The Face is More Beautiful than the Roses

I knew my grandmother, but she was always an abstract concept to me. Our relationship was that of friendly neighbors, casually exchanging niceties. I knew nothing of her past and I dared never to ask. It felt like an unsaid rule. Or maybe it was my fear that I didn’t have the right to ask.

When I would visit, I stood taller than her, but she towered over me. She picked me apart, correcting my spelling, my manners, my posture, and my tenuous grasp of art history. She always seemed baffled by my missteps, as if anything but perfection was to be insulated by shame. 

  

Despite the chilly relationships she maintained, she had a neatly curated collection of family photos sprawling from her coffee table to her bookshelves. There her children and grandchildren stood, iconized at a certain time, never to age again. I remember staring into my own mausoleum. Framed in glass, I was 4 dressed in velvet, fidgeting with angst. I leaned against her, though I never would again.

Her memory began to fracture, and she knew nothing of her past, either. Before she succumbed totally to the dementia, she purged her what she remembered. She penned a memoir and sent it to me two years before she died. It was disjointed, nonlinear, laden with specific, seemingly random details of her childhood. But also, how she survived the Holocaust as a young Jewish girl in Nazi occupied France, almost as a quiet afterthought. I never scrubbed her for the details I longed for. I let her live in ambiguity.

Through my grandmother’s found imagery and audio, the project seeks to explore how trauma curates memory and how how generational editing can critically reconstruct a narrative which was all but forgotten.  

© 2020 by Lila Marks.

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