Dear Grandma Oma,
It wasn't till after you left that I realized the name I gave you meant Grandma Grandma. I just thought Oma was your name. The last time I saw you, you were in the hospital bed, oxygen tubes, slow beeps and white sheets, your hair soft, almost translucent. I read you Dr. Suess. Did you hear me? Could you hear the words? I saw my letter on the wall, my mom said you liked it. Did you like it? Could you read the words?
Did you know that I'm a writer now, Grandma? Did you know that I have a box of your costume jewelry and I wear your silver chain around my neck everyday with a little penchant that says 'Inkspinner.' I think of it as my writing mezuzah. Before I got my ears pierced I used to wear your costume earrings, the pearl ones were my favorite.
I didn't cry when you died. I was too young to understand death, too far to understand you. And now you're so far and I hate myself for being so young and caring more about the parakeet in your rest home than your stories.
It's only now that you're gone that you've become my hero. I don't ask about you a lot, but I think about you a lot. I know all the facts, the ones that have been mythologized by time, leaving Germany two months, one month, before Hitler gained control, the linzer tortes and the bunions on your feet.
But I don't even know if you were happy. And I live each day conscious of the fact that you had to leave everything you had, the smells, sights, family you loved, breathed. What was it like, how did you cope? Did you cope? Grandma, I'm trying to be Jewish, to discover all you had to leave behind in suitcases, hold the prayers you carried through Ellis Island in your hands. But Grandma, when the holocaust came did you expect it? Is that why you left? Can you talk about it? I can't.
And would you hate me if I said I believe in Jesus but I still consider myself a Jew? What do you think of that, Grandma Oma? What do you think of me?
My mom still makes your linzer torte. In our house, we have a sculpture she made of you, a painting too. She misses you so much. I miss you too, but I miss someone I never knew. My dad sometimes impersonates your voice. “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?” Did you really used to say that?
Sometimes I'm afraid that you were not the woman I think you were, at all, this woman with strong legs, crossing seas, tending a family in the dark jungles of New York City, teaching your mouth new foreign phrases in a one room apartment of generations. Generations all crammed into this little space, babies, a father, a husband who would die before your feet fully settled. I think of you as a matriarch of my soul, the one who paved the way for my heels, sacrificed so that your children, and your children's children, and your children's children's children, me, would never have to know what it's like. We will never have to know what it's like to our roots ripped from our soles, the dignity lifted from our heads, to walk through the human herds of a strange new city searching for your humanity.
You fought for your humanity and now I never have to. But how could you find humanity, how could you find freedom in the face of such great change, of such great tragedy happening behind you? Did you you find it, Grandma? Where did you find it?
Grandma Oma, did you read the letter I wrote for you, the one on your hospital wall? Are you reading this one? Are you even who I think you are? Does it even matter?
Sometimes when I think of you, I cry. I guess I cry for all the times I should have cried then? I'm mad I never thanked you for the sacrifices you made. I'm mad that I remember you best by the way your candy glass beads look strung around your neck and the scent in your bathroom. Isn't it horrible, Grandma, that I remember the chocolate you gave me and the oxygen tanks better than I remember the sound of your voice?
I hate this, I hate that I never actually knew you, that you don't know me. Can you see me, can you read this? Thank you Grandma, thank you. Thank you for protecting your soul, so that I'd always have mine. Thank you for leaving, for starting over nre so that later on my feet could keep their roots. Thank you. Thank you, Grandma Oma. Thank you. And I don't know if you could read the first letter I wrote you so maybe you can read this one. I love you and I miss what I know of you and all of you that I'll never know.