I have an Aunt Linda. In 20 years I have come across many people with their own Aunt Lindas. In name these blurry long-distance-senders of birthday cards share something with my Linda. The similarities end there. For my aunt is not really an aunt. Nor is she blurry and long distance. She is my mother’s best college friend who stuck around after college. She and my mother bookend a relationship perpetuated by years of letters and emails and phone calls. Each end is a different successful woman with children and husbands and after years of communicating through mediums they now live 5 minutes apart; lengthy emails are now hour long conversations on porches.
Writer’s block, but life things keep happening.
I’ve been trying to write this particular entry for the past four days. On Thursday I had a solid train of thought on my way home from class. Fueled by coffee and rendered poetic by the light rain falling, I was pretty sure I had some okay material. Then as the sun came up and the streets dried off, both my pretty thoughts and the morning’s rain evaporated. Two more attempts yesterday. Both had more to do with coffee and less to do with writing.
And it came to me, as it always does, as the thing that I didn’t want to acknowledge. The bruise underneath the scab that’s about to heal. The blemish under a layer of makeup. The bullshit under a shakily crafted argument. The argument I make to myself: life’s good so I can write about the bad stuff and still be safe. I can write about my bright pink rain jacket and my flip flops in the mud and still be an arm’s distance away from the wet dog smell it leaves in my apartment and the fact that my real dog died yesterday and my apartment doesn’t feel like home. I can write about how much I like quotes and how they sum up life without me having to lift a finger, while stiff-arming the swarms of novella-sized paragraphs that fill my brain with things I don’t know how to sum up.
So I’m calling bullshit on myself. I really want to talk about the bruise. I want to talk about how I’m scared. I want to talk about the scariest thing I’ve ever realized: life goes on.
“Goes.” There’s something eerily passive about this verb. It’s as if life never really cared in the first place. Something tragic can happen. Or something good. But neither one is significant enough for life to stop and say “hey, let’s linger on this for a little longer.” Let’s keep having this day. Let’s sit in this moment–not metaphorically…let’s literally hold the hands on the clock until they’re pressing against our fingers and it hurts, but the seconds are still and we’ve finally got something that stays.
I fear the speed with which people move through life. When my friends talk about future internships and studies abroad I can barely sit through the conversation. Sure, a lot of this jumpiness has to do with jealousy. I can’t go to Europe and eat gelato and bread and then post pictures with captions in another language? Life isn’t fair…but also, life isn’t slow. If I were simply jealous in these moments then perhaps I’m just someone who wants to move quickly but cannot. But there’s something under that envy. A blemish (and yes now I’m being metaphorical). I fear for the present moment. If we’re talking about the future then what happened to right now? What’s wrong with here and why do we have to think about there?
I’m in a netherworld. I have a job and a boyfriend and two more years of college but I have no place. Sometimes I want to be where my mother is. She loves every day because she has no desire to go anywhere else. Maybe another Caribbean island or two, but as for life accomplishments, she seems okay. Today she gave me some advice that went something like this: “I want for you, one day, to have a job you love and to have time to spend with everyone you love.” Now I don’t want a job and I want to work on loving everyone. The netherworld is a complicated place to be.
Right now I’m in Gloucester. I’m in the room I lived in for 18 years. It’s gone through a lot of changes from wood floor to carpet back to wood floor. From pink walls with unicorn wallpaper to purple to peach to “sea green.” This last wall color choice was my mother’s a few months ago. Some people would lament: “it’s not my room anymore.” But it is. How many changes could this place withstand until I no longer recognized it? I’m not sure, but probably a lot. The thing is, the recognizing has nothing to do with sight. Closing my eyes and walking in, I can feel this room. And what I feel is the basis of my fear. The place I love most in the world is also the one that scares me more than a crowded dorm or an empty apartment.
For years I hid in my house; as kids my sister and I weren’t socialized much. For years I hid in my yard. I’d “play pretend” for hours without my sister, without anyone, just my brain and my imaginary cohorts. For years I liked my house and I liked school and other things that weren’t sitting at the end of Holiday Marina Rd. For years I wanted to escape my house, to be someone, something more than what I was. I left for college still loving home, but liking the prospect of being somewhere else so much more.
So how do I return to a place that I wanted to leave? How can I “go on” in life when there’s a part of my life that seems so unresolved? I left when I wanted to leave but now I must go back again and again, for it’s my home and that’s where you return. I want you to feel it so we can be stuck in this netherworld together…I’m two hours away and the fear of the future grips me for I’m surrounded by people who seem to care about anything but right now. I go to the one place I should feel safe and past feelings of flight overcome me and I’m floating in limbo. I’m scared because I’m scared and I’m scared that I have no place to go when I want life to stop going.
a day later…I stopped writing because I saw no room for resolution. I usually can tie up a column, a blog with “and now that problem’s over because I wrote about it, what’s next?” I sat next to my mother in the car earlier today and told her that I think I have loose ends that don’t want to be tied. She said that was okay. “You can’t tie them up in a day anyway.” So here I am, fingers sore from holding back so many clock hands. Hands dying to pull the numbers off a watch face so I can hold time if only for a little while.
“Connelly–life goes on.” Oh but I wish it wouldn’t.
I love Gus. He is my golden retriever and he is the best and most quiet friend I’ve had for 10 years. He is quiet because he knows he does not need to bark (unless he sees a too big dog–a horse, or someone dangerous walking up our driveway). He is quiet because he listens. He listens when you laugh and he wags his tail. He listens when you cry and he wags his tail, hoping that you can laugh again. Gus is sick.
Aunt Linda hurt her head, Gus hurt his heart. I asked my mother why bad things keep happening and she told me to be safe. She doesn’t want me to get hurt by the world that seems to have stopped caring about the most caring beings in it. She told me that Gus may have a tumor on his heart, that he had seizures because of his heart. Then she told me to remember my laundry. I remembered my laundry and “tumor” seemed like a far away word until today, when it sunk in. When Gus finally turned into gooey, gussie, goo oney, big dog, sweet man. When my own heart felt sick. When I remembered that Gus is more important than almost anything. Because I love him.
I used to play with my cat Lil Bo and ask her: “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” She would scratch me then sprint off. Lil Bo has never been my favored pet. But Gus, Gus deserves that question. It would look different, though, more like: why do I love you so much? Gus is beautiful when he lies at your feet waiting for food under the dinner table because “what a patient dog he is”. My love for Gus is beautiful because it is requited. No boy has ever loved me back like gussie has.
In 6th grade I finally realized that I would suffer through years of being too nerdy and unfashionable to be “popular”. Middle school was horrid but I had a young dog who made it better. I would come home in the afternoon and Gus and I would play at the marina, where no one cared if I climbed rock piles and talked to myself in the woods. I distinctly remember nestling into his side one afternoon, thinking how wonderful it was that to Gus, I was the most popular girl in the world.
Whenever Mama picked us up from school in her red jeep with all the bumper stickers we laughed excitedly in hopes that Gus would be in the back seat, sticking his huge lion’s head out the window for all to see. At field hockey practices girls would stop and run to our car, oohing and aahing over “the prettiest dog.” He licked them in return.
Gus may have sired the strange little mutts that lived down our road. He loved to run around with the beagle, Molly, so we figured her litter was also partly ours. But Gus never had any puppies that were definitively his own, ones that we could pull into our arms and wish and hope to be as wonderful as their father. Instead Gus has baby dolls. If it’s a dish towel or a stuffed bunny rabbit, it’s a “baby doll”. When exiting your car Gus expects to help you carry some of your items, preferably a water bottle or flip flop.
…who teaches us how to love? Gus has taught me. He is faithful and so quietly compassionate that sometimes you wonder how he knew you needed him when he came to lay his head on your lap. He loves unconditionally. He looks past flaws and wags his tail at the good parts of people. He has only growled several times in his life. One time it was at a strangely dressed man who was trying to sell something to my mother. One time it was at a cat who had rabies. Gus has a “bad” detector.
Gus needs to teach me more. He can’t leave me yet. I am not as good as he is. I look at flaws and highlight them and wish that they could be fixed, rather than accepted or ignored. My bad detector is overactive. I trust no one; I can’t imagine a kind of unconditional love that I could have for anyone, anyone but him. I’m angry all the time, angry at myself, angry at so many people I meet, angry at the world for letting me get away with such anger. Gus wasn’t angry when we brought a puppy home. When we take him to the vet. When we yell at him for tracking mud into the house. We did and said bad things and in return, he loved us.
…who do we love and why and how? We love people. We love animals. We love them because we hope that in return they’ll love us back. We love them without caring if they love us back; we just want them to know that they deserve our love. We love them with words and with silence. We love them in big ways and in small ways. Mama told me that Gus could be gone soon. Gone from our house and our yard and our boat and our cars. Is that even possible? Did we not love him enough? Why does he have to leave? I love Gus because he is good and I love him in every way I can. I love him with my hands and my voice and now all I can do is love him with my words. I want, I want, I want the words to be enough to make it so that Gus can love me for just a little bit longer. I love Gus and I’m not sure if I’ll be okay without him.
Aunt Linda was hurt on Saturday. She was hurt so badly that they had to open up her head to save her life. That brain that strings stories and jokes and the most thoughtful emails was hurt. My mother could have lost the only friend Daddy said he considered one of his own friends. A daughter could have lost her mother, a husband his wife, a mother her daughter, a brother his sister. I could have lost an aunt.
When Aunt Linda was hurt I felt the ripples as they traveled across time and space. When my mother texted me that Aunt Linda was in the hospital, I stood still as if maybe not moving would make it not real. The ripple of her hurt traveled through me and I tried to absorb it, standing there, feet planted, so that maybe she would hurt a little less.
Why do I call my mother’s friend Aunt? Why do I love her as if she were truly related to me? Why would I want to absorb her pain? Aunt Linda is more than a friend to my mother. I have other “aunts”(and uncles)–all friends of my parents who were around in my childhood took on the roles of adopted relatives. They loved us as if we were part of their own extended families. I have an Aunt Nancy who is the mother of my best friend who is sweet and generous and who tells stories from her childhood in Louisiana. I have an Aunt Susan who is loud and fun and has no children. I have an Aunt Linda. She likes to drink beers with my dad and drink wine with my mom and drink tea with me and ask me about college, classes, boys.
It’s hard to explain how Aunt Linda is different from other “nice” adults. She listens. I tell her about my life and she takes it in and I’ll talk to her weeks later and she remembers everything I said before. “So how’s [insert boy’s name]?” And I’ll have forgotten about said boy by then but Aunt Linda hasn’t. She’d never even consider forgetting. Because of this I don’t think anyone could ever forget her.
Aunt Linda has one daughter, Rachel. If I could go back into the womb and recreate myself I’d try to grab onto some DNA that makes me a “Rachel.” She’s tall and blonde and a musical prodigy. She plays the drums and the guitar and the piano and something else but I can’t remember because I could never play the recorder so listing three instruments seems impressive enough. Rachel is a younger version of her mother. Rachel, like Aunt Linda, is both earnest and sincere. At 15 she looks up to me and my sister. She talks to us about boys and classes and in her tales she reveals how confused she is by general human behavior. This innocent confusion reminds me of my high school and even current college self.
I see this same youthful innocence in Aunt Linda. She will see someone do something bad or wrong and wonder out loud “but why?”She has passed this sincerity and goodness on to her daughter. Aunt Linda gives; she gave the world Rachel–and she gives Rachel a mother who tries and fails likes all mothers but unlike most, never seems hopeless, never loses a trust in the world that everything will probably be okay.
Aunt Linda has given to me too. Most importantly she has given me that same trust in the world–that everything will probably be okay. If I can get through the bad things then maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to have dinner at Aunt Linda’s house where she’ll make something so good but never admit and where she’ll sneak us some wine–as long as it’s not in front of Rachel.
Aunt Linda is a cook and a photographer and a retired air traffic controller. She is a talker and a listener and she is a reader. She reads what I write partly because my mother emails it to her and partly because she wants too. Aunt Linda reads what I write and she deserves to read about herself, about how her beautiful mind may have been hurt but how it is too strong to hurt for long.
Her hair will grow back and the scratches on her face will heal and her stitches will be removed and the world that she trusts will cushion her after this fall and it will taker her back in when she’s ready to talk and joke and get back on a bike.
I do not believe that all things happen for a reason. What reason could be given for why that world that Aunt Linda trusted would hurt her? I am not religious. I’m too scared to place all faith in something I don’t know. I have faith in Aunt Linda, though. She will get better for a reason. Her husband and her daughter need her. Mama needs her. I need her. And after all that she has given me I’m ready to hold her hand and give and give until she tells me that everything will be okay.
I’m moving from one apartment to another. The move is neither necessary nor urgent for the lease in the old apartment does not end until August. Because of this strange in-between created by two months’ time I do not need to move all of my stuff into the new apartment. My sister, with a flick of her hand and a nod of her top-of-the-head bun announced “then we’ll only need the essential things.” She packed clothes and my MacBook and her stuffed animals and called it a day. I sat in the middle of my room and was stuck. But what are the essential things?
My sister spent the first night in the new apartment on a pallet on her bedroom floor. “I like sleeping on the floor,” she explained to justify why she believed the move was both necessary and urgent. I think what she meant to say was: “I like new things.” This apartment is new because it is new to us. It is also not as old as the plaster walls and gas stove that were our old apartment. But age rarely defines newness. This apartment is new because it has expanded our living situation to include two other people. This is a new place that is closer to other new places and why wouldn’t you want to sleep on the floor if you could experience all of that?
To my sister a bed is not an essential thing. For me, it is. Deeming a bed essential has less to do with bodily comfort and more to do with peace of mind. Sleeping in my bed swaddles my brain– not my arms and legs. My sheets are covered in crumbs and threaded through with long strands of my hair. I’ll run my hands over these rogue pieces of myself until an area as large as my body seems clean enough. And then I will fall asleep. I am safe in my bed in my old apartment that is old because the walls are too hard to nail into and because it is not my new apartment. I still sleep there but it’s where I used to live.
I cannot move a bed yet because I lack the bed of a truck to move the mattress. A bed for a bed! Maybe if I can see the hilarity in something like that I can warm up to the idea of my old apartment bed fitting into my new apartment room. The floors are covered in carpet. I do not like carpet. My window looks out on the parking lot. I do not like parking lots. But what if the essential things can make up for all this? What if I really did move the essential things in my life into this 10×10 space and called it my new home?
“…then we’ll move all the essential things.” My sister needs clothes to look cute when she goes out and she needs my MacBook because it is cooler than her Toshiba. She needs her stuffed animals because even when she jokes about them they are essential. They are comfort and they are the light to her sometimes heavy heart(ed). She has tapped into something with these stuffed animals. The good stuff. The stuff I’d move if I had to look around my dirty dusty messy frustratingly lovely old apartment and choose just the “essentials.”
My dream catcher. Someone was in my room the other day and asked: “What’s that?” “A dream catcher.” They shrugged and started talking about something else. It doesn’t look like a dream catcher. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in my room, over my bed. In my room at home, in my room in my old apartment home, in my room in my new apartment home. My mickey. I’ve written about mickey before. So much in my journals and even in my columns that I’ve forgotten if I capitalize his name: Mickey the mickey blanket. He’s the one thing (and thing is not a good word here for he is a being and he has a GENDER) that I decided I would save if my house were to ever catch fire. Or my apartment. Or the hotel where I was staying when I was 8 years old and made this decision.
My sister. We have separate rooms but if I were forced to choose just the essentials she would make it into my new apartment bedroom. My mother. Things are starting to get tight. My two journals that I kept before I decided that typing my thoughts made them more permanent. Maybe my essential things are getting mixed up with my bedroom things and my life things. See how complicated and emotional this whole apartment moving thing is getting? If my sister insists on sleeping in her own room and my mother needs to stay home to tend to the male members of our family then I can keep them in smaller forms. Pictures. Yes my new bedroom needs pictures. Before it needs rugs or pillows or even picture frames.
Have you ever read that book called The Napping House? All the living creatures in the house and around it come into a bedroom and nap on each other. On the very tip top is a fly or a flea or something that fits nicely on a stack of larger living beings. It’s like a big old pile of all the good stuff. It can’t possibly be comfortable, but neither is sleeping amidst crumbs and hairy sheets. My new bedroom will eventually be ok, filled with things I need and things I simply want. People will come and go and touch my things and maybe leave some things behind. But if I lived well, really well, I’d be sleeping on the tip top of all the essential things. I’d let my arm drop down and stroke the layers of my life: the inanimate objects, the thoughts worth keeping, the people who make places home and home wherever we can all be together.