Comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
The Song of Solomon 2:5
I can't think of a more perfect object than an apple. They are beautiful orbs full of life-giving nutrients; Satisfyingly heavy purveyors of gravity; Aesthetically lovely in all forms in their various shades of monochromatic greens and reds; Blushed reds fading to greens; Deep reds mottled with green freckles. Shiny, clean, perfect globes. My mouth remembers the lucious sweetness of a Red Delicious, the powerful tartness of a Granny Smith, the candied goodness of a Honey Crisp. But of them all, my palate prefers the McIntosh. Eating a McIntosh apple is a flawless experience. I love the sound it makes when my teeth pierce its rough skin. A crisp sound. Like thunder condensed to fit in the palm of my hand. The crush, the violence of peel in teeth, the bittersweet flavor of apple meats tumbling against the tongue.
"You know, your grandfather loved McIntosh apples, too." My mom tells me this one day as I devour one.
"Oh yeah. In fact, when he died, they found apple cores lying all around his body. I guess he had a McIntosh apple feast before he passed away."
My mother's father. My grandfather. He was simply terrifying in his mystery. When I was a little girl there was nothing more foreign and intimidating to me than an older man, particularly my grandfather who I swear was a thousand feet tall. The tributaries of hard years were etched into his face and his skin was saturated with the scent of tobacco. I recall the mutual reluctance of our infrequent hugs. "Go give grandpa a hug, Gwen." He didn't want to and neither did I. It was a strange, scary embrace and I can still feel the way his rough, dark face would scratch mine. Sometimes, instead of giving me a hug he would press a wrapped candy into my little hand with his large one, a consolation prize.
Every summer, we would visit him at his upstate Pennsylvania mountain retreat. He lived in a small, beat up trailer in the center of 20 acres of untouched land. Like his land, he was reserved and quiet, mostly. When he did speak, his voice was deep and raspy, made raw from decades of cigarette smoking. It made me jump. I don't remember anything he ever said to me. I just remember the sound of what he said to me. I would look down at my shoes in embarrassment. There I stood and did the thing I always did the best. Close my eyes and wait for it to be over. I couldn't wait to get away, run outside of that claustrophobic space and go exploring his vast property, swimming in the crick, collecting crayfish and salamanders, and hiking in the thick woods.
He died when I was 10 years old. My dad came and picked Amy, LJ and me up from school in the middle of the day. It was a Thursday. He waited to tell us what was wrong until we got home.
"Well...here's the thing...umm...your grandpa died today." Dad said this tentatively, I think maybe because he was unsure of what we knew of death. I think he was worried about what else he might have to say or explain.
I knew he had been sick. Emphysema. I thought it was his fault. But nobody is supposed to die when you're ten. I started sobbing. It was the weirdest thing because I wasn't even sad. I wasn't sad even a little bit about grandpa dying. One second, I was perfectly normal and the next, I was falling into a puddle of tears. I remember how everybody just looked at me surprised at the severity of my reaction. It was grandpa. He was scary and he died and it was his fault, but I cried for a long time. Somebody held me, I think.
Many years later, I talked to my mom about grandpa. What is weird is that I never thought of him as her father, as her daddy, as the man who raised her until she began to tell the stories, until her brutal stories about their relationship started to unravel.
My mom grew up in the Appletree section of the suburban sprawl known as Levittown. Her dad was a war veteran like so many other 1960s dads. Maybe the war is what made him the way that he was: Stoic, unaffectionate, authoritarian. He supported his wife and five children. Made a home for them, provided the material things they needed to survive. I see pictures of the family at Christmas. A normal family surrounded by presents, an evergreen tree full of ornaments. A picture of my mom in her Easter dress with a little smile on her face. Grandpa with a girl on each knee. The proud, protective daddy. I hear stories of grandpa chasing my dad down the street with a shotgun in his hand and bullets out the mouth, "Stay away from my little girl if you know what's good for you!" He was a man full of sweet and sour. Shades of dark red fading to light green. A man full of lightness and darkness. He was just a man. But what a simple man does can hurt for a whole lifetime. It can haunt the mind of a woman and make it painful to live.
It is dark. I wake up to a warm, wet sensation underneath my body. Not again. Not this again. "Daddy, I wet the bed. I'm so sorry." I hear the water filling the bathtub. I hear his deep voice, rumbling. It is angry sounds but I am looking down at my feet, embarrassed. I am naked as I am thrown roughly into the freezing water. Not again. Not this again. I am shivering, crying, and ashamed. Daddy is angry. I am a dirty girl. I am a bad girl.
Sent to bed without supper again. I don't even know what I did wrong. I sulk in my room with an empty belly. My stomach grumbles loudly. My mom takes pity on me. She sneaks me a couple of apples from the tree in our backyard. "Here take these. Don't let your father catch you with those or he'll be angry with the both of us!" I am grateful as I taste the bittersweetness of the apple meats on my tongue. I fall asleep with hunger still, but with the juice of apples on my lips.
The family has gathered for dinner. Dad says, "How do you like it?" I say, "Oh, it's good." And then he laughs wickedly and says "Well, it's Hopper." I feel my stomach lurch. I run into the bathroom and vomit out my pet bunny. I can still hear Dad laughing in the kitchen as if he just told the greatest joke.
I think about grandpa's corpse sometimes. I have this image of him, laid out with only his creased face visible beneath a heap of apple cores and cigarette butts. A morbid blanket of the things he loved. A polarity of that which nurtures and that which destroys.
Grandpa loved McIntosh apples. And so do I. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. What else that was in him is also in me? How much of what is good in him did I inherit? How much of what is cruel? I know I have darkness in my veins, something twisted and uncomfortable pulsing through me at intervals. It feels inescapable like destiny, like roots implanted firmly in the soil. Some days, I wish I could pluck myself off of a tree like an apple. Take a bite. Swirl the taste of my own soul like apple meats on the taste buds of my tongue. Know once and for all, whether I am sweet. Or sour.
2 hours ago