Grandma, strange ladies write to me online and tell me that they would like to be you. I find their messages in the “message requests” folder. They appear with an alert on my phone – someone wants me to write something important, yet again. To get to know them a little, I look at their photos. Some ladies post pictures taken against Rhododendron bushes. You would love that – you could be them. But just to a certain degree. After all, these strange ladies from the internet, writing to me online, have the logo of Polish women’s strike as their profile picture. They have entire albums featuring the red lightning bolt theme. When I see this, I always remember how much you hate storms. I remember those massive hailstorms from when I was a child. You’d light a blessed candle on the windowsill, a massive yellowish candle from the first communion, and you’d tell me not to look at the storm, or else I’d provoke a lightning bolt – just take a peek from behind the curtains, you’d say.
I remember all of this now when I see them – bright red lightning bolts, glowing all over the internet. I know that you would rage at me if you could, high-speed broadband, malady and pathology, diseases from the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, your favourite country appearing in every analogy about evil and LGBT+. The profile pictures of these strange ladies from my “message requests” folder usually feature a rainbow next to the red lighting bolt. This is a common pairing, the ideal combination (note: ideal, not ideological!), just perfect. Sometimes, there are rainbows instead of faces. Then you don’t even know what the person messaging/writing to you might look like, but you know they’re friendly anyway. Regardless of what happens later, the rainbow is a good start.
Remember when you wanted to call your rosary group just that? It was a long time ago, long before the equality march in Białystok and before your granddaughter began going out with girls. Perhaps back then I was still in the Light-Life Movement. You bragged that you had become the leader of this living rosary group; you collected extra poufs and armchairs for your bedsit, so that all the old women would have something to sit on. You also called the family, asking whether it’d be better to call this group The Dawn of Nazareth or The Rainbow of Nazareth. Surely, I voted for the rainbow, and you wondered if that was elaborate enough. Earlier, in the first round, The Rose of Jericho was eliminated. Someone suggested the Trumpets of Jerusalem. You were terribly offended. I think you’d much rather be a rose than a trumpet. And so, Dawn it was. Quite exotic for Poland, but the priest approved the name. From then on you could meet with your girlfriends in your little studio in a block of flats in Korczak Street, pray for the redemption of the world and, from time to time, order a special mass with the intention of redeeming my soul. Without a rainbow – what a shame. My favourite temporary Facebook picture frame is the one with a rainbow that says “I’m not an ideology.” I think it suits my face and describes me quite well. You know straight away who I am, and that I am not ashamed. Maybe that’s because you’re ashamed of me and thus you’ve used up all the reserves of the Kotas family shame?
I wonder if you still keep your PC covered with a tea towel, to protect it from dust, a huge prehistoric desktop computer sitting in the kitchen, on a narrow cabinet for preserving jars, tucked into a corner and permanently unplugged in case of a sudden summer storm? You probably have no idea what I am talking about when I write to you about the internet in a letter that will never reach your mailbox, and if it does end up anywhere, it will be somewhere where you will definitely never find it. Your legs will sooner get tangled in the web or your varicose veins will burst from walking miles along the links. I know how it goes. But never mind, I won’t be offended if you don’t respond. I’ll actually be glad. We haven’t spoken long enough to bother with details like responding to an online message. Apparently, the passing of time lowers our expectations, or at least mine – now I only expect you not to write. I can write for both of us. I can also try to find another grandmother. I don’t know whether she’d be better or worse than you, but even if she’d be horrible, maybe it’s at least in a way that would suit me better? Maybe our algorithms, the pages we follow, our events and likes, will match, so that we’d find more things in common than in a family that’s given to us, that we cannot choose for ourselves? Weird that there’s still no app for this. I imagine it could work like Tinder, but for matching grandmothers and grandchildren. We could answer some questions and pair up without much disappointment. Perhaps such an app already exists? Somewhere out there is definitely someone for you, someone who is not me. The perfect granddaughter, who would like to go to Lenten Lamentations with you, watch M jak miłość (are there any lesbian characters in this TV series yet?) and eat pork cutlets.
The ladies from the internet write that they would like to cook something for me. They invite me to their houses for vegetarian fruit soup made especially for me. One lady asks if I like Silesian roulade with red cabbage. I tell her that I am terrified of meat. But the truth is, I have many anxieties. I guess it’s about bad experiences. I had a grandmother once before (you) and it didn’t end well. I don’t want to take any more risks. So, I haven’t met up with anyone yet. I don’t know if you still have it in you, your instincts, the ethos of a caring grandmother, so just in case, I will write this: I do have stuff to eat. I eat tons of oyster mushrooms, cauliflower steaks, tofu in teriyaki sauce and yuba rolls, kimchi, bowls, and cilantro (I’d never marry someone who doesn’t love cilantro!) – these are my favourite foods. Out of all the people in the universe, my girlfriend is the best at cooking these. You probably don’t know this about me, so I’ll tell you: I’m a pretty good cook, too. I can feed lots of human grandchildren. Nothing suggests that one day I will have to cook for a family other than my wife, but if I had to, I’d make my grandchildren ramen, and if I didn’t feel like it, I’d order from Uber Eats. I write a lot about food. Maybe that’s why all the ladies online invite me to dinner? One lady contacts me via her granddaughter. Her granddaughter is my age, apparently doing a PhD. She wants to pay me to finally have dinner with her grandmother. She writes that her grandmother likes me very much. She has never seen me, but she has read my book, and she is sure we will like each other.
I’m not asking how things are with you, because I guess there are no big changes. You probably still only use your PC to watch online church, or check if you look nice in the photos from the pilgrimages to Virgin Mary shrines. Probably nothing more, and you’re definitely not trying to find your granddaughters online – neither old nor new. In a review of my book on lubimyczytac.pl, you write that you remember how your granddaughter cried at night and said that she was afraid to sleep because of bin Laden. I’m big now. At night, I take a lot of sleeping pills. Sometimes I drink beer to make it easier to fall asleep. Of all the existing people, I am most afraid of Polish people. Maybe you remember how we used to watch TV together. The TV was always on the wall unit, and the sofa bed was on the other side, in the farthest corner of the room. At that distance, everything on the screen was so small that it seemed it couldn’t be for real. When they showed the Equality March on the news, you spat on the floor and never felt sorry – neither for your carpet nor me. Perhaps that’s because you cannot take things like that to heaven anyway. If I do go to heaven, I think I’ll fly on the carpet, just to spite you. But if there are no lesbians at that party, and I am completely alone there, like I was in Garwolin – I probably won’t want to go. So, we’ll most likely never meet again. I don’t remember the last time. I’m sure you hugged me against my will and told me to take some money that I didn’t want to take, and there was probably rowing and door slamming, and at the end you said that one can only freeze and get sick in such a thin jacket, nothing more.
Sometimes I wonder if my kindergarten drawings are still stuck to your fridge. Or, did you ever light that fish-shaped candle I brought you from Sztum, from a trip with my father? All my life, you told me that he’s a dick, and that I’m just like him. Even though he paid for your candle, greetings from the seaside, a little Nemo fish wrapped in cellophane. All my childhood, you kept it in a glass vitrine, next to thick books about the cosmos, books about numerology, books about life after life, and books about the Pope. There, you also had a mini-Christmas tree, decorated all year round, though in summer you’d put it away in a bag with all those decorations, and next to it, a photo from my holy communion – perhaps the only photo in which I am wearing a dress, maybe that’s why you liked it so much that you kept it in view. Or maybe you were hoping that, if I looked at this version of myself, I would finally become someone else? You once told me in secret that I was the prettiest of your granddaughters. I felt like a supermodel. I wonder if those words were just for me, or if you said the same thing to all the sad children.
I don’t expect you’ll write me back. I prefer those ladies from the internet whom I’ve never met. Strangers with names that don’t tell me anything, so I know they don’t hate me just yet, and that’s a great advantage they have over you. I can accept, delete them, or block their requests. But truth be told, I don’t quite know what to do with them. I don’t want to be a disappointment to anyone any more. I’m too worried that they won’t like me either. That would be very embarrassing. I miss you, anyway. I miss the person that you’re not. I don’t know which one of us is too old for this. But I wouldn’t want to be the old me either: to have scabs on my knees and drink yellow orangeade for comfort, mixed half-and-half with boiling water so that my throat wouldn’t hurt, and so I wouldn’t die.
Dorota Kotas (b. 1994) is a writer whose debut novel “Pustostany” received the Gdynia Literary Award and the Conrad Award. In 2020, Cyranka published her second book, “Cukry.”