I was 13 years old when I moved in with my grandmother. She was the sweetest, homeliest woman I ever knew; the typical stereotypic old lady who cooked too much, cuddled with her poodle, and spent her days in the yard gardening and attending church events. She was the perfect environment for the angst-ridden teenager with a bad upbringing, depressed by a suicidal, single mother with below par parenting skills and a string of on and off boyfriends. Being an atheist, I didn’t often attend church with my grandmother and stayed at home instead. The one and only flaw I ever found in my grandmother, was that she loved her grandchildren too much.
My grandfather died from cancer when my grandmother was still young. She lived alone in their house, so one of my cousins offered to move in with her, he was only young at the time, still in high school. About ten years later I moved in, the defensive teenager with a bad attitude and something to prove. The first few weeks were the hardest, I hated where I had come from but some part of me was reluctant to let it go, homesickness was one of the most emotionally taxing things I had ever gone through. One of the biggest paradoxes in my life was missing something that I hated. My 20 something year old cousin was around during that time, friendly and helpful, never overstepping his bounds and offering love and support.
This changed over the next few days after I arrived.
He lived downstairs, had no job, no Internet and barely ever wore a shirt. He walked around upstairs in a towel no matter who was over, hacked up in the shower and came into my bedroom without my permission. I started to notice that he didn’t treat my grandmother very well and she went out of her way to keep me away from him. He never helped with the housework, was very disrespectful and illogically jealous. If my grandmother bought me something, he would become very passive aggressive, asking her why she would buy me presents.
She used to buy him presents.
He told me I was a leach and she was wasting her money on me, she never spent any time with him anymore and suddenly, he spent every spare second upstairs.
One Sunday morning when my Nan was at church, I went downstairs to soak up the sunshine. I recall him emerging from his room; he had a bong in his hand. He asked if I had ever done weed before, I hadn’t, but being 13, I had heard of it and thought I would be such a badass if I did it. He asked if I wanted to try it, I wasn’t sure and he took my indecision as a yes. He walked me through the process, don’t blow into the bong, put your finger over the hole and breathe in deep. He gave me half a cone, it burnt the entire way down.
I hated it.
For the first few minutes I felt nothing, I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. All of a sudden I felt terrible, my stomach was hurling, I couldn’t stand up or even make it to the stairs. My cousin was worried my Nan would find out, so he got me up the stairs to the bathroom and gave me an apple to eat, I threw it up all over the bathroom floor. I was never going to do it again, it was the worst thing in the world; I didn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it.
But I did do it again. My cousin offered it again a few days later, and something stupid and immature inside me urged me to try again, to understand why people would want to do this to themselves. From that moment I was hooked. After some time he started asking for things in return, in the beginning it was just money, which was easy, business transactions. Eventually, though, he asked for different things, sexual things, “bend over just a little and let me see your cleavage”. “Why don’t you come downstairs with just your undies on and ill give you $50 and an entire bag of weed?” My Nan knew something was happening, she forbid me from going near him, she tried to stop him coming upstairs, she dissuaded him from leaving the kitchen when he tried and told him to stay away from me. I was terrified of him. When I rejected him, he would become violent, he would scream at me. The worst part was you never knew what mood he was in, I knew he wasn’t just doing weed, he never offered me anything else but he told me stories. He would come into my bedroom when Nan was at church, I would lock the door and pretend I wasn’t in there, but some mornings I would forget.
He wouldn’t just make his ‘offers’ these mornings; he would lie on my bed, go through my stuff, and just generally invade my space and privacy.
He got off on it.
If I asked him to leave then he would fall asleep on my bed and stay, he made me feel terrible. I asked my grandmother why she didn’t just kick him out, she hated the way he acted and the way he abused, and intimidated, us both.
I will always remember what she said.
She wouldn’t kick him out because she knew about his drug addiction and knew he would die if he left, that she would always blame herself. I wished she would kick him out, I hoped he would die. The thing that always got me is that I would have expected something like this when I lived with my mum, a dirty house with morally unjust people. But this was a suburban setting with religion and good people, yet this monstrous secret I was carrying around inside me was just swept under the rug, something dirty to be hidden away.
Being around him affected every aspect of my life. I was depressed, I was scared, I was intimidated, miserable and wanted to kill myself.
I felt dirty even being around him.
I was heavily addicted to weed and blamed him for introducing me to it, I hated myself for letting him look down my shirt and ‘other things’ so I could get another hit. A part of me knew that he was taking advantage of me and I was being abused, but the bigger part of me was just disgusted with myself. I couldn’t bear to be around him and wished he would just leave. Another part of me blamed my Nan. She knew he was an abuser, but she wouldn’t make him leave because she didn’t want him to die.
I felt like she cared more about his life than mine and I resented that.
When I left high school and went to University my Nan was diagnosed with lung cancer, she didn’t last very long. The family kicked my cousin out after she died; they knew what he was and how he had taken advantage of her. A few months later I got a phone call from one of my aunties, my cousin had died, a drug overdose in the house he was staying at. I felt nothing, sorry for his mum, dad and sisters, sorry for everybody he had hurt, but not sorry he was dead. For years he treated us like crap, intimidated us, yelled at us, took drugs, invited his friends over to do drugs and ignored every rule and guideline my grandmother had put in place.
My question has always been, did my Nan do the right thing?
Should she have kicked him out sooner?
Was she encouraging his immaturity and drug addiction by letting him stay somewhere where he was coddled, somewhere he could openly abuse his addiction?
Or was she being a good grandparent by letting him stay and trying to keep him safe?
*Words By Sam Cliffe