On Fading Away

auntavilla2 For my Aunt Avilla.

This is the sixth summer I've spent without you around. It's weird. Sometimes, it doesn't seem like that long at all. Other times, it feels like it's been ages and ages.

I want you to know that I think about you a lot.

I think about your laugh and how you'd laugh until your face turned red and tears squeezed out of your eyes.

I think about you when I'm eating spaghetti. I think about the way you showed me how to spin the noodles with a fork and spoon. Made me feel like I was in Italy.

I think about you when I see green turf carpet and remember the hours I'd spend on the floor of your porch watching cable TV, letting the rough turf leave red imprints on my skin.

I think about you when I'm cutting my hair because you were my first and only hair stylist for so many years. You called me a duck because my hair would repel water. I'd fall asleep under the care of your hands, and you'd finish the haircut while my head sank into my chest.

I think about you anytime I see "The Price Is Right" or commercials for soap operas--your shows. I even learned how to play the theme song of "The Young and the Restless" on the piano for you. I could never keep track of which lady that guy with the mustache was in love with from one episode to the next.

I think about you because here and there, I accidentally call my pug Perry by your old pug's name, Remo. I wish you could meet Perry--you'd love him to death.

I think about you when I walk through someone else's cigarette smoke. The bittersweet smell reminds me of you and Uncle Bill, your smoke-filled living room, the endless cigarettes, the time they stole from you.

I think about you when I see someone on a walker and how I hated that we had to get you one. That you had to slow down.

I think about you when I pull into the driveway at my parents' house and don't see you looking for me out of your window. I miss how you'd always wait up for me, stand in the doorway and wave at me. You gave me, an only child whose parents were often at work, something to smile about when I came home.

I've thought about you a lot this past year. This hard, painful, never-ending year.

You know what's funny? At one point this past spring, I was hanging on to the end of my rope, and everyone at work was doing the same--deaths of parents and grandparents, parents with cancer diagnoses, deaths of children. We were ground down from all of that and the erosion of a long, stressful school year. In the midst of it all, as I grasped for something, anything to stay afloat, I had an overwhelming desire for chocolate cake. The kind you used to make for me--chocolate on the inside, and chocolate icing on top. The only kind I like.

So I made some. I couldn't figure out how to get the freaking icing on without ripping up the cake. I got it eventually. Whatever.

When I brought the cake into work for my coworkers, it did two things for me. The first was a big "F you" to all the junk life had thrown our way--as if to say, "Yeah, I'm gonna eat this delicious chocolate cake--go ahead and try to ruin that." It seemed way more important at the time, I promise. The other thing that happened was this--it made me realize how present you are in my life.


After all these years, it's still your chocolate cake that's my favorite. And then I thought about it a bit more. I realized just how much much you've stuck with me. All those Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies you baked me--those soft, amazingly simple cookies--to this day, they're the only cookies I prefer. All those vanilla sundaes with chocolate syrup you crafted for me--and I'll still take plain vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup over any of those newfangled, cockamamy ice cream flavors and flashy toppings all the crazy kids go for.

I know it sounds silly and superficial--but the way you've lingered in my sweet tooth makes me realize that you haven't drifted as far away from me as I thought.

And I need that.

I need to know that because I watched you fade in spirit and body.

I need to know that because I feel like I let you down--I didn't have the courage to deal with the fact that you were fading away, so I put distance between you and me. It was so much easier to be out of town. To be at school. To be away--far, far away and pretend like it wasn't happening, like I wasn't losing you. If I could just close my eyes really tight, maybe when I opened them again, there you would be--healthy, full, smiling, and making me a fresh batch of cookies.

I'm sure that you needed me in those last years. You needed me to pop in, to give you a kiss on the cheek, to hold your hand, to write you letters and call you on Sunday nights like I used to do. I needed you, too, but I didn't want to let myself.

I sometimes feel like I need you now. That's why I'll never grow too old, too healthy, too mature, too wise for cookies, or chocolate cake, or ice cream.

Because I need you from time to time.

And you're here. You haven't faded away.