You Ruined Me
by Lisa Scuderi-Burkimsher
Terry’s grandmother lived in a small apartment upstairs from her Aunt Ruby and Uncle Jerry. It was quaint and enough for one person. Grandma Winnie was tiny with wavy white hair and a spitfire personality. One summer, she took out Aunt Ruby’s mailbox trying to park her old Cadillac. She said it was because her pillow was old and didn’t prop her high enough to see out the windshield. From then on, Aunt Ruby did the driving.
* * *
It was New Year’s Eve 1982, a gathering spent on Long Island with the entire family. The Christmas tree was lit with colorful gold garland and red lights which made the living room cheerful against its dull ivory walls. But the eve of nineteen-eighty-two would be an evening twelve-year-old Terry would never forget.
With the family chortling and eating finger sandwiches in the dining room, Terry and her cousin Kristy played with Barbie dolls upstairs in Kristy’s bedroom.
“I have to use the bathroom. Don’t mess up Candie’s hair while I’m gone. I like it in the braid,” said Terry ominously.
“I won’t.” Kristy sighed.
With the downstairs bathroom occupied, Terry went upstairs to her grandmother’s apartment to use her bathroom. When she climbed the five small steps, the door was half open. Terry pushed it fully open and went straight into the bathroom. When she finished, it was too dark in the apartment and fearful of tripping, she turned on the light.
“That’s much better.”
In the living room she heard the faint sound of the television and went to investigate. Startled to see her grandmother on the couch, Terry let out a shriek. Her grandmother jolted up, looked at Terry and screamed. She held her lower back and said: “You stupid kid, you ruined me. My back will never be the same! You turned on the light on purpose to scare me. Are you happy you ruined your grandmother?” Terry’s heart pounded as her grandmother whimpered and called for her daughter Martha. Stunned, Terry didn’t say a word and went back downstairs to Kristy’s room.
“What was all that noise?” Kristy asked.
“All I did was use the bathroom and turn on the light. Grandma said I ruined her.”
“She always says things like that. She likes the attention. Forget it; let’s get back to our Barbie party. See, I didn’t touch her hair.” Kristy picked up Candie and handed it to Terry.
“Terry, get up here now,” her mother Martha yelled.
Terry reluctantly left her doll and went upstairs.
“Why did you scare your grandmother like that? She’s old and was napping. Her back is in a lot of pain,” said Martha.
“You stupid kid. You ruined me for life!”
Terry’s father Terence stepped in. “Now Winnie, that’s enough. You can’t blame Terry for turning on the light. She had no idea you were napping up here.”
“Yeah, I didn’t know. How could I?” Terry pleaded her case as if on trial.
“I don’t care. She ruined me.” She let out a squawking cry and held her back.
Terence rolled his eyes. “Ruby and Jerry take very good care of you. Why do you do these things?”
Winnie didn’t respond.
“Terence, she’s old. She has weak joints,” said an anguished Martha.
“Enough! Come on Terry, let’s go downstairs and see what your brother is watching on television. I can’t wait until the New Year’s Eve ball drops so we can go home,” said an annoyed Terrance.
“But I thought we’re sleeping over. We always sleep over,” Martha winced.
“Not with this nonsense going on. We’ll stay until midnight out of respect for the rest of the family. You can stay if you want, Martha, if Jerry doesn’t mind driving you home tomorrow. But we all know how he feels about driving when he’s off from work.”
Martha didn’t say a word. She followed Terry and her husband downstairs. Winnie still held her back, limped down the stairs behind them and whispered she was ruined, but loud enough for Terry to hear.
Winnie told the family her story and to her surprise they all laughed and said she was a character. Winnie wide-eyed, teeth grinding, left the room and climbed the stairs to her apartment without a limp. Terry noticed no one missed Grandma Winnie when the New Year’s Eve ball dropped at midnight.
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