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.

Of All My Demon Spirits, I Need You The Most

Five Star Friday
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.