Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesar’s
In my family, as in the world, there are some things I can’t have because I’m a girl. You wouldn’t believe how agitated people become when I say this out loud, but I believe it pisses them off because their hearts know it’s true. For instance, after Gigi died a few weeks ago, I told my family (as I’d told them before) that I wished to buy her house. She lived in it for 70 years and it’s just like an opal that’s full of iridescence and rainbows forged by the turbulence of the Earth. Gigi’s long years of work and sadness and good will and spiritual buoyancy made her house perfect. It’s just perfect.
For a while I thought my family would let me buy it, but after Gigi passed away I asked again and they said, “whoa-ho-ho-ho-hoooo, little lady—you’re moving too fast!” And then the next day my male cousin announced his intentions to buy her house and they threw their hands in the air and hollered, “We’re saved!”
My family might be similar to yours in that the misogyny isn’t printed on the frontispiece of the book in heavy, block lettering. It’s in the footnotes and on the third and fifth and eighth pages of chapters: women wordlessly refill men’s drinks, make the finances work and care for the children and the elderly. Some of the men pull their weight more than others, but as a group they’re not overly concerned with making anybody’s life easier. All the women seem basically fine with this arrangement, so I only just discovered what’s really been going on all these years on the day my relatives refused to let me buy Gigi’s house on account of my ability to give birth to live young.
As it was foretold on Mount Olympus.
Anyway, in the past weeks I’ve been thinking about how to manage this truth about my family and my society. It occurs to me that wanting things that seem valuable to everyone else ends in disappointment much of the time, so I must become more creative in my desires. After all, people made up the concepts of money and property, just like we made up the criteria for what is beautiful and scary and disgusting. I’m not even sure money and property are all that good for us. What I’ve been thinking is, what if we rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar’s — let him have what he’s after, as it is what drives him as well as what keeps him small?
A few days after Gigi died, my uncle texted me to remind me not to take anything out of her house. I was alone, sitting in her chair in the sun with a red candle burning in one of her big, brass candlesticks, surrounded by hundreds of dahlias a friend had sent to usher her into her next place. The air still smelled like Gigi, the house still settled with the same comfortable noises it always had, and I looked up from my phone with a crick in my throat and said into the air the thing I had said thousands of times into that same room over the past seven years of caring for her as she got older and younger and brighter and more frail:
“Yoooooo-hooooo,” I said to the air. “How’s my grandmother?”
Hello, sweetie boo, Gigi said back to me. How’s my granddaughter?
It didn’t seem weird or sad to talk to a person who was no longer there. I smiled at the candle and the flowers and the dim air in that sweet old house. I could do this whenever I wanted. I didn’t need the house after all. I already got what I came for.