My Aunt Doesn’t Care in Four Different Languages
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1. So I was thinking today about that cup of black coffee you left sitting in the fridge because you said you can’t—no matter what—throw away good things. Even if they are of no use to you anymore. You gave me old clothes from your closet, each piece costing over fifty dollars, still with their tags. I think you are going through a meltdown and you think you’re just spring cleaning. We agree, with the wave of a hand, to not talk about this. Sometimes I wear your off-shoulder sweater and pretend I’m you, if that means I’m less me, because you’ve got the kind of confidence none of the other women in our family have. Fifty-five and now again single, you go shopping in the gaps of time you used to call me from the car saying, “Your uncle now has a fad for Home Depot and he’s been in there for two hours.” I wear your sweaters, which are baggy on me, and hope the world will want me a little more.
2. In public, people stare at us together: a middle-aged woman and a twenty-two-year-old. We laugh unrestrained, yelling, “Ya Allah Ya Allah!” as we catch our breaths. I realize now they are probably afraid of us, speaking in a language so unbelonging to an Ohio suburb. You never care how others see you. You open up to the world fearlessly like a child. “I don’t give two pooping shits what people think,” you say, always repeating words for enough emphasis. This is how you use English, since one word is never fierce enough for you. When Uncle divorces you, you curse him out in Arabic, then in Spanish, and then in French. I watch you, with wide eyes, as you tell him over the phone that he is a butt asshole.
3. Womanhood is a flimsy thing, thin as dog ears. One day I’m driving, music high, in a tight new top, singing so hard that other drivers turn and smile in my direction. The other day I’m sobbing, unsure how I got between my hangers in the back of the closet. Then I remember. I was looking for the watch you passed down to me, which I stupidly lost somewhere in the arms of my closet. I miss the feeling of it in my hands, the cold silver that blinks back at me. I don’t know why I’m crying over losing it, because I haven’t lost you and that’s more important. Maybe I’m crying because I’m shocked things can be lost so easily, when they’re handed over with care.
4. No feeling is final, wrote Rilke. You hang this quote above your bathroom sink on an index card, in your handwriting.
5. One evening we joke about your boobs. Compare them to watermelons. “I’m juicy,” you tease. You love being a woman. You love beauty. You look out from your balcony at the view and comment, “Life is so beautiful, in small moments between the mess.” It’s been two weeks since the official declaration of the divorce. Your son, my cousin, will die in a year. But we don’t know that just yet, how loss will continue to come for you. Sometimes, mid-conversation, you stop and close your eyes, as if an aching has arrived and you are waiting for it to pass. I want to ask if closing your eyes works. I close my eyes hoping to shut the pain out, but that is when it mercilessly opens.
6. No feeling is final, wrote Rilke, but he didn’t know you. How your feelings will always be there, taking on different shapes. I’ve seen several shades of grieving from you, all reflected on your face—Grey: when you were shocked he left you. Red: when you decided to work so hard you laughed for hours out of exhaustion. Creme: when you decided that memory is like an object on the menu. You can choose what to forget. Decide if you want the ketchup in the memory or on the side. If you loved the person sitting across from you, or if you didn’t.
7. On a Saturday night, you take me out for a drive. I try to come up with excuses for my sad face, and then decide to just tell the truth. “I feel very alone,” I say. I feel very silly saying this; how the endings of my little romantic relationships are nothing compared to the weight of your divorce. But you take my words seriously: “I understand, habibti. It all just takes practice, carrying it all.”
8. And then, later, you decide to add with sass: “Besides, men are just hemeer. Like my husband. I’m better off adopting a hamster.” We laugh until we choke on our spit.
9. At an outlet mall, I look up to find my ex window shopping, examining a suit. He has his usual face, unimpressed. I immediately wish you were here with me, to tell me what to do. How every part of me wants to take him into my arms as if he never left, but I know better. I know the wanting is not a wanting for a person, but for anything that will suppress the wanting itself. He looks up and catches me looking. I don’t turn away. We wave to each other. A million conversations run through my mind, but I am late to pick you up for a doctor’s appointment. The wanting, like all things, will soon die out. I dig for my keys and go.
10. We sit in the balcony of your apartment, open to the main road. There is a lovely garden in the center, with a sign commemorating a child named Sam. You made me tea the way I like it; mixed with warm frothy milk and honey. Reminiscent of hot days in Cairo when I visited you there. You are moving back soon, perhaps to revisit your single life or scout a new one. Quietly, we count the balconies of other people, each apartment holding so many lives. “How many lives do you think are in there?” I ask quietly, counting each balcony with my finger. “One,” you answer. “It will always be one.”