I have an aunt. Two actually. Two left in the world, anyway.
But this aunt, this one used to be my favorite.
She's only 10 years older than me. She let me listen to Queen through the huge headphones hooked to her record player. She smoked out her bedroom window and dated a drug dealer. She worked in a bar and, over lunch in said bar one day, retold the entire Flashdance film to my parents, my little sister, and I. It was totally inappropriate and I was rapt.
In the late 80s she got married, adopted two cats, and all seemed fairly serene for a time.
I went to Michigan State, in East Lansing, about twenty minutes from where she lived. I visited sometimes, sitting on her deck under massive oaks while she drank can after can of bad beer and smoked. Often, she'd feed me hearty dinners of bean soup or turkey burgers.
She worked for a nonprofit and appeared content with her childless, substance-infused life. She had OCD, like me. But, as far as I could tell, kept it in check with alcohol. Or denial. Or both.
She didn't resort to pharmaceuticals like I did.
Then my grandma and grandpa, her parents, died. Simultaneously, her husband asked for a divorce.
And she slowly began to crumble.
Max and Claire were tiny, a toddler and a baby, and she would call me, drunk. Like a flea-bitten dog looking for a place to lie in the dirt, she would circle around and around an inane topic. Usually she gnashed her teeth over money. She'd been told she needed medication, but kept insisting she had always been "so strong" and that taking meds was like admitting failure.
As someone who'd accepted, at age 27, I would need SSRIs in my system for the rest of my life, her insistence that swallowing a small pill once a day meant certain weakness pissed me off. True strength is the recognition of your deficiencies and the wisdom to work on them and correct what you can. That's what I think anyway.
The last time I ever talked to her, I asked if she was wasted. She said no, that she'd just had some teeth pulled, hence her slurring. I didn't believe it, but I pretended to.
A few days later, I sent her an email asking her not to contact me anymore. Kind of chicken shit, I know, doing it that way. I have more courage in writing than I do verbally, though. I told her that I saw her OCD, that she couldn't hide it from a fellow sufferer. And that once she'd gotten herself medicated, she could contact me again and we'd talk.
She hasn't called or written since.
I have dreams about her sometimes. I think about her a lot. I imagine her with long, white hair, a bloated belly and no teeth.
It makes me sad.
My crowded life has no room for someone who won't tackle her issues, but I miss the cool, slightly abrasive, bean-soup making, well-spoken woman I grew up knowing.