I never start my blogs out with a disclosure, but I'm going to break that rule. I wrote a thing about my aunt, Sue, who passed away last summer. I shared it with Layla, my dog, first, and slowly moved onto another aunt, Yvonne, and Sue's husband, Rick, and then, most recently, my dad. I still don't know what to do with this, really, but sharing it feels right today, especially as my grading slows at the end of the term, and I have some time to reorient my life, to find my way back to creating a life I love.
In the evening, on the day my Aunt Sue died, Dan and I walked the dogs like we do most evenings, like she did her dogs. Afterwards, we took our evening sojourn around the garden. Some bees were still humming on the clover; it still a little too light out for fireflies, but one lit on a leaf of the tomato plant, waiting for the sun to set a little further. The tomato plant had an exact dozen tomatoes, and I ate the first raspberry of the summer; it was too tender to bother rinsing. Likewise, the eggplant was proud of its first bud; I can never reckon their elegant green stems with their plump, purple, thick-skinned fruit.
And I saw that an elephant ear sprouted near the back of one of the front beds. I’d given this one up for a dud. But there it was, with a glistening pearl of dew. Oh, Sue.
I can’t decide how to punctuate it:
(as Dickinson, who she loved, might have?)
It just keeps startling me. Sue keeps showing up everywhere I look since she died. Perhaps more like a sigh. Or a plea. Maybe a prayer or a mantra.
Sue always saw me as just myself, not Tommy’s daughter or Sandy’s daughter, but Angelina. Even from across the country, Sue sent me the loveliest most-thoughtful packages. She took the time to not just think about something special to mail just me from just her—books about Zippy and Ditto she illustrated herself (which eventually inspired Layla’s blog), Le Petit Prince in French later, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet in college, Rimbaud’s collected works when I needed some bawdy inspiration--, but she decorated those cards and packages, too. They were covered in her art; they looked like they were for only me and from no one but Sue.
She was probably the first person in my life that made me feel like sadness and fear and depression weren’t bad but just the other side of our happiness and joy. When I visited Boston as a kid, Sue let me explore what I already loved—books and movies and writing—in a way vastly different from how I would have otherwise. I could be both sophisticated, as I thought a city like Boston demanded, or silly. In fact, we spent one day in Boston Commons trying out all of the benches to see if we could find the one from Good Will Hunting. And after that quite-adult endeavor, she photographed me riding the Make Way for Ducklings! ducks. She took me on historical tours of New England and conducted them like they were just great stories, and we day-tripped to Salem and Concord to indulge our literary hankerings, trying to figure out those women—both too good and so bad. Only with Sue, could I read Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath.
During one trip to Boston, I don’t quite remember how it happened, but I imagine that we were walking through North Boston, on our way to Noble Ct., and somehow we found a blue chair in the trash. Like the one from Van Gogh’s blue bedroom scene. She took it home, and cleaned it off, and set a vase of flowers on it, and found just the right afternoon light. Okay, I might have made this up, but the chair and the photograph existed. Indeed, that damn blue trash-chair’s photograph hung on my bedroom wall for years. Sue nurtured my ability to drive by a piece of furniture on the street and imagine another life for it. To envision it beautiful, with flowers.
Sue lived a truly creative life, and she let me into part of it, before I even knew that’s what I wanted for myself. She showed me that living a creative life isn’t about finding a niche in which to create one little, very good thing; it’s about putting that creative energy into everything that excites your soul, filling every endeavor with quirk and passion, making each moment your own.
When I saw the Elephant Ear sprout, my next thought after
was, “Well, fuck.” Because Sue cussed, and I was a little pissed at that damn transcendental moment for happening to me. The unfurling bud. Even that idyllic dewdrop that looked like an infinite galaxy of its own. I wanted to roll my eyes or wilt to the ground like a gothic heroine. Or maybe puke a little.
But when I started to accept the moment, the miracle, the Sue-angel in my garden, I thought of that part of the Talmud where they say that on every blade of grass there’s an angel that whispers to it every day and reminds it to “Grow. Grow.” Even when my life has felt its smallest, its littlest, that quote reminded me I have an angel, too. And so here was Sue, not whispering but shouting at me, a drop of dew on an Elephant Ear sprout.
I think, in writing this, I’ve figured it out. She was just shouting that what I regret most about our relationship--not sharing the things we both loved over the last few years--doesn’t matter. Since I no longer have the chance to call her every time I do something she loved (which is, like, every second of every day: teach, write, pet dogs, save cats and abandoned chairs, plant veggies and flowers, cook, read), she’ll just keeping popping up.
Today would have been her birthday.