"Your Aunt Carol is going slowly. I just want you to know that." I could feel my dad's eyes linger on me for a moment, as though he were waiting for some sign of humanity.
I know I should care. I know I should be sad, or maybe I should pray, or maybe I should shed a tear, or feel some pang of regret, or something. . . I should feel something.
But I don't.
My dad's sister is dying.
I've never been particularly close to that side of the family and in recent years the relationship has become more strained - And I've become colder and colder, and less and less capable of the kinds of feelings that evoke tears or whatever else one is supposed to feel in these instances.
On the one hand, I feel with this deep, frightening intensity. And on the other, I feel little at all.
A secretary brought a letter in for me to sign today. It's still odd to me that someone brings things in for me to sign and I blinked, as I do, to adjust to the notion. My phone rattled in between us with a number I did not recognize. I blinked again at Suzanne as I grabbed the phone and looked her in the eye while I answered.
It was some woman from the church, wanting to know if and when I would be willing to volunteer with the youth group. Suzanne wandered respectfully out of the room.
"I'm at work. I can't talk." And we hung up and I began pecking away again at the computer keyboard when Suzanne came back.
"I just sent. . ." Suzanne held my edited letter up for me to see. "Oh. You got it. I just sent the other to print, too." She stepped out for a moment and returned with the second, edited copy. "I didn't mean to be rude and answer the phone in front of you. It's just that my aunt is dying, and I thought the call might be related. Here." I scratched my name across the signature space - in blue, just like my mother taught me.
Suzanne left my office and started to close the door behind her.
"It's fine. I don;t need the door closed."
It's very lonely with the door closed.
I flipped absently through the file in front of me.
"Your Aunt Carol is dying. You're going to have to decide what you're going to do." I refused to meet my mother's admonishing eyes.
Would I go see her? Why would I? Would I kneel in the church on the night of her rosary, murmuring the words cemented into my brain, while I recalled my cousin Eric's words: "You're not living together until you're married?" I recall shaking my head. I recall his eyes rolling in his head at my silliness. Looking back, it does all seem rather silly. It seems silly to have a wedding that I intended would bring our family together in joy, rather than in mourning, or at a surprise baby shower for a 15 year old cousin. What the hell was any of it for?
Today, my Aunt Carol is surrounded by her four children, and their children, and their children's children. She's dying. But her life is full. Her kids, my cousins, they fucked up a lot - but they gave her grandchildren that have kept her hanging on, through the amputation of both of her legs, through widowhood, through divorce. Her deathbed is surrounded. And I know that her impending death pulls at my father's heart but it is still nothing like the void that was left when his grandchild, Gabriel, the baby I couldn't grow "right" left this world. When it's his turn - when it's my turn - who will be there?
I'm not afraid of dying. I'm just afraid of dying alone.
And tonight, while my Aunt Carol, who out of stubborn pride I haven't spoken to in well over a year, dies after a long and painful battle with her health, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to trade places with her. What would it be like to walk away from the long and painful battles I have lived through? What would it be like to be reunited with those I fought those battles for?
I know that I am strong, that I've willed myself through the kinds of things that shatter other people. I know that I'm different, that I'm not like everyone else, and that I'm special. Where others sink, I swim.
But tonight, as I contemplate my empty home, the empty rooms, my empty bed, the empty crib, the tightly packed hope chest, and my empty arms, I can't help but feel like I'm drowning, slowly. I can't help but feel anything but strong.