I do not write this as an offense. I do not write this out of spite. That’s not true. I write this out of spite, but not for her. It’s spite for a system of glossing over all the bad things, spite because we are encouraged to remember things in black and white: the good old days, the simpler times, the people who hurt us who are now deceased. We never want to say bad things of the dead.
My aunt was nothing so bad as that. She was my aunt. She was human. I wanted to go to her memorial when she died in 2007 and say, “She was a brick-headed ox of a woman. She was a Republican, and she was very good at not listening. I think Rush Limbaugh himself taught her the art of the shout-down.” I wanted to say, “She never read fiction, but she read mine, and liked it.” I wanted to say, “Once she sent a children’s story I wrote off to Scholastic without my knowing in order to get it published. I was both honored and offended that she hadn’t asked first.” She told my mother I worshipped Satan, even after I, the mysticskeptic, explained to her about goddesses and mythic reinterpretation. She had a hard time learning chess from me. Maybe I was just a bad teacher, but she dutifully wrote down all the ways the pieces moved and their values, and the rules of capturing en passant. I was proud of her. I was proud of her tenacity. She had such tenacity.
She died of a broken heart. When she was young, her first husband drowned. And then, in 1994, a car struck like lightning through a red light, through her husband, my uncle Carl, and rattled her heart in its ribcage. It never recovered. Not with a piece of it dead in the driver’s seat.
It’s a slow death that takes thirteen years to get you. Scarring in her heart tissue. Not supposed to have wine, but she did. It was cardiac arrest, but I know better. She’d told me how empty all those years were.
I felt like a traitor to my cousins’ pain there in the hospital room, but when I had my time with her, I told her, “I know how hard it’s been on you. I know your sons want you to stay. You just do what you need to. We’ll love you no matter what. Immortality lies on the lips and tongue; I promise I will speak of you.”
I keep my promises.