Auntics

October 5th, 2020

“Aunt, I heard you’re planning on getting a haircut tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Can I ask you not to go?” I asked. “Hair salons have a high transmission risk and grandma is in a high-risk group.”

“OK,” she said with a wave of her hand. “OK. That’s fine.” She turned away. Her clipped words meant it was clearly not OK.

“I can take you to the salon the day you leave, if that works,” I suggested with my first alternative.

“I’m leaving early in the morning.”

“How about the night before?” My second alternative.

“Well, I’d still have to come back here wouldn’t I.”

“Well,” I said, “thank you for not going. I appreciate it.” I wonder how genuine my smile looked.

***

“Isn’t he a hypocrite? Why won’t he let me go to the hair salon while he goes out and visits his friends?”

I learned of this criticism later, a couple months after she had said it. And yes, I visited one friend. We had both tested negative for covid the same week (my test was on October 7th). As for why? Because I live here and manage my risk. My aunt flew in from LA to visit grandma, not to infect us all.

For this first visit in October, Aunt decided to test for covid a few days before departure and came without learning the result. She’s a nurse. For the second visit, she didn’t bother.

November 26th, 2020 (Thanksgiving)

I was driving the four of us to my uncle’s house. I was conflicted about going, but don’t know how many more holidays we’ll all have together, so I kept quiet. It was 5PM and I had just gotten off CA-17 when I heard Aunt’s phone ring. “Where are you guys?” I heard through her phone.

“Sorry we’re late, we’re almost there,” Aunt replied.

After she hung up, I asked her, “What time were we supposed to be there?”

“4:30.”

My mother looked at her. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I did say it, but no one was listening.”

Neither my mother nor I had heard anything about the time. But when it was 4:30, when we were all still at home, Aunt was asking for a hair dryer and comb so she could brush grandma’s hair.

November 29th, 2020

After dinner, grandma was coloring, Aunt was watching something on her iPad, and I took the chance to head upstairs and use the bathroom. From beyond the closed door, I heard grandma mumble something.

“…I want to take a bath.”

Aunt responded with something I didn’t catch. A few moments later, grandma spoke louder.

“[Aunt’s name] I want to bathe!”

“Why are you yelling?!” Aunt asked.

“I want to bathe!”

Aunt remained silent as I opened the door. A few seconds later, I heard Aunt say, “Fine, push yourself. Push for me. Can you push yourself? Show me how far can you go,” she mocked, goading her on.

Halfway down the stairs, before I had seen anything, I said, “Please do not bully grandma.”

When I turned the corner, Aunt was still on the floor staring at her iPad. When I saw grandma, one side of the wheelchair was pushed away from the table. It seemed grandma had pushed herself away from the table but only managed one side because the other wheel had a brake on.

I walked over and asked, “Grandma, do you want to go wash up and brush your teeth?”

“I want to go wash,” she said.

“OK, we’ll take you to wash.” Or I’ll take you to wash, because I didn’t know if Aunt was going to do it. As I stared at Aunt, she got up and started fussing over grandma and getting her ready to go. I sat by and played piano.

There’s some information missing — I didn’t hear what caused the fight. Aunt might’ve disliked the fact grandma used the phrase “take a bath” instead of “wash up.” Or it might’ve been, as grandma has said on other nights before, “[Mom’s name] I want to take a bath.”

December 3rd, 2020

At first, I thought Aunt had loosened her miserly grip when she paid me back so quickly for groceries.

***

When my mother returned from her trip and checked grandma’s things, it turns out Aunt paid with money she took from grandma’s wallet.

December 7th, 2020

On this evening aunt cooked, and though grandma had been mostly eating the stuff I made (sweet potato and chicken casserole, beef stroganoff, or paninis), I understand what it means to feed someone. Aunt had made a dish of chicken, celery, and tofu — a traditional Chinese sauté. She also made bitter vegetable (in Chinese), called sow thistle in English. They ate alone, though I saw my aunt’s peculiar habit of testing if food is too hot is by tasting it, and then feeding grandma with that same spoon. I wanted to ask her to stop, but already canceled her salon appointment and didn’t want to make further waves. Life is give and take.

After dinner, Aunt asked grandma, “Was the food good?”

“Not good,” she responded.

“Do you mean not good? Or good?” That was a tricky way to ask, as grandma in her dementia normally responds with the last thing she heard.

“Not good,” she said again.

“Why do you want to purposely hurt my feelings?” Aunt continued. “Was it good or not good?”

“Not good.”

I walked by and was puzzled since grandma didn’t normally say that. “She said it wasn’t good?” I asked.

“Ahaha, grandma has trouble distinguishing between good and bad,” Aunt said.

Uh huh. That laugh — she only laughed like that when she was caught. My aunt’s response was all I needed to know about her.

As a result, the next day I cooked and made a panini for grandma, served with some pickles I had made a few weeks ago. I don’t know if this was on purpose, but unprompted, grandma said, “This is good.” A few bites later, “the pickles make it especially good.” Aunt said nothing, just remained sitting next to her, unmasked.

Grandma still has bite.

December 9th, 2020

Throughout this visit, Aunt has treated us like my mother and I are ghosts, like we don’t exist and only she and grandma are here in this house. Fine. I’m taking Aunt to the airport tomorrow, since mother just got back yesterday. The nurse comes for her routine visit and asks my mother about pain grandma had while going to the bathroom. Did she have a UTI? Mom had heard nothing about it, and nor had I. Aunt kept it all to herself.

So once the nurse left, Mom got angry. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

Aunt was pedaling on the exercise bike. “Why are you using that tone with me?! She got better.”

“That doesn’t matter. Why didn’t you tell me? She could’ve had an infection for the past week!” Voices were rising in pitch and volume. I looked at the clock and saw the minute change from 3:16 to 3:17PM.

Aunt responded, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening to this!” She stuffed her earbuds in deeper and kept pedaling.

Mother continued, “You cannot stay here and take care of her if you don’t update us with her health!”

“I’ll stay here and NOT take care of her!” she retorted, which I thought was a strange thing to say. She stomped upstairs. My mother and I closed the door to discuss what was happening. Aunt is in the other room, and we hear her sobbing and calling my uncle, saying that she’s being “bullied and chased out of a house they don’t even own.” The tears are out in full force. And then she calls my father, whom I haven’t spoken to in years, and says, “I will not be attending your daughter’s wedding.”

We hear some more stomping, then finally, we see the motion-sensing cameras at the front door go off. We watch as Aunt rushes out, dragging her luggage in one hand and clutching some bags in the other. The door slams shut and she literally runs away.

I follow in her wake and reach the front door, then turn the deadbolt and put the chain on. I breathe out my relief in the longest sigh, pent up for some days now.

***

Did I mention she was an anti-masker? “If the governor can attend a dinner without wearing a mask, why do I have to wear one?” She also wants to “move to Texas to escape the Democrats.”

Did I mention she was Christian? The judgmental kind. Colonized with the promise of shitting on others.

But the fact she involved my sister? Yeah, that was it for me. I have to remind myself that this may be understandable if my aunt were 10, but this is not normal behavior for a 57-year-old woman. But her age doesn’t matter from this day forward. She’s dead to me.

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Jon Lang

Jon Lang

A steak pun is a rare medium well-done