The water balloon of emotions in my gut, bloated with sadness and grief and an odd numbing exhaustion, may be as close as I get to accepting the unacceptable. Sixteen pale blue bags of garbage now sit outside Aunt Pat’s house waiting to be collected and carted away: evidence of a house, a life, left adrift on the seas of benign neglect. Unsure the garbage men will take them all of them at once, I have put out only seven bags at a time charging a kind neighbor with putting out the rest over the next three days.
The rain woke me this morning, the tumultuous pounding on the galvanized tin roof drowning out the death rattle of the rusting air conditioner high on the wall. Lazily awake, I watch a shy swelling droplet at its base cautiously peek out, gathering its courage before daring the long plunge down the wall, streaking brown, before pooling with friends under the door. Burrowing in, wishing the blankets were thicker or the air conditioner two degrees warmer, it is time to rise. There is work to be done this day.
Norma’s B&B Guest House is two blocks from my Aunt’s house. Standing at the window, a steaming cup of PG Tips tea with evaporated milk the color of Christmas caramels and just as delicious, I sip and watch the solid sheets of water-falling into the already flooded courtyard. This is a stubborn spiteful rain, beyond reason or care. It will not stop until purged and exhausted it hiccups itself into a drizzling sleep. No breakfast being served this morning. Just as well…I’m not in the mood for food or questions like “we have salt fish buljou?” or “if yuh prefer…eggs ma’am?” There is work to be done this day.
Walking out the gate I am instantly soaked to my underwear. The white cotton dress sticks to my breasts, my hips, my thighs, a warm wet delight of my childhood. Echoes of my own “Mama please, please can I go bathe in it” mingle with my daughter’s sweet face upturned to the silvery sky, mouth open wide, to taste the rain. On this quiet Sunday morning, I walk alone….and not alone.
Aunt Pat went into a nursing home yesterday. Unable and unwilling to meet her basic needs, we were left with no other choice. After visiting several places, I hopefully chose the best one. It is an awful grieving charge that I have taken on. Yesterday, on April 30, my aunt was lifted into a wheelchair where she was carried to a waiting car and driven to what is now her new home. Nineteen years ago to the day, her sister, my mother, was also carried to a waiting car. Beyond breath or ceremony, her still body laid on the floor, she was taken to a funeral home. It is an anniversary of loss.
With only one day left to clean and clear my Aunt’s house, I go through room after room, sorting and clearing away things to be kept and things to be thrown away. Having lost her sight many years now, it is a daunting & dirty task; a penance for the sins of the day. It is hot and humid even with the rain, and more so under the dust mask I must wear, so I strip down to my damp underthings. The sadness threatening to overtake me cannot claim space in light of the work at hand. So I bury it in sweat and heat and grime until my body is vibrating with exhaustion.
Once heralded at the top of her class, I find letters from Cambridge University, bank records from Lloyds of London, love letters and quilts and photos faded with time. The crumbling newspapers cutouts, and faded silk flowers, vintage vogue patterns, and her book…so many books. She is my Miss Havisham before the fire. I pity my Aunt that she would come to this. She is alone and vulnerable and scared in her world. I wish I felt … more love or …guilt… or something….. but I am bone-deep tired, with heaving lungs full of dust and somehow what I feel doesn’t matter so much. What I do will have to suffice.
I continue late into the night, forcing myself to not be distracted by memories or discoveries or fatigue. The rain, thank God, has quieted the mosquitoes tonight but the crickets and frogs are welcome companions. The sweet pomegranate candle I left burning through the night on her dining table has gone out.
I must fly home tomorrow… to my family. Home. I am a woman now and a mother, no longer that niece or that daughter or that girl in the rain, but me, and the home that I have created beckons to me. My heart is full and my actions now speak for me – and that voice is sweet and strong and sure. In the morning I will go home, trusting that I have done my best this day. I will gather up my girl and my family and tell them, show them, how much I love them and cherish them. I will pay close attention to that loving and grow it and nurture it because when I grow old I will do so in Joy and Love and Grace – because that is the life I choose. Every single day……….Lovely.