File Facade

Looking back, it feels weird to share that my grandparents kept “files” on each of their ten grandchildren. Even as cracks in our closeness became painfully obvious over the years, I held on to the idea that, if anything, my dad’s parents served a purpose as biographers, cataloguing our journeys.

When my grandfather passed away, my sadness was tempered by the excitement of finally getting to pry into my ever-elusive file.

And that’s when disappointment set in.

While I naively focused on the positive — the shopping trips, summer camp visits, and applause at concerts and recitals — the reality was much different. We stopped doing family dinners with my paternal cousins, aunts and uncles. “Special Days” with my grandparents turned into afternoons full of poorly-veiled insults and curt critiques.

I didn’t expect for this, too, to be captured in my file.

My optimism wasn’t as cautious and guarded as my relationship with them became over the years, and perhaps it should have been.

My file, unlike those of my siblings, and I assume of my cousins, too, was filled with transcripts of e-mails I sent to my grandmother, expressing my disappointment in her behavior. Instant message exchanges (yes, they had a joint screen name that got a lot of mileage and was on the sending-end of plenty of chain-style messages) were taped together to connect conversations — few of which were pleasant.

I knew that I had been let down by them over the years, but even I thought we had more silver linings and simchas than were captured in this barely full folder.

The kicker, and point of painful hilarity, is that my grandmother chose to include the thank-you note that my husband and I sent for our wedding gift. The very thank-you note that was the spark behind our nearly three-year silence.

It’s incredible, really.

Incredible that grandparents can let you down.

I do cherish the small wins, though — the postcards, curiously addressed only to my grandfather, exclaiming how much I missed him at camp. Each time I drive to work, crossing between New York and Connecticut, I think of how proud my grandfather, who taught me how to drive, would be.

This all brings me back to an epiphany I had recently. My life, including my life to-date, is not analog. I’m an inherently digital being, and so what my file may have lacked in proof of positive memories with my paternal grandparents, I know of (and have documented!) moments that weren’t all that bad.

Life’s funny this way. I had built up the idea of “the file,” so much so that I expected it to be the redeeming set of memories to help me peacefully close the book on my grandfather’s passing, and my estranged relationship with my grandmother. But it was the opposite.

And for that, I’m actually more grateful. I’m grateful to know that I wasn’t missing anything, and the memories I was already holding dear, were the ones worth focusing on in the first place.

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