THEY DO SERVE BEER IN HELL
By Eyrna Heisler
There is yelling and screaming and fighting upstairs, but that’s a given. I’m seven, in my mother’s old bedroom from when she was a teenager. I can hear my grandmother screaming at my mother, reprimanding, lecturing, as if my mother is sixteen again. My grandmother is offended that my parents think she can’t run her house anymore. “Get out of my house and never come back,” my grandmother shouts. “We’re finished.”
My mother is yelling back, while my dad attempts to calm her down. I know they love me, they all do. But it doesn’t help. My parents rush in, both disconcerted. I can’t tell if my mother is about to break down in tears, or throw something. I’ve never really seen my father upset, or ever cry. But he has a look of sorrow on his face. He gets our bags and starts to pack. I’m nervous.
“We have to go,” my mother says, bending down in front of me. “She said we have to leave.”
“No.” I don’t want to leave.
“No, no, no, no! She’s joking. She’s just kidding. Please, Mommy.” What I’m really scared of is that if we go, if my Grammy throws us out this time, I will never see her again.
“She isn’t joking.” My mother turns away. Going to her bag, shoving her clothes in, as well as mine, frantically.
“I’ll go start the car,” my father says, walking out the door, bags in hand.
“No, Daddy, she’d never make us leave. Daddy, stop. We’re staying.” It’s my last desperate plea for us to stay. By now I have tears streaming down my face. My grandmother walks in, glares at my mother, then takes me by the hand into the vast living room. There are wine bottles littering the pulpit bar.
“You are the best child in the world! Much better than your mother ever was. I have never loved another child as much as I love you,” she says to me. I inhale the strong smell of alcohol and cigarettes on her breath. “You don’t have to leave. I want you to stay. Your parents are who I’m kicking out. I love you. Stay with me.”
My mother is suddenly standing behind me. “Mom, you can’t do that. You cannot put her in a position to choose. She’s seven. And you can’t put me in that position either. It’s not your place, I’m her mother, I decide what’s best for her.”
My mother takes me by the hand, walks me through the enormous house, through the yard, and out to the car. The two-hour drive from the Hamptons to New York City passes in a blur of tears.
My relationship with my grandmother was a complicated one. When I try to remember what our relationship was like, nothing comes to mind. I remember the places, like the dark bar where she used to take me for lunch; or sitting in the front seat with her at Carvel’s, eating a vanilla cone with sprinkles; or the Bratz and Barbie aisle at the toy store. I see it like a story in my head, from above. I see the fat little kid and the faceless, silver-haired grandmother. I don’t remember her, or the things that she would say, or the way she would treat me. She’s like a character, mingled with the views of what other people’s opinions of her were, misshapen and contorted. The only problem is I can’t go back and reread the book to form my own version of it.
This incident when my grandmother threw my parents out of her house was the first time my parents realized she was no longer sober. She spent the next few years in various hospitals, until she finally died, two years later. But at that moment she was alive, and healthy. Well, as healthy as an old raging alcoholic could possibly be, while also being blind drunk. Turns out that wasn’t the first time my parents had been thrown out of her house. She threw them out the day after their wedding, too.