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.
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.