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Getting Religion - Part XV The Church of Granny Green

During the week after my appointment with Dr. Lebensohn, I slept, ate and went for daily walks.  I was still taking a large dose of medication and it was the medication that had become my personality, my sense of self. I had little inside to anchor me naturally or to coax me into normal adult activities other than the basics. And because of the medication or because there was no real me inside, I didn't talk. I had nothing to say and so chose to keep to myself. 

Only when my mother asked specific questions, would I respond. And only with my cousin Betty Ray, who had mental health issues of her own, did I converse.  Over the phone, we'd talk about her alcoholism, her AA meetings, the men she'd meet at these meetings, her job as a secretary, the upscale bargains she had accessed from D.C. department stores. As I listened, it felt good to feel less of a misfit.   By the standards she represented, I wasn't lost or troubled, merely an offbeat who had taken a different path.  I enjoyed imagining her blue mascara-caked eyes light up as I told her about my flights between San Francisco, Hawaii and Los Angeles and the range of men and relationships I'd easily left behind. I had truly lived she thought. And yet I knew she understood me. Our shared experiences of family dysfunction and abuse had created a bond. 

And then there was my grandmother, Granny Green.  Immediately after I returned to Virginia, she began to spend purposeful time with me, picking me up in Warrenton and taking me to her house, 35 miles away in Falls Church, where she lived alone.  Granny Green, my mother's mother, was an accomplished homemaker, seamstress and widow.  She was also a committed Southern Baptist.  It was during my stays with Granny that I became aware of why she'd reached out to me.  She imagined her non-speaking and non-believing granddaughter deserved far better and she needed to help. And she did help.   She picked up where Dr. Wang left off, encouraging me to think about my life and my body in positive ways, encouraging me to consider that there was something special about me, something put there by her Baptist-loving God that she wanted me to find.

Most importantly to my sensibilities, Granny was a devoted shopper and TV watcher.  With the enthusiasm of an evangelist, she'd drive me to Tyson's Corner, the biggest mall in the area, to browse dresses at Woodies and then lunch at the new french crepe shop, The Magic Pan.  At 3 p.m. each afternoon, she'd hand me a cold glass of sweetened tea and together, from her living room coach, we'd watch her favorite soap opera, "General Hospital", differentiating characters and life styles - good from bad, troubled from innocent - as she whispered out the nuances gathered from years as a fan. 

It was during this time with Granny that I began to speak openly again. My days gardening with her in her back yard, taking walks around the flower-filled neighborhood, preparing simple dinners together, chatting over our shared readings from the Bible, helping her imagine patterns from the silky, tight-fitting fashions we watched on afternoon TV;  all these things began to divert my attention from the emptiness and confusion I felt. Granny Green's "Church of the General Hospital" provided friendship, compassion, and a real and fictionalized morality play I could watch and internalize.  It connected me to people and personalities, intentions and hopes, values and traits, truths and consequences.  Rather than diverting me from life, its interwoven stories and characters allowed me to pull from the matrix a small but intact person-hood, a sense of depth and heft inside I'd never really felt before. Despite the confusion, the doubt, and the fog of heavy medication, Granny Green's love and wisdom created a space for me to discover who I was.   

To be continued ...

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