No longer a failure

Senior reflects on his relationship with his grandmother.


Photo by Sydney Steed

Story by Taylor Potter, co-editor in chief

I sit there quietly, praying she doesn’t say anything.

“How was school?”

I stop fiddling with the passenger lock of her 2007 Yukon and look up at her.


Her wrinkled face tightens. She looks out the window for any sign of my little sister. The onslaught continues.

“What’s your class rank?”

I look down at my Sperry-clad feet. This was going to be bad. Long and bad.


She purses her lips. Her eyes narrow. She grips the steering wheel with as much force as a 60 year-old woman can muster.

“Why aren’t you number one?”

My head droops and my hands start rubbing together out of shame. Anger. Humiliation. My mouth dries out, and I am barely able to reply.

“I don’t want to be.”

She sighs that renowned grandmother sigh. The sigh of complete disappointment, like when you fail a class or say a curse word. Like you have driven all remaining life out of them.

“You’re just like your mother. A failure.”


It’s always been this way with her. The successful ones, my mom and I, were a disgrace. All the potential in the world but no drive. She was disgusted by us. We were always to blame.

My uncle and sister were her pride. Middle of the road. They were always special in her eyes.



The next day she was in the hospital.

She had snapped. She drank her weight in cheap whiskey and snapped.

The police had found her swerving down the highway. Driving to her dead husband’s grave to kill herself.

I didn’t even know. Not until my mom was puffy-eyed and could barely move. Not until my uncle’s New Balance shoes were pacing my kitchen floor. Not until my dad retreated to his room to block everything out with bluegrass music.

Dementia and alcohol had changed our lives. My mom would never have a free moment. My dad would be cold and distant. My grandmother would be lost.

And she would blame it all on my failure.

My failure that drove her crazy. My lack of motivation. My stupidity.

She would never let me live this down.


We gather up outside her room in the psych ward. We had to be there. Had to get some papers signed. We see her eating her orange jello and leaving the vegetable soup untouched. My uncle enters first.

She looks up and her face is more calm than I have ever seen. She smiles at him and nods.

“Hi, John.”

My mom braces herself before entering. My grandmother’s face tightens and she frowns.

“Hi, Rebecca.”

My turn. I prepare myself for the angry gaze. The pointed accusations. The blame. It was mine to take.

I walk in with my head hung. Trying not to look her in the eye. Trying to escape unscathed. But when I look up, all I see is her puzzled face and her finger motions for me to come closer.

She looks into my eyes. Grips my hands, preventing my escape. She opens her mouth, and I brace myself for the worst.

“Who are you?”

Shock. Relief and shock. Shock that I was the one person in the world she did not remember. Relief that she could not remember who was to blame.


I learned a lot in the next year and a half. Learned about her past troubles with depression. That she had been sick long before.

She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. No one could ever make her happy. No one was to blame.


This time I didn’t need to prepare.

As I stood outside her bedroom door at the assisted living complex, I knew I didn’t need to worry. I had done nothing wrong. I was not a failure. Not to blame.

I walk in and see her sitting on her bed watching Bones in her “Tweety Bird” pajamas. She looks at me with a calm expression and smiles up at me.

“Hi, Taylor.”