An Open Letter
By Jessica Leonard
Isabel Allende said, “Write what should not be forgotten,” so I am writing you.
We all live with regret. Once you reach a certain age, it becomes inevitable. It moves with you, becomes part of you. It is your experience. It shapes you.
I regret most the time I have not taken. I regret not taking more time to be openly grateful. I’ve lost family and loved ones, and while I am sure they passed knowing they were loved, did they know they were appreciated?
The good thing about regret is that you can learn from it.
Before it becomes another chain of regret, I must tell you how grateful I am.
Thank you for never making me feel like a burden. I’m your granddaughter and was never your responsibility to raise. I’ve never felt anything but love from you. This means the world to me.
Thank you for teaching me grace. Through you, I have seen how a person can do what is right – not convenient – and stand up for themselves and others without grating against the world. You’ve shown me that my presence on earth does not have to create dissonance. I’m still learning this. One day, I will affect the world without so much static. I’ll find the rhythm or wavelength or whatever it is you possess and I will use it as you have – to make good in the world.
You gave me a spirituality I can be happy and comfortable with. While so many of my peers bemoan growing up with guilt-filled memories of a church laden with hellfire and brimstone, you showed me there was another way. When I think back to my youth and church services, my memories are all filled with love and acceptance. It left me free to love without fear. The spiritual life you provided was warm and open. It made me warm and open. Thank you. So many are scared and confused and full of hate toward people they don’t know or understand. Because of you, I do not have the burden of blind hate.
Every year for Lent, people give something up. They give up meat or chocolate or pasta. You told me that you don’t think God cares if you’re eating hamburgers. You said you’d rather do something to make yourself better. I remember the year you gave up gossip. That’s the sort of person I want to be, someone who makes changes that matter, not just superficial things for show. You’re an effortless role model and you never do it to impress others, only to do what is right and improve yourself.
I don’t hold with religions. But I believe in the same way of living you have always taught me. I believe in being good to people, and that you can learn something from everyone – even if it is only that you don’t want to be like them. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and caring. You gave me these things. You gave me a sense of community that I am so grateful for.
Sorry I was such a picky eater. I know it probably drove you crazy when all I would eat was ramen noodles. You should know I do a lot better now and only eat ramen noodles sometimes. Mostly when I’m sick. I miss the biscuits you made. I’ve never been able to make tacos that taste as good as yours did. When I make dinner, I dirty up every dish in the kitchen. I learned that from you.
I remember how you would do exercises while you cooked because you never wanted to waste a single moment.
I appreciate that you helped me buy my first car and cared whether or not I liked it.
Thank you for talking to my teachers in tenth grade. I felt so alone and you showed me I was not. I’m sorry for being so self-centered then. I was angry. But I was never angry with you, and I hope you know that. I had the restless spirit that comes with being a teenager. I’m sorry if I was a pain in the ass sometimes.
For years, you held together a household with little to no help. You lost your husband and developed cancer in the same year, but I never did without. You’re the strongest woman I can imagine. You’ve spent your life working to help people and taking care of family and friends. Through the years you have never stopped helping others and doing what you can to volunteer, even if it’s as simple as helping write thank you letters.
When I came to you and said I was getting divorced, it was the first time I cried about it. I was so afraid I was letting you down. I was scared you would be ashamed. Not only was I doing something society might frown upon, but I was asking you for help. I hated to do that. After everything you had already done for me and given of yourself, it seemed like my most selfish act yet: starting my life over with more of your help. I was ashamed of myself.
But you told me you were always on my side. You said you trusted me. You loved me. You have always been on my side. You wanted me to be happy. Nothing could ever mean more. This has been the constant for us. You have wanted me to be happy. You have wanted me to be successful. Everything you’ve done for me has been with this goal surrounding it – my success. My happiness.
I am happy.
Everyone who knows you loves you. Everyone wishes you were their mother. I’m aware of how lucky I am.
I want you to know I’m writing it all down. I’m making a record of our lives and the things we did and said. They mattered, and I want to share them with the world. I want you to know that it’s all being kept safe in my mind and in my notebooks. I’m collecting it in Word documents and showing it to people and they like it. People who’ve never met you get to know you and love you – just the same as everyone who already knows you. I’m proud to be your granddaughter. I don’t want a day to go by where you don’t know how grateful I am for what you’ve done for me.
Jessica Leonard is the writer of stories about people and the things they do. Most days you can find her looking skeptically at her surroundings and being negative, but in a charming way. Her work has appeared in Counterexample Poetics, Menacing Hedge, and in the Solarcide anthologies Nova Parade, Flash Me: The Sinthology, and Solarcidal Tendencies.
The photo above is of her grandmother.