I parked my car by the blue line. The yellow line meant no parking, so I knew better to keep away. I was looking forward to seeing Aunt Marsala for the first time in forever. Before jumping out of the car, I double-checked that all the windows were up. Beep Beep. I locked the car. Aunt Marsala’s neighborhood looked dilapidated as ever. She had been a victim of life circumstances for far too long.
Once at the top of her doorsteps, I rang the bell and waited outside. Fiddling with my keys, rocking back and forth on my heels, moving my head from side to side in a watchful way… I couldn’t trust neighbors I never met. Besides, it was 95 degrees outside. Why am I wearing a long sleeve shirt precisely today? While I was reviewing my fashion choice, a tall bulky man opened up.
“Oh, hey!” I said. We made eye contact for roughly three seconds as he stuck his head out, as if to see who it was, but then his pupils wandered somewhere else in the distance.
“Um, hi,” he said in the coldest way. The only reason that I knew he was talking to me was because I was the only person standing before him. His voice couldn’t sound more apathetic. The man was my cousin Tito.
“Uh, is aunt Marsala home?”
“She’s somewhere inside.” he said, moving to his right side to let me inside. I walked in and went straight to the kitchen.
Not that I ever had a close familial relationship with Tito, but I remembered better times. Now, my presence annoyed him. Perhaps if I had stayed at the same illiterate level as him he would’ve shown me more attention, like he did to all my other cousins. But I guess I was too “refined” for his taste now. I brushed it off. After that awkward encounter, I couldn’t wait to see Aunt Marsala. I knew she would be glad to see me, unlike some people. I haven’t seen her in months!
Aunt Marsala always had some strange qualities to her that I could never figure out, but she was still more welcoming than other members in the family — and she always invited me to stay for lunch or dinner.
I sat at the kitchen table. Inches from me, was Tito, lying across the tan sofa watching TV. Thankfully, there was someone else in the room to make the air less tense, which moment didn’t last long, anyway, as Aunt Marsala appeared through the backdoor. She was holding a bucket and some scissors. Perhaps she was gardening. She looked strong and healthy, not bad for a 68-year-old.
“Amanda!” she said. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and then hugged me with much affection. “How have you been?” I used to visit her frequently in my teen years. As a grownup, I now have too much to do. I also moved out of town, which made visiting harder.
After giving aunt Marsala a big hug, she held me at arm’s length and studied me with palpable curiosity. My ear-to-ear genuine smile anticipated a joke from my favorite aunt, followed by endearing words. Instead, “Oh my god, your face looks like a balloon, you’ve gained weight, right?” she said. “Don’t let yourself go now!”
I could feel a burning sensation rushing from each side of my nose up to my tear duct. I looked away and blinked swiftly to stop myself before my eyes turned red. I was already battling insecurity issues, it was the last thing I needed to hear. It couldn’t have occurred to her that, maybe, the meds had caused my moon face. She knew I was ill.
Though shaky, my smile didn’t break, at least not on the outside. I stood there with no immediate response to her usual indiscretion, thinking of a hundred other things she could’ve said. I imagined she had a lot of better things to say. After all, she hadn’t seen me in two years.
Finally, I thought of something. “I have to go. I was just driving by and stopped to say hello.” She seemed surprised, but without further explanation I kissed her good-bye, and I left.
I could’ve sat down with her, laughing at the silliest things, like the old times. But that would’ve meant sitting through a potential hour of negative remarks because, when I revisited the memories I was holding on to, I realized that this was typical of her. She rarely ever had anything nice to say. I’d romanticized our past.
She was good to me, in her own ways; gratitude, that’s why I kept in touch. Memories of good times we used to spend and hopes that they could be repeated. Quite frankly, it was not the blood. It couldn’t be the blood anymore. We had grown old.