My Aunt Remie was 13 when I was born, five years younger than my mother. It's easy for me to think that my mother's problems started at the moment of my birth, but obviously she was troubled before. Remie will testify to the stream of unease and darkness before me. Even my mother has said her unhappiness started at age two, which is secretly funny to me, sort of, because two? For real? But it's hard to tell if she is over blowing the truth. It's certainly not an over-truth to her. These details -- and the evidence of her complete inability to shake her demons -- makes forgiveness a softer pill to swallow. But I have sliced up my feet trying to walk the edge of objectively forgiving her -- looking at her from every angle but a child's -- and being the child who, whether my mother could help herself or not, had to buffer her insanity against myself by myself; to instinctively stave off her overwhelmingness and know that I was not what she was, even though I didn't know what that meant. She bore deep, though, into that divine cushion with which I was insulated. She cut in enough for me to question myself for most of my life. It was the isolation and loneliness though mostly that left me a thread away from breaking entirely. Her frantic, manic, angry energy could swirl all around me and I could wrap myself into myself, blanketed by other-worldly worry and self silence, and I could feel somewhat untouchable. But I didn't know that the loneliness would shred me down so. I didn't know until much later. I'm still not sure if I'm built up completely.
Mama couldn't save me. Nor could my Aunt Remie. My grandmother wasn't equipped to deal with my mother's force. And Remie was a child, but honestly, Remie was troubled too.
They were equally wild, my mother and aunt. They were drinkers and drug users and they became sexual as soon as they recognized the power in catching a boy's eye. But my mother was cut from my grandfather's cloth: mean and cold, and Remie from Mama's, loving and naive. My mother was mod and edgy and Remie was a biker-hippy girl. My mother's personality drove her as an artist, and Remie's personality drove her nowhere, really. Remie dropped out of 11th grade to run away with a member of the Hell's Angels. My mother loved to tell how Remie came skulking back to my grandmother pregnant with lice and ring worm. My mother would never admit that they were similar. Mostly their differences kept them from ever being close. Today, they don't speak, which doesn't affect me either way. To hell with anybody treating you like shit. Remie still tries now and again to bond with my mother. She can't help herself. She'll yearn for sisterhood, want to bridge their motherlessness. She'll reach out because she feels Mama would have unwittingly done the same, but my mother shoots her down, acts uppity and put out.
When I was a kid, I died at chances to see Remie. She was flighty though. On the move with boyfriends, fucking up a little here and there, at odds with my mother or quietly disconnecting a bit from my grandmother. But when she did see me she gushed over me. Pummeled me with affection. Gave me donuts for dinner. Fawned over me like I was the greatest being that ever was. And I died for that. She'd tell me over and over how much she loved me, how much Mama loved me. She was full-face smiles, and waist-long blonde hair and blue eyes and over-plucked eyebrows and shiny pink cheeks and long jean skirts and batik halter tops and feather roach clips dangling from the inside line of her hair just behind her ear where the beaded, leather cord bounced off her breast bone. She smelled like herbal shampoo and cigarettes. And then she'd be gone, or my mother would keep me away. For months, maybe a year here and there. Two years was the longest when we lived abroad. I'd have to shove back into myself again and turn the volume down of bottomless hurt, the type a kid feels when they want something to return so badly.
Remie found me on Facebook a couple months ago. I hadn't talked to her in six years. When I saw her name, I busted out in tears which caught be off guard because I didn't know I harbored that for her still. But then she wrote me an email; the type of email that you know happens in life. You know other people do it, exchange these feelings and regrets, but it was unrecognizable to me at first. She told me she loved me, but not as well as she should have, that she should have helped me more as a kid but she couldn't figure out how. She said she knew how much I had been through and that she was sorry she had let me down. This makes me emotional mostly because that girl who I was as a child seems nearly mythical. Like she was caught between the earth and space, invisible but still some kind of unseen force. A girl who shed her strength when she broke free -- practically traded it in -- and has spent decades trying to patch it back on. And my aunt knew me then. She knew and loved that girl. I wasn't a ghost.
I wasn't a ghost.