progress throughout the remainder of the day I got to revel in the fact that he’s MY husband and we’re so lucky to have held onto each other.

When I last visited, my uncle had recently recovered from a severe heart.  My aunt had been there to nurse him back to health and he was finally doing much better.  This visit, my aunt is battling her way through treatment for recently discovered pancreatic cancer and my uncle is the one nursing her back to health.  A horrible and unfair turn of events.

It’s one of those times when adulthood smacks you in the forehead, or specifically on the wrinkle between the brows, and reminds you that you are not a youngster anymore.  And it’s both a comforting and good realization and a scary and disheartening realization.  But it’s the truth either way.

TODAY:  What if being an adult means coming to terms with how great things are and how tough things are?  What if despite the challenges, visits like this one are good for all involved, and I’ll be so glad I came?


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