One of my favorite people in the world is my grandfather. If you imagine a man, tall and slim, with thinning hair and unfashionable glasses, you’ll have my grandpa. He married very young—as most people during his time did—and has had over 13 children (I don’t give a specific amount because many have died, and many have been miscarriages) with my grandmother. He’s very old-fashioned, and extremely romantic. Because he lives in the Middle East, and I live in America, I unfortunately rarely get to see him, maybe once every 2 years. But the times when I do see him are an incredible treat.
My grandpa is one of the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet. For example, instead of telling me “good morning,” he’ll recite me a small poem. Instead of giving me a simple “hello,” he’ll tell me that the beauty of my face is one of the most refreshing he’s ever seen. Waking up to compliments is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. When I’m having a bad day, he never ceases to make it better.
Going out with him is always a pleasure. He’s always so easy-going and willing to do anything. A camera always in hand, my grandpa jumps at the mere thought of creating more memories, of capturing every possible moment. He’ll never give up an opportunity to make a new memory. “Life is short,” he says, “and you’re too beautiful to not capture every perfect moment on camera.”
He and my grandma married out of love. My grandpa says that as soon as he saw my grandma, he knew she was the one. My father was their first child. My grandpa didn’t dote on him as much as my grandma would have liked, but my dad was a boy, and my grandpa was old-fashioned enough where boys didn’t need to have as much love as girls. He didn’t hate my dad—absolutely not. He just wasn’t as soft on him as he was with his daughters.
I said before that my grandpa is one of my favorite people in the entire world. But he’s also one of the ones I hate the most. Somewhere around his 5th child, he developed a liking for alcohol. And when he takes a sip of any of his special beverages, I watch him transform from one of the most poetic people in my life to one of the most blindingly cruel people. His kind eyes disappear, leaving only hatred in their place. His face becomes cold and expressionless, his mouth an endless grimace. One of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced in my life is seeing something once so beautiful and perfect morph into something ugly and hideous.
His sarcastically-said remarks start, usually aimed at my grandma first: Amalia, you know you’re a shitty wife? You know you’re really stupid? You know you deserve nothing? He hits her once. Gives her another insult. Hits her again. Insults her again. Then pushes her. Then kicks her. Then attacks her all at once until she’s on the floor, curled up in a ball and trying not to whimper as the endless rounds come and go, one by one. He hits her and kicks her and insults her and throws things at her. Even when unprovoked. My grandma can do nothing. She doesn’t know how to fight back, how to stop him, how to calm him down. She just lays on the floor, surviving, as her kids watch their father hit her again and again.
Sometimes my father and his siblings were forced to stay and watch, other times they try to run away to safety before he hits them, too. With so many kids trying to scurry out of the room, the exits get crowded and blocked, and sometimes my grandpa can catch one of his children before they are able to escape. My father told me that as they all would run away, they would all pray it wouldn’t be them he caught. Their need to escape became almost wild and savage, fighting and pushing one another to reach safety. But my grandpa always caught someone.
His alcoholism continued on for years and years, and my father tells me his memories of the good times before my grandpa drank are almost wiped away completely from those years of painful memories to replace them.
No one really knows why my grandpa started drinking—we’re not even sure he knows himself. But for years on end, there was no visible sign of my old grandpa anywhere. Even after my father married, even after my brother and I were born, my grandpa still drank. He still hit my grandma, and he still abused the children that were still too young to move out.
For some reason, my father never cut my grandpa out of our lives. I think he thought my grandpa would change, that he would stop drinking and that everything would get better.
Well he was right.
My grandpa and I have a connection—we always have. I’ve always been able to click with him in ways I couldn’t click with anyone. He would cheer me up when I was upset and I would give him the endless love only a child could muster. So when I was about 7 years old, I went to my grandpa and I told him I didn’t like how he hit my grandma. I told him I didn’t like how he hit anyone. I didn’t want him to. Please stop.
And he hasn’t taken another drink since.
I don’t know what made him stop exactly. I’m not sure if he had been thinking about it already, but just couldn’t find the motivation to do it. I don’t know if it’s because he really treasured my opinion that much. But what I do know is that he listened, that he cared. That he actually loved his granddaughter enough to not take another drink again for her sake.
I’m not trying to sugarcoat it; it wasn’t easy to stop, and he still had a lot of problems trying to apologize and rebuild all his relationships back. My grandpa must be one lucky man, though, because all of his children, all of his grandchildren, his wife, his in-laws—everyone—willingly forgave him and welcomed him into their lives like they had never cut him out in the first place.
My grandpa loves me. This is something I’ll never doubt. And I love my grandpa, I always have. But I also hate him. I hate a lot, for a lot of things. I hate him because of what he did to my grandmother, because of what he did to my father. The guilt I felt while watching my grandma get beat down was so crippling, I couldn’t imagine my father having to watch it every day of his life growing up. I couldn’t imagine watching my own father abuse my mother till she broke down. I couldn’t imagine having to grow up, never knowing whether my mom will die today, whether a sibling will die, or if it will be my fault. And I hate him for giving me the misfortunate of seeing a loved one endure so much pain.
My grandpa is perfect. He’s old and poetic, intelligent and thoughtful. But when he drinks, he turns into something else, something different. He’s not my grandpa anymore; he’s only an ugly imitation of himself. And this is something I’ll always have to see when I look at him.
But memories can be forgiven, if the person is willing to change, and my grandpa put every effort he had into changing. And I forgive him.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: my grandfather is one of my favorite people in the entire world. I love him, and I am extremely close to him. Despite the pain and abuse, I can’t imagine a world without him.
January 29, 2014
From left: My dad, my grandpa, my grandma, my uncle.