It’s weird knowing your grandma is a slut, since grandmas are supposed to be just grandmas and nothing more.

But my grandma isn’t just a cliché wandering around my Facebook feed and family gatherings. She’s a complete person, and a really weird one at that.

The sluttiness is a good place to start.

She got knocked up with my dad when she was sixteen. The guy didn’t want to get tied down, so he peaced out, which my grandma is strangely ambivalent about.

At 22, she got married to an older man who, to this day, over half-a-century later, is insanely infatuated with her. You know how there’s a tiny percentage of humans who forever maintain that honeymoon/cocaine-fiend kind of love that normally goes away after six months? My step-grandpa is one of those people. He still loves my grandma the way the dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows love one another. On some level, my grandma knew that he would always feel that way: that’s why she picked him. She knew she would need someone like that for what she had in mind.

My grandma’s affairs are endless. She engages in the standard variety of affair and one-off that we all know about, sure, but she engages in varsity-level shit as well. One signature grandma move for decades has been to sleep with her shrinks, psychologists, and therapists. She cycles through them very quickly because of this.

Every now and again, she finds a boy toy she really likes, and has him move in with her and her husband. This is not a joke. The last guy, John, was around a decade younger than my dad and lived with my grandparents for five years or so. I knew him when I was a little kid and visited my grandparents. I called him “Uncle John” and was told that he was a friend who was hard on money and living with them for a little while.

When I was sixteen, my dad told me that my step-grandpa slept in the guest bedroom the whole five years. Apparently, one time my grandma’s sister Mabel asked my step-grandpa, “What do you think about how long John has stayed here?” or something like that, and he said, “If I were a stronger man, I would have killed myself by now.”

The strangest part of all of this is that my grandma was born a cripple. She’s been in a wheelchair her whole adult life. My step-grandpa has helped her get on and off toilets for over fifty years. She has a whistle around her neck that she blows on when he is in another part of the house and she needs him.

I wish I could say I were making this all up, but if I were, I probably wouldn’t be using a pen name. Am I right?

Amazingly, everyone covers for her. She acts like no one knows any of this, even though everybody knows most of it. She believes none of her grandkids know, when we all do. She even thinks her kids don’t know, when they definitely, definitely do. But for some reason, everyone in her life has concluded that it’s for the best to play along. Not one person has thought it the right to do to confront her and tell her that what she’s doing is bad, and that she herself might be bad for doing all these bad things. It would only take one person to knock down the whole house of cards.

There are lots of other things that define my grandma as well; she’s not just a slut. She’s an accomplished author with many books to her name. Her intuitive understanding of language is so strong that when you read aloud to her, she can guess how sentences end even when she’s never read the material before. She is fluent in four languages.

She is also, it must be stressed, very, very kind to her descendants. I have been allowed to live with her for months at a time when I’m between jobs or being a lazy asshole. I am writing this in her house, actually. There is nothing I could do that she would not forgive, and no decision I could embark on that she would not support. To put it more simply, she loves me. She loves all her other grandkids, too.

Another important aspect of my grandma is that she is very unhappy, and always has been. She started taking anti-depressants in the early eighties, when they were still pretty new. She took them uninterrupted for twenty years, then she retired, and has taken them sporadically ever since. There are days when she wakes up so sad she just stays in bed all day without eating or talking. I wonder if on those days she thinks about how much she’s hurt my step-grandpa and is eaten up by the guilt of it all. Or maybe she is secretly still really hurt about suffering the indignity of being a single mother in the 1950s, and that’s what she thinks about. I doubt I’ll ever work up the guts to ask her.

Those are the four salient characteristics of my grandma: slutty, loving, genius, depressed. It’s hard to admit this, but she and I are quite a bit alike. I’ve never had a girlfriend I didn’t cheat on, I adore my sister and her family, my intellect is as sharp as my grandma’s, and I feel sad all the fucking time.

In greater detail: I tend to break the hearts of women. Two ex-girlfriends have tried to commit suicide after we broke up, and one had to be hospitalized. I fucked the best friend of two of them (ruining those friendships) and the arch-nemesis of another two. I don’t have a meaningful answer as to why I do any of this. It just sort of happens.

I have many relatives that think me a perfect angel, because to them, I am. Again, I can’t really explain why it is that I’m so sweet and good with them as opposed to the way I am with most other humans: blunt and short. It was never a conscious choice: I just really like particular family members, particularly women.

My grandma and I have the same brain. We are fascinated by politics, but not law or economics. We love literature, but don’t care much for poetry. Math and science could not interest us less, but we can’t get enough of sociology and any kind of cultural studies. Both of us find great meaning and importance in our dreams, but both of us are atheists.

As to the depression, well, at this point you should be familiar with me, what with the tens of thousands of words that have already gone into this project. So why indulge in the sadness any more than absolutely necessary? You get it.

The sensation of feeling so similar and so connected with another human who you think might objectively register as monstrous is very existential. What my grandma has done to her husband is a terrible thing. More or less, no one deserves to be treated as he is. But, on the other hand, is my grandma just pulling off what a lot of us wish we could get away with? On the other, other hand, do I just think that because I sort of wish I could get away with it, but normal people wouldn’t want to? It’s not a terribly mature fantasy, granted, but at our laziest and most egomaniacal, we all wish there was someone who took care of us and loved us completely, but that we didn’t have to be loyal to. Right? You want that sometimes! Admit it.

But while we all think about wanting that sort of scenario, the moral test only comes when we live it. It’s the same with any immoral act so many of us fantasize about: murder, suicide, theft, etc. We tell ourselves that we are good, and as good people we would never kill someone who wasn’t threatening our own life, or the life of a loved one. But we all certainly think about killing people we dislike, people who make our lives miserable. Not that we’d ever do it though: that’s the important part. Yet, only an infinitesimally small number of us are ever tested on this. It’s certainly not every day we are presented with an opportunity to get away with killing someone we hate.

My grandma had the unfortunate luck of being presented with the chance to live one of man’s darkest fantasies: to be cared for and loved with no strings attached. What would you do in that position? Would you cheat? Would you be mean and dismissive to your spouse? Would you let all that behavior begin to hollow you out? Chances are you’ll never know.

I doubt I will ever know, though by subconscious instinct I sometimes think I am seeking out another sucker, just like my step-grandpa. Hard to say if it would be worse to find one, or worse not to. For the record, I don’t really want one. At least that’s what I think. But then I look at the things I end up doing and I have to ask myself…

***

“Grandma’s Boy” is an excerpt from Richard Power’s new memoir, Letters from a Heartbroken Pervert. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.