This Moment Forward in My Body
I travel through time and set my grandmother's hair before she goes out dancing
with my grandfather. In my body, I hold the memories of befriending her, driving her to
the grocery store and to the laundromat and to the bank and to her doctors' appointments.
I sat next to her in unseasonably cool waiting rooms and listened to the sounds of her
breath beside me. I carried in grocery bags and helped her put away the things that
nourished her body, the chemicals I put in her hair, the cigarettes she and my grandfather
smoked in the house with the doors and windows shut tight.
After her operation, I came over while my grandfather worked. She got me
hooked on a favorite soap opera, just like when I was a child, and she decided to quit
smoking. She told me stories of her son who died, not the same stories she told me as a
child. My body holds the understanding of what a bad time is.
It is Friday night, and my grandmother tells me the name of the little town they'll
go to and the name of the restaurant that serves mainly meat and has a jukebox full of
classic country. She is very much in love.
"Helen, grab the nail polish from the fridge," she says, and I am gone.
I travel through time and become the teacher of my grandmother's son. In my
body, I hold the memory of attending his funeral, surrounded by children and parents I'm
uninterested in. The children brought in coins, and I donated books to the library in his
name. I called the newspaper to take photographs so my grandmother would have
something to cut out of the paper besides his obituary. I cleaned out his desk and touched
the things he had touched; she will touch them, too, when she lifts them out of the box
months from now.
I stand on the steps outside the door and hand her the box. She wants to die, but
she does not want to talk to me. I am, after all, nearly a stranger.
"Miss Mooney," she says, "thank you," and I am gone.
I travel through time and become my grandmother's mother so I can learn the
stories that no one told me while there was still anyone to ask. In my body, I hold the
memories of telling her to dry up, feeding her the most unappetizing bits of the chicken,
withholding from her all the things I should have been saying. Her life had to happen to
her, or she wouldn't be my grandmother.
Her hair bounces without the aid of curlers and shines in the sun like water. My
grandmother so young breaks my heart. I pull back my hand. The job I have chosen for
myself is to deliver defining wounds.
"Please, Ma," she says, and I am gone.
I travel through time and become my mother so that I can leave myself with my
grandmother every day when I go to work. In my body, I hold the memory of her
teaching me, with a pillow behind my back, to sit up earlier than medically advisable. I
saw her teach me to crow, to bark, to mewl, to moo.
My infant self sleeps, heavier than when awake but still feathery as a letter warm
from the mailbox in summer. I shift myself and turn the knob I know is unlocked for me.
My hands meet her hands as I hand her myself.
She looks at the baby who doesn't look back, who stirs behind tiny padlocked
eyelashes. "Hey, hey, come to Mawmaw. Come to Mawmaw."
"See you after work," I say, waiting for her to direct her voice to me. I have to get
back down the mountain. If I am late, they dock me.
All day I turn the curves of pocket linings, let the needle make the arc without
threading my fingers to the fabric that looks whiter when not next to denim. I bundle the
almost-pockets. I count them until I can count them by weight, raw edges aligned in the
arc of my hand. Bells go off for breaks like school. I follow the women around me.
It stings to curve the wheel on the way home. My stomach heaves inside my belly
around the horseshoe curve. I park the car closer than anyone likes to the door to get
inside sooner. I see her waiting at the end of the hallway where I am learning to run, my
fingertips on the wood paneling to either side. I trust her with myself completely.
"Look at her go, Karen," she says, and I am gone.
I travel through time to become one of the other women. In my body, I hold the
memories of everything my grandfather said about her. When he didn't speak of her, I
was as absent as I am in my present life.
I go with him to the house. I tell myself this will spare me later, but even the most
despicable ugliness cannot spare me grief. I travel through the linear moment, from my
shameful and heartbroken self to my shameful and heartbroken self. It is only natural,
after all this, to wonder what I can take away from her.
When we walk in, she is sitting at the table. "You," she says, and I am gone.
I travel through time to become my grandmother's teacher. I hold in my body the
memory of calling her Frances, calling on her too often. She is both my pet and the
student I have to keep my eye on.
"Frances?" I say after every third question because I want to say her name like a
question. She is so slight she is hard to look at. She bears the marks of growing up with
She rubs her finger over her lip, moves her feet beneath the desk. She has the
teeth she will loose before she ever sees me. She bats her shoes against the floor. She has
no answer. I want to locate something of myself in her before she knew me. I want to
locate something of myself in her while psychologists agree she's still capable of change.
"Frances," I say, to hear it like an accusation. I am disappointed.
I keep watch from the door while the children run after each other, greedy for her
laugh, for the smudges on her hands, for her neck lifting out of her shoulders. She is
around some corner.
I have no training and don't know what to teach her.
"Miss Young," she says, and I am gone.
I do not travel through time and befriend my grandmother when she was young. I
don't want the memory of seeing her look at my grandfather, my body knowing what he
will do. How could I not beg her not to sit on the porch with him?
I travel through time to attend again my grandmother's funeral. In my body I hold
the wrong memories, mixed-up details from my grandfather's funeral—the moment when
the front pew was full and I turned to sit in the second row by myself, how my aunt
pulled me back and made room for me in the suddenly smaller family.
Wearing a dress and putting on pantyhose in a world without her is death. My
throat is a part of my body that wants to explode. It wants to gag, to bleed. It fights to
produce its own tears. Listening to other people speak her name and her not able to
answer is death. To be in this moment, to carry this moment forward in my body, is
Jennifer Gravley makes her way in Columbia, Missouri. She is a writer of sentences, a watcher of bad television, and a reference and instruction librarian. Her work has recently appeared in Still: The Journal and Poetry Northwest, among others.