Years have passed but the memory of her life still lives with me. I was a teenager, my sophomore year of high school... I think. She went into the hospital, stayed for a few days. My mother and my cousins would take turns by her side. My mother is the health professional of the family so she was on double duty. When something needed to be explained, mom would translate. When questions needed to be answered, mom would dictate. I imagine it must have been hard on her, watching your sister exit this life yet forced to be the lone voice for your family. I wonder how she dealt with that pressure. Of course, I could ask her. But we never talk about that time. We speak of the lives that were left to grieve (and many remain in that terrible state of grief more than two decades later). Come to think of it...I wonder how I felt. I don't remember grieving.
I remember her hugs, I remember her big eyes. I remember her laugh, her voice and I remember her arms. The arms were the scary parts of her. I remember the huge, green, blue & red pus-like blisters. She rarely left the house and I remember the beer she always drank that made her tired. To this day, I have an aversion to beer for it reminds me of her fatigue. And she was always swollen. Except, I didn't know she was swollen. I don't know if I was conscious enough to understand what the swelling meant. Her beautiful soul wouldn't allow me to attach labels to her.
When we were kids and mom would go to work, we stayed with Aunt G. Walking into the apartment at 546 S. 19th street you always smelled bacon and eggs. My cousins would be asleep and I would tuck myself within Aunt G's arms. I loved it there. And she loved me, called me Yish, one of my childhood nicknames, but there was something in the way she said it that made it special. I know I was special to her, she was a cancer and all my life I grew up hearing that I was just like her because I was a cancer to. At a young age, I could feel her sensitivity. As much as she tried to appear happy, the sadness in her eyes was apparent. People would perpetually come in and out of her house. They'd go into the room, close the door and come out hours later floating. It was amazing to be a child watching adults float. Her three kids (my cousins) always had friends around, they rarely had to ask permission to do anything. I felt free when I would visit. As we got older, my brother and I spent more time in church and less time on 19th street. Our lives and theirs began to take the shape of a u-horn. Us over here, them over there.
I wasn't at the hospital when she died. Mom came home late and told us she was gone. I don't remember crying. I hadn't spent much time with her in those years before she passed but I knew that I'd never again hear "Yish" in that special voice.
Aunt G left me with one of the biggest lessons of my life.
On those early mornings, when Mom would drop us off and everyone in the house was asleep except Aunt G, I would stand with her as she cooked. I was drawn to this painting outside of her kitchen. The painting was of a beautiful butterfly. Inscribed beneath the butterfly were the words: "If you love something set it free. If it doesn't come back to you, it was never meant to be yours. If it does, love it forever."
This statement is not only for those who choose to leave, but for Aunt G as well, you see, in two years i'll be the age that she was when she died. Back then, 38 was old. Grown-ups are always old when you're young. My life leading up to 38 is vastly different than my aunts, yet I can't help but compare her addiction, her fears and her unconditional Love to my own. She had this painting on her wall because she wanted to believe it. I feel more connected to her now. It's the yearning for something and assuming that we can find it outside of ourselves that drove her and drives me. I have the opportunity to live a better life, I have the opportunity to believe this statement, to believe in myself. My aunt didn't have that opportunity. The choice lies in the execution.