My Aunt Elaine died yesterday. She was driving through the Harbor Tunnel when her car exploded. I wan’t going to start a thread about it; I just hijacked another one, but I thought maybe I could remember her here, and I’m sorry if I sadden anyone terribly.
The hardest thing about this whole deal is that she was so close to me when I was a girl. She was my best friend. And the more I think about what she meant to me, the more it hits me that she had such a big role in my life. She was a witness to my life. She lived it with me.
See, the worst part about having been abused as a child is that it’s a very lonely solitude that no one understands. It sucked. It blew big time. I can tell one side of the story: my father was a drunk and he beat me. I spent ten years walking around on eggshells, always a minute early or a minute late, always saying too much or not enough. I spent ten years trying to live up to this impossible standard of perfection, and always failed. If I spilled a glass of iced tea, I would get hit with a belt until I had welts on my back. If I snuck down the hall to hold my brother after he had been hit, I’d get hit too.
But at the same time, there were moments when life was perfect, and I would suffer the same abuse for another ten years if it meant I could ever come close to that level of joy again. Simple things: my 7th birthday when I got my first bike, waking up and smelling bacon and eggs and feeling the sun on my back and having the whole day in front of me. Or the time it rained all afternoon and the neighborhood kids put on our bathing suits and played in the rain until our parents came home. See, if I tell you I was abused you have this image of me that’s not entirely true. It’s only half of who I am, and very few people saw the whole picture: my mom and brother were too close; everyone else was too far away. My aunt and my grandmother (who died three years ago) were the only ones who understood. My aunt would take me away for entire weeks during the summer and let me be a little girl, let me watch Disney movies and leave crumbs everywhere. She gave me the freedom to be a child, when at home I had to be an adult, had to aware of what I said and did at every moment. But at Aunt Elaine’s, I was allowed to be myself, and she nurtured that. I used to cry when I left her because I wanted so badly for her to be my mom, so I could live in a happy house and be a kid like everyone else.
I don’t know if much of this makes sense, but my aunt was the only person who saw me as equal parts sadness and light. She understood what I lived with, and did the best she could to show me another sort of life. She taught me how to wear eyeshadow and didn’t make me do the dishes and took me fishing. She bought me new clothes when my parents couldn’t afford them and taught me how to hide new clothes from husbands.
She could debate circles around even the best GDers, especially when it came to issues like gun control and abortion. She was loud and opinionated and got drunk at parties and told stories about her childhood, which wasn’t all that great either. She showed me that I could be a whole person even though I was abused, that being poor didn’t have to define me, that I was a person no matter what. She played a big part in making me who I am today, more than anyone else. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wasn’t abused, if I was loved enough. My aunt understood that in a way no one else ever will, even my best friends. When my mom got remarried and refused to talk about the first ten years of my life, Aunt Elaine always let me talk and cry when I needed to. She was the first person I loved who didn’t expect me to be perfect and hate me when I failed.
Even though none of you knew her, I can promise that most of you would have loved her. She was a wonderful, incredible, classy woman who taught me how to be the best of what I am now.
I’ll probably be away from the Board for the next few days, but thanks to everyone who e-mailed me and gave my a shoulder to cry on. I appreciate it more than you can possibly know, and I’m so happy to know that I have friends like you here.