I never really look at it this way: I had
an unusual a non-standard childhood. My family was poor. It just felt normal to me since I did not know any other way of living. I never gave it a second thought that I slept in the same room with my parents next to their bed on a comforter folded up on three dining room chairs lined up side by side. To this day, I require minimal space when I sleep; I never realized the cause and effect. I did not know to be embarrassed by the fact that my mother worked as a hotel “concierge” who happened to also clean the rooms and change the sheets. I was always well fed and nicely clothed, with lots of fancy stuffed animals and chocolate and candies from Japan. I later learned that my classmates in grade school thought my parents were college professors and we were wealthy.
What do you know? Kids are dumb.
It had never occurred to me how generous and kind it was for my aunt to take me in and to bring me up when my parents couldn’t take care of me themselves. They had to hold down jobs that did not allow raising a young child: odd hours, overnight schedules, long stint abroad, while their older boys though old enough to look after themselves, not old enough to care for another child.
It was the most natural thing. I had never once felt not being part of my aunt’s family, probably because I was not the only niece that she took in. There were always quite a few children living in her house. Some for a couple of years; one cousin was under my aunt’s care until she reached her adulthood. I stayed until I was in the second grade: I remember threatening my mother that I would walk back to my aunt’s house whenever she scolded me. I believe I did quite a few times much to her annoyance.
There was always a lot of food. Elaborate dishes. My aunt was an accomplished cook, capable of whipping up an entire banquet of twelve full courses on her own. Extravagant dishes worthy for a wedding party. My mother subsequently accused me for ruining her interest and drive for cooking because my taste buds were so well-trained (Spoiled!) during those years that there was simply no way my mother could ever match it.
Amongst all my aunts and their friends, my aunt was the prettiest. The most talented. She was not supposed to become the work horse of the family. One of my vivid childhood memories was the first time I saw the picture of her and her best friend, both members of some society for young ladies, all dolled up in classic dresses. It was taken at one of their musical performances. She was gorgeous. “Svelte”. That image of her is what comes to mind whenever I see this word. There were fourteen children in my father’s family. Being the oldest girl, as many of these stories went, my aunt was married to a wealthy businessman, twenty years her elder, which brought a lot of relief to the family.
Family lore has it that she spoiled me rotten: always making my favorite dishes, , taking me everywhere with her, showing me off to all her friends. I wanted to think that I was her favorite, but I know that she managed somehow to make all of us believe that we were her favorite. She was always joyful, and damn it if this woman was not loud. Loud and spunky. Her laughter brought life to all the family gatherings, especially at the numerous wedding banquets.
“Is she going?” We would ask each other, relieved after confirming that she would be present.
She was definitely the favorite amongst all the aunts and uncles.
Every time when I went to visit her, she bragged about how the pearl powder she paid with top dollars and fed me when I was living with her still shows its positive influence.
“You have good skin because of it.” She cooed. So we made my husband thank her that I did not turn out to be a complete dog. “But you really should put on some make-up and lose some weight.” What can I say? That’s the way we show love for each other in this family.
Three weeks ago I found out from Facebook that my aunt was taken to ICU. I immediately called home and learned that they had intubated her and she remained unconscious. Since her organs have been failing due to old age and a myriad of health issues, we knew that she would never fully recover. We were told to get ready for the inevitable, but when, the doctor could not say.
Could be months.
I told Mr. Monk about my aunt, and also my contingency plan of going home when the day comes.
“Why do you want to wait until she’s dead? Why don’t you go home now that she is still alive?”
I have been crying on and off ever since. It took a child to see and point out loud the absurdity of this. I fantasized about going home this June to visit my aunt and also to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday with him, in person. The thought gave me some respite from crying.
Yesterday I got the phone call. Even though I was prepared, I was not prepared at all.
Yes, she has passed away. No, she never regained consciousness. The doctor had known her time was near and had informed the family to gather around to see her off.
The family. Not the “immediate” nuclear family in the U.S. sense. The entire, friggin’, family. There are no second cousins. We are all brothers and sisters. Nephews and nieces. And for some of us, like-daughters and like-mothers. We are ALL immediate family.
And they did. They were there with her when she went home.
On the phone, my mom kept on telling me that I wouldn’t have been able to do anything even if I had been there. That my aunt wouldn’t have known I was there.
Mom is supposed to say things like this. But I know. I will bear the burden of not being there in my conscience.
Forever I will wish that I
got took the chance to say goodbye.