I figure I've left you all hanging long enough. Here's the story of my aunt in part one of a little series I'd like to call Meet the Fuckers: The Tales of my Family.
(Seriousness disclaimer: You were warned)
My aunt was 21 the year I was born. She was my mother's first half sister. She had long, blond hair, blue eyes, and I think she just might have been left handed. She was the only blond in her family of jet-black haired relatives. Though my mother was quite the looker, she paled next to my aunt. Most of the western hemisphere paled next to her, to be perfectly honest. She. Was. Beautiful. In every way. She smiled all the time, she had a wicked laugh, she was incredibly intelligent.
There's some weird genetic variance in my family that causes the second born child to look seriously, questionably unlike anyone else in that immediate family. My aunt didn't resemble anyone in her family, I don't look like either of my parents or any of my siblings. My second child and my brother's second child look almost totally different than their older or younger siblings, who match as though they were twins. The strangest part? Those of us who are 2nd children, we mis-matches, all look EXACTLY alike. I am the spitting image of my aunt, my son looks like I had a baby with me, all frog-style, and my nephew could EASILY pass for my child. I bet that if his mother and I took him out, no one would guess he was hers.
So, yeah, we were close. I kind of idolized her. Truth be told, everyone did, but I looked like her and no one else I knew did.
She was thin, and apparently, she had always been thin. My grandmother and great-aunts explain that she was "just as skeeny as a bean pole!" and that's why her name was Beaner. I was a good deal older than I should have been when I came to the realization that A) her real name was Jean and B) Beaner is one of the more vile racial slurs one could chose to casually throw around. Leave it to my relatives, I tell ya.
When we were really young, my aunt was around quite a bit. She was a big fan of my dad, and really dug his band, and came over almost every night we had band practice. Her first husband, Tommy, rode a motorcycle, and I blame him for my total lack of ability to resist a bike to this very day.
When my parents divorced, and when Beaner and Tommy did, too, we saw less of her. She met and married a beautiful, Latin-ish man named Carmen, and I blame him for my total lack of ability to resist a Spanish man to this very day.
My family is, for lack of a better word, poor white trash. All of 'em. All of them, except Beaner, that is. She dug herself out a lovely little career rut pioneering some technology that is still used today to perform heart transplants. She drove a Ferrari that she used to let my brother drive, though he was too young, in the rain as they hydroplaned down the 202. She had a beautiful home in the affluent suburbs of New Castle, which is just south-west of Wilmington, which is the major city in Delaware, which is....oh fuck it. It's where Ryan Phillippe is from and it's about 30 minutes south of Philly.
In her house, she had glass tables, crystal wine glasses, a living room that no one ever sat in, an eat-in kitchen, and upstairs was a weight room. In that weight room there was a crawl space that led to a storage room. She, being childless herself, had that crawl space re-enforced and that storage area sound-proofed, wired and lit, and it became our playroom. She filled it with bean bag chairs and microscopes and all sorts of geeky, sciencey stuff that delighted us to no end.
When she started losing her mind, we stopped coming over.
My father has this picture of my grandmother (his ex-mother in law) and her two sisters, all sitting in a row, and he calls it the Nut Squad Shot. He has shoved that picture in the face of every woman of (our googlable last name's) descent and neener-neenered us with it. "THIS is your destiny," he'd laugh. My aunt never laughed back. He remembers with a sigh now that she always seemed not just unamused by, but abjectly afraid of, that picture.
None of us are of totally sound mind or body. We KNOW this. Some of us are just better at working around it. Beaner was. She was the only person in the complete total history of my family to go to college. She made it out, she made it happen, and then she found cocaine.
If you are related to me, you should just never do anything harder than pixie-sticks.
My mother was convinced she was possessed by Satan himself. Beaner was so coked out, she was starting to believe it. She smoked pot to calm her down when she was trying to not do blow, and then she did blow when she was sick of being calm. She hated her husband, and there were always rumours about him beating her, though never confirmed. She was angling for divorce, she was using so much she stood to lose her career, and she had no where to turn.
Beaner left her home, at the behest of her "boyfriend" (an old family friend who totally had the hots for her, and who was totally not anywhere near her league, and I know that's bitchy but it's true, and I am still pissed at that fucker.) She went to my grandmother, but, yeah, my grandmother is the craziest human alive, and with all the murals off hell and the channeling of George Washington and shit, that wasn't really going to work. She came to my mother, her oldest sister, and offered to pay her for a bed to sleep on and some sanity. She couldn't do drugs in my house, what with four kids running around. We were super-mega-christian; she knew she'd be safe.
My mother turned her away. She said she just couldn't handle Beaner's demonic influence in our home.
She checked herself into rehab one fall day. She checked herself out after 48 hours. No one knew she'd left except her doctors who begged her to stay. She showed up at our doorstep again, drunk, tired, smelling like a really full ashtray, and was sent away again. I don't know what she did after that.
A few days later, I missed my bus to school. I almost never missed my bus to school. I cut across the elementary school fields, ran down the side street, and booked it towards the last stop on the route. I'd done this a few times before, and had caught the bus every stinking time. I missed it that day.
I walked back home, opened the door, and the phone ran. Yup, just like that, just then. I answered it, and my other aunt, the aunt by marriage to the step-uncle, informed me the best way she knew how that they'd found Beaner's body somewhere near the train tracks that run down 1-95. I hung up the phone, and paused for just one second to reflect on all the many subtle ways that something made damn good and sure I fielded that phone call that morning. I turned, walked into the living room, and with one sentence watched the last remaining flicker of sanity in my mother's eyes die out.
It was on me to call the rest of the family, the friends, my father, everyone I could think of. I'm not entirely sure how old I was, but I don't think I'd even started my period yet. And I was playing The Reaper. And I did it, dead cold, straight faced, like a god damn rock.
The coroner determined that she had been sober, and sober for at least a full day. He also determined by the grip around her cigarette lighter that she had been scared out of her wits, and by her body temperature when she was found that she had laid on those train tracks for more than 3 hours. BEFORE the train ran her over her neck.
She was drug a good ways before she was flung into the weeds. The train conductor thought he'd seen something in his path at one point, so they were actually able to locate the approximate spot she laid, waiting. I don't know who found her body, all I know is what they saw. That, I won't tell you.
Sometimes I am really glad that I live 3,ooo miles away from where I grew up, because though I cannot remember how to get to my old school, and I can't picture the route to my church I attended 3 days a week, every week, for 16 years, I can with perfect clarity recall the exact spot on the highway that is across from the place they estimated she laid on the tracks that night. It's burned into my brain, and I don't think I ever want to see that again. Ever.
I never got to say goodbye to her. My mother forbid our attendance at her funeral, and I have no idea where she's laid to rest. I'm not entirely sure she was buried, but I imagine there is a grave-marker or a tombstone somewhere with her name on it. I don't believe in heaven or the afterlife, but sometimes I find myself talking out loud to her, just in case. I wonder if she would be proud of me for getting away from our family, or if she would condemn my choice to disown her mother and sister. I wonder what kind of Christmas presents she'd send my kids, her first great-nephews and niece. I wonder if she and my brother would still take the Ferrari out for a spin in the rain. I wonder if she lived so hard because she knew it was going to be short, and she had to squeeze in a lot in that little time she had.
Mostly, though, I wonder if she knew the impact she had on our lives. I wonder if her thoughts turned to her nephew and her niece in her final hours, who aside from my grandmother, arguably took the loss of her the hardest simply because we only knew the sunshine and the smiles and the light, and the nightmare she lived was beyond our comprehension. She was our beacon, our role model, our hope.
And now she's just gone. *poof* Just like that.