Life is so very interesting.
My 80-year old aunt has been in the hospital since Christmas Eve. She was a smoker most of those 80 years, and is now paying the price in emphysema. This woman is amazing, and it's only over the past year or so that I have begun to realize that I am more like her than anyone else in my family.
She had a rough childhood. My grandfather (who I'd never met) was a graphic artist. When The Depression struck, he was one of the first people to lose his job -- ahh, who needs artists? He did the noble thing and bailed, leaving his wife and two kids to fend for themselves. Naturally, my grandmother had a mental breakdown and ended up in some sort of institution while my Dad and aunt were shuffled around different foster homes. My aunt became a guardian of sorts for my Dad at a very young age.
When they three were reunited, my aunt spent a lot of time still looking out for my Dad. He wasn't the most confident of kids, and their being the only Jews in da 'hood didn't exactly make him the most popular lad either. So he got beaten up a lot. And I imagine she spent a lot of time beating up those who beat HIM up.
But my aunt has had a pretty amazing journey. From the stories she's told me, she's done everything from creating and selling jewelry - even having her designs in store windows in New York City and in magazines - to owning a dress shop - to selling real estate. She's travelled all over the world - Europe, Russia, Egypt - and dated all kinds of men, but has only truly loved one.
My aunt has lived.
Growing up, she was always the "wild one" -- my Mom's antagonist and polar opposite. There was always this air of resentment my Mom had towards her, and I often felt guilty for wanting to hang out more with my aunt. As if in some way, I was making my Mom feel unimportant (Mom's good at guilt - she's made an art of it). Now as an adult (at least on paper), I am finally able to loosen the noose of guilt a bit - see where it stems from - and step around it enough to really get to know my aunt.
I've been visiting her more often these days. She loves to hear about what's going on in my life. And she always has a tale to relate to my own. Through labored breaths, she'll recall an experience from her past and the lesson she took from it. She has wisdom beyond comprehension and is not afraid to tell it like it is. The fact is: she's the person I want most to be like - the person I want to know more about - and I have a burning need to know as much as I can while she can still get it out.
I'm sad I was not as close to my aunt as I should have been, growing up. But she felt the vibe from my Mom and kept her distance cause she was smart enough to know how to read people - how to treat people (it gets more complicated, but that's for another time). The good thing is that I've come to realize the treasure that she is. And I am grateful for every moment - every lesson - that I am granted.
Last night I told her I wanted to be to Bean what she has been to us: the "cool" aunt who LIVES. And she said, "you already are."