"Lizzy, Aunt Raisa died!"
I stared at her blankly. "What?"
"Aunt Raisa died."
"Are you serious?" I just stared at her.
"Yeah... Aunt Nina just called."
"How?" I was still having trouble grasping what she'd said: Aunt Raisa died. Aunt Raisa died. died. died. died. d i e d .
"I don't know, Mom's talking to Aunt Nina right now," she said. She paused a moment. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." I returned to my sketching. After a moment I put my pencil down and looked out my window. Aunt Raisa died. Aunt Raisa died. Aunt Raisa died.
Somehow the words sounded wrong. I'd never had a relative that was close to me die before. But here's the strange thing: she was no longer close to me. She was a part of a past that felt so foreign, so happy, so... well, was it real? Perhaps it was a part of the innocence of childhood that kept that life so joyful in my mind.
Aunt Raisa died.
The last time I'd had contact with her was the previous year by mistake. I was 15 and we were visiting my Grandmother, but we weren't really in contact with Aunt Raisa at that point. In fact, she wasn't an integral part of our lives since I was 10.
Aunt Raisa was probably my best friend in the whole world up until that point. She was so cool. She was fun, let me do things my Mom wouldn't (i.e.- eat ice cream in the morning, jump on the beds, play outside even when it was dark out-- that was a huge deal because all the kids got to play outside until 9:00 except me and my sister, etc.). And I could tell her anything.
But Aunt Raisa was a drug addict and alcoholic. Apparently it'd been an ongoing problem and then as we kids got older it became progressively worse.
So in '87 my parents had us move away from Queens, NY to Westchester, which was an hour away. At that point my Aunt Nina, Aunt Raisa, and Grandma all lived in Queens. We'd spent every holiday together since I could remember.
1987 was the year that changed everything. We moved, then Aunt Nina and Uncle Kevin moved to Long Island, and Grandma and Aunt Raisa moved to New Jersey not too long after.
After we moved we didn't really see all of our family as often. The car rides were very long. Plus tensions started popping up. But these weren't understood by me until I passed 13.
From the time I turned 14, my Grandmother told me holw much my Aunt Raisa missed me and knew she'd done wrong. But I was a kid, I couldn't do anything. I followed Mom and Dad's rules. We didn't see her and that was that. I never questioned it because I knew she was messed up.
When I was 16 I really found myself thinking about my Aunt more. I wondered what she was doing and if she really did miss me. My Grandmother always told me how much she wished she could see me.
That summer I spent a lot of time baby-sitting for the Mearsheimer's, who I'd referenced in an earlier post. Nancy, the Mom, and I were very close. So I told her about my Aunt and how I was feeling.
"So I don't know, Nancy," I said. "I guess there's a huge part of me that misses her. I don't know if I should reach out to her, but I know my Mom will probably freak."
"Well, a letter couldn't hurt," Nancy reasoned. "I think you should just go for it. She probably really does miss and love you very much."
I decided to write Aunt Raisa a letter. As I crafted it, it mostly spoke of how I was doing in school (I hated it there, had next to no friends), was still drawing, etc. But in the end I said that I missed her, loved her, and hoped she was getting better.
I debated a lot in regards to whether or not I should mail it. I got my Aunt's address out of my Grandmother's address book when she'd last visited us. Finally, one summer morning I decided I was going to do it.
Which brought me to that August 1st, 1993 morning. Aunt Raisa died at 38. I was going to mail her a letter that day. She'd died. Gone. Permanent.
As I sat there on my floor, repeating the words to myself over and over again, tears began to fall. And I started to quietly weep. And talk. To God. To my Aunt. To myself.
I wanted to know why. Then I got angry in addition to being sad. "Why?" I sobbed quietly. "Why? I needed you. And I need you now. You're too young. It's not fair. Why did you do it? I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I could have helped you. I didn't know. I love you. I love you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."
I sat with my knees to my chest, back against the bed. I put my face on my knees and gripped the pale blue carpeting that covered my bedroom floor. Quietly I shook, letting the tears fall, dripping down my legs, some falling to the floor.
Suddenly I heard my desk chair creak. It was the rolling kind and it had just made the pinging sound that occurs when someone shifts in it. But the chair sat empty. I stared at the chair. Silence.
I didn't know what to make of that. But a part of me wanted to believe that she was there and heard what I'd said. Because my biggest fear that was settling in my mind and heart was that she'd died thinking I'd hated her. But I didn't. I loved her so much.
It turned out that Aunt Raisa had died of a blood clot in her leg. She had apparently been a mess because of the shit she'd put her body through.
38 years old. It wasn't right.
I look back on everything and sometimes really resent my Aunt for having died. How selfish could a person be? I needed her. And I think back on all the horrible stuff I'd been through when I'd come out to my parents. I know Aunt Raisa would have totally helped me through it all. She'd have been my advocate. She was my Godmother and it was a big deal. She used to tell me all the time that she loved me more than anyone.
She used to chase me, tickle me, and say, "you're such a little scutch...! Come here, scutch!" And she always bought me art supplies. Everytime I saw her I'd end up with items like big rolls of paper, finger paints, markers, crayons, etc. She knew what I liked.
And she always bought me candy, hee hee. Gum, Nerds, Runts, Hearts, Blow Pops, Big League Chew, Bubble Tape, Gummy Worms... all the cool kinds. I was often the envy of all the kids in the school yard. I used to show up chewing a wad of bubble gum bigger than my mouth.
Best of all, she understood me better than anyone else. She always knew I was different. I still have a card from her that she wrote me when I was 9. It told me that I put too much pressure on myself. That I'm human. That I need to be myself. And I'm allowed to make mistakes.
I still look at that card to this day. And it does a lot to me each time I view it: fills me with strength, a sense of support, and a huge sense of loss and sadness.
So 8 years ago yesterday I experienced the greatest loss ever. But in actuality I'd lost her 14 years ago, the funeral was just 6 years too late. As was the realization of what I'd lost.
And my innocense.
I learned what death truly was that year. It changed me forever.