His body went limp when my mother picked him up. With either side of his body descending toward the other, you would think he had no spine. She bounced him up and down three times, his limbs wiggling back and forth and his razor-sharp claws tapping together reverberating a clatter I still remember at thirty-four years of age twenty nine years later. At five years old, the loss of my first pet, an iguana named Spike, framed for me from that point forward what death looks like.
My mother laughed upon picking him up from the middle watching his body flop, and I cried not just from the loss, but of the sheer lack of support from her. I guess she did not see the big deal, he was just an iguana.
That afternoon, after a few beers, my father decided to give Spike a funeral, fashioning two sticks into a cross and digging a shallow grave at the base of our short and dying grapefruit tree, in our field of ethereal dandelions. I could not think of a more beautiful place to lay him to rest. He said a few words, and I cried profusely, looking up at my drunk stepfather, the sun blinded me for a moment and I saw his face glisten, with his eyes closed, beads of sweat plummeting from his brow as he rested his frail and astonishingly lean body on the shovel, exclaiming what a remarkable pet Spike was.
My stepfather’s mother, to me, was perfection.
“Your grandmother is a saint, but she has problems too”
was a trope I would often hear simply because at the end of her life she became addicted to morphine and other pain killers and opiates due to immense pain throughout her bout with pancreatic cancer, though I did not care what anyone else thought. The smell of her house was pungent of coffee and immediately upon entering I would feel overwhelming comfort, hearing the fresh ground coffee dripping into the pot sitting on the burner. As I would sit with her playing Phase 10 on the white flower embroidered tablecloth, she would sneak me slight sips of her cream and sugar-filled coffee. I could feel the blistering steam floating into my face as if it were sending my worries into the sky with it. She would often say to me,
“You are my granddaughter, and coursing blood, a tree of offspring, or a last name, will never change that.”
Her cup would slowly empty, as I would often glance up at Leonardo Davinci’s ‘The Last Supper.’ It was a puzzle she had glued and mounted next to oversized wooden utensils and a calendar displaying our then pope. Before I knew it, she was lying in a hospice bed, I was in the other room in denial that she was dying, refusing to say goodbye.
I hear my mom say as I look over through the crack in the door seeing her there, deceased. Her body went limp when the nurse picked her up from her waist. With either side of her body drooping toward the other, you would think she had no spine. At fifteen years old the loss of my grandmother confirmed for me what death looks like.