Damn Near A Century Isn't Half Bad

Saturday night, I couldn't sleep.  Which is weird only because I was so tired, my eyeballs burned.  I tossed and turned and eventually took something to knock me out.  I figured I was just over-tired, or had one too many cups of tea that night.  Oh, no.

My great aunt Baba died on Saturday night.

I do these things.  I dream about old, ex boyfriends that I haven't thought about in years, and the next morning they call to say, "Hey, we had a baby last night!"  No matter what I'm doing, I look at the clock every time it says 12:34.  If I'm asleep, I will wake up for it.  Talk about annoying.  If I sleep through my alarm clock, I will wake up exactly 5 minutes before I have to be where I am late for getting to.

Anyway, that's so not the point.  The point is, Auntie Baba took her leave of us in the middle of the night on Saturday.  I know you're going to be all, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" but really?  Don't.  Let me tell you a little about her first.

Auntie Baba is my husband's great aunt, his father's aunt.  She was born in 1913, which is before WWI.  Which, WOW.  She was married to her husband Gordon for 50 years or so before he died.  They never had kids, they traveled, they collected things from around the world, they had friends and played bridge and did whatever it was they wanted to.  They owned a little mobile home in Palm Springs, and though I imagine they could have afforded more, they were more than happy with their little home on the golf course in the desert.

I met Baba many years after her husband died, when she was 87.  We'd mailed pictures and letters, but when she was 85 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her response was more or less, "Fuck THAT shit."  And that little 85 year old woman kicked cancer's ass.  I took the boys to meet her after her treatments, and let me tell you, that woman was a rock star. She was pissed off that they wouldn't let her keep her driver's license, even though she was slowly going blind.  I mean, 'how exactly did they think she was going to get to Bridge and seriously, everyone in Palm Springs is ancient and they all drive like shit.  Why can't she, too?  I asked her what the secret to her health and longevity was, and she told me.

She drank a lot, she smoked a little, she swore, she traveled and she loved.

That's a smart girl, if you ask me.  She had happy hour at 3 pm sharp every day.  She had her friends and her bridge club (she REALLY liked bridge, to each his own.)  She had a "suitor", and I don't ever want to know what the meaning in those quotation marks is.  She lived surrounded by her family, her niece and the families that have grown from her, and my husband's family.  Her walls dripped with photographs spanning generations, children and families that all loved her dearly.  She loved my children, who look like her cherished and only nephew, their grandfather, who died entirely too young and took a piece of her heart with him.

We all had no doubt they'd be saying her name on the tv and over the radio in 5 years, when she hit 100 in full force.

She regularly wrote, and as she grew older, the letters became harder to read.  The Christmas checks for the kids grew larger, to the point where I questioned whether or not she actually knew the dollar amounts she was writing.  In her letters, in her scribbles of handwriting, I could see her slowly slipping away.  But that woman held on as long as she could.  She went out kicking and screaming, and once the dementia took her, it wasn't a month before her body gave out, too.

There is one thing Baba will never do, and that is not live life on her own terms.

She has insisted on being cremated and her ashes entombed in some sort of column thingy, all the way on top, where the sun will always shine on her and she'll be forever warm.  She's asked that there be no services of any kind for her, which feels odd to me.  I mean, of all the lives to celebrate, hers was the one.  She was a shining example of taking a life by the reigns and riding as hard as you can.

But what Baba wants, Baba gets.

Our family will quietly commemorate her life one day next week, once she is settled in for an eternity of desert winds, and I will do my best to teach them the things that she would have wanted them to know; that life is too short for regrets, that anything worth doing is worth doing well, that you don't need more than what keeps you comfortable, and that if you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

Rest in peace, dear Baba.  Rock on, baby, rock the fuck on.

At Least I Won't Have To Worry About Him Getting A Girlfriend Anytime Soon

2of3: Mom, look what I made for you!  (Holds up some piece of elastic with gold sequins pre-sewn into it)

Me, who hasn't had coffee yet, totally blowing him off: Uh huh.

Him: See how pretty it is!  It's got one sequin on it for every way you are the prettiest and best mom ever!

Me, totally repenting: Oh, honey, it is beautiful!  Thank you so much! If I didn't have puke breath, I'd kiss you!

Him: Isn't it great?  I worked really hard on it.

Me, picking up elastic bedazzled thingy of undetermined usage: You certainly did! (still have no clue what he contributed, btw)  I love you so much, I'm going to buy you a pony!

Him: Just buy me a math book, okay?

A Vague Connection

I keep trying to write a post about the bailout, but this is all that will come out.  I'm not sure the connection between the two will translate, so I'll just apologize in advance, and continue the story of my relatives where I left it off here:

My cousin Donna was something in the neighborhood of 10 years older than me, maybe more; I honestly don't know.  She was my father's first niece, his sister's first child, my grandmother's first grandchild.  She had a great laugh, beautiful red hair, and was smart and loving and kind.  My father was in LOVE with his nieces and up until my parents divorced when I was 6, they were a huge part of our daily life.  After that, we only saw them on my dad's time with us.  My parents had one of those divorces where both sides of the family completely parted ways, and my mother took us.  We didn't have a whole ton of contact with his side until they all started dying.

My brother, I have to add, was much better than me at saying Fuck It and seeing my father's side of the family anyway.  I was entirely too afraid of my mother to attempt such a mutiny, and not a day goes by that I don't envy him the contact he had with our family after the rest of us were secluded from them.  That boy had balls.

My cousin was married to a man (who we'll just call Tee) at some point, I don't really know, and had a baby who we'll just call Jr.  I did get to see Jr quite a bit; my mother was a bitch, but she wasn't that bad.  I couldn't see my aunt, but her kid was totally in-limits.  He was cute, they were happy, blah blah blah.

They lived far from us, in Bethany which is in the very southern, beachy tip of Delaware, and I just didn't know anything about her as an adult.  I know she later had another baby (maybe twins?) and that her marriage sounded fine on the surface.  I'd seen her at our grandmother's funeral when I was 15, and Donna was the family member who was given our grandmother's folded flag at her military funeral.  She was wearing a black dress-suit and pumps, and looked she fine to me.  Apparently, she had a major drug problem that I didn't know about until I moved to Colorado with my dad when I was 17.

I remember one night when she called, crying to my father that she didn't have money for rent.  My dad sat up with her all night on the phone, trying to get the number of her landlord out of her, promising he'd get her caught up.  She wouldn't give the number over, made some bullshit story up, pleaded with him to send money that night, and after a while my dad just gave up and called her husband back the next day.

Turns out, they were behind on their rent.  Turns out, all their money was going up her nose (and in her arm, I'd be willing to bet.)  Turns out, Donna's father, my asshole uncle, was keeping her pretty hooked on some drug or the other, because he didn't want to party alone.  Turns out, the problem was bigger than most of us knew.  Tee had thrown her out of the house for the sake of the children's and his sanity, and they did need help.  My father sent the landlord the rent, rather than giving it to Donna, who was just going to snort it anyway, ensuring that money went to the family and not to the addiction, or the addict.  And there's my bailout paragraph in a nutshell.  Moving on...

Apparently, Donna had taken to sneaking in the house in the middle of the night to sleep.  Tee knew this, but didn't want to let on that he knew, so he'd just leave a small window unlocked at night that she could get in and out of.  The neighbors and her friends had seen her pushing a ladder up to her house in the middle of the night to get in before; it wasn't really a secret or anything.  She would just leave before everyone was up the next morning, and in that silent arrangement she had shelter and safety, and Tee knew his wife and the mother of his children was warm and fed at the very least.

One day, when I was at the end of being 21, my father started calling me at my boyfriend's house.  We were fighting about something or the other, so I ignored his calls all day until, eventually, I realized something was wrong.  He NEVER called, let alone that many times in a row.  When I finally answered, he asked me with tears in his throat to sit down.

Donna had gone out with her friends, maybe her father (the jury is still out on that one) and they were all doing drugs.  She mixed too many substances, or took too much of one, no one really knows.  What we do know is that her friends, rather than dumping her off at the ER, took her as she O.D.'d back to her house.  They grabbed the ladder that she'd used before to get in, pushed it up to the house, and shoved her into the open window.  They drove off, and one of them called 911 to report "what looks like a break in attempt" at her house.  Of course, the neighbors all knew about the ladder thing, and the cops thought nothing of it.

The kicker here is that they shoved her in the wrong window.  They shoved her into her oldest son's window, who wasn't even 10 yet, where she cracked her head on the bedframe on the fall down.  Tee had the kids out that night, I think at his mother's, and the next morning when they came home Jr walked into his room and found his mother dead, overdosed, suffocated on her own vomit, soaked in it and her urine and her feces, crumpled over in the corner of his bed.

And that is how I lost my cousin.  And that is how her son lost his mother.  My father, well, I didn't think he'd ever recover from it.  When he told me, I sat on the corner of my boyfriend's bed and I couldn't breath.  I couldn't think.  All I could do was scream and scream and scream.  It took that boyfriend longer than I can remember to get the story of what happened out of me, and that night he asked me to marry him because he didn't ever want something to happen to me and for him to not know what it was ever again.  I spent most of that night hunting my brother down, who had taken off years before never to be heard from again, and I reunited with him over the phone under these circumstances.

We all flew to Delaware to lay her to rest, and in her death, my family found each other.

Every anniversary that boyfriend and I celebrate, she is still there with me.  Every baby of ours, each one born with a shock of red hair and a beautiful smile, they are each a reminder of her.  Each comment my brother leaves on this blog, she's in there somewhere.  She was taken from my life twice in the 21 years I'd known her, once by divorce, once by addiction and irresponsible, selfish behavior, but this time, I know I'll never find her again.  I just have to hold a little tighter to what she left in her wake.