To break up the week in New Jersey, I visited my Aunt Helen in Brick Township. She lives in Greenbriar, a tidy retirement community with its entrance on Burnt Tavern Road, Exit 91 off the Garden State Parkway. The closest shore point is Point Pleasant.
Auntie is 81 and is actually the sister of my mother's mother. Aunt Helen raised my mother for a couple of years in Kansas while my mother's parents were busy trying to kill each other. Thus, Aunt Helen is more of a grandmother figure in our family than merely a Great Aunt.
Aunt Helen just returned from the hospital. She has succumbed to cancer in her abdomen after a few years of a livable disease detente. I arrived at her house before she did as she was with her daughter, Michelle, over at the state housing complex making sure all the papers were in order for Michelle’s disabled-friendly apartment. A few minutes before they returned home, a Hospice truck arrived and hauled out oxygen machines and showed me, in the entryway of the portico over by the stone statue of the blessed mother, how to operate the hulking things. I wrote it all down. When Aunt Helen and Michelle arrived, they were both upset by these machines so we moved them to a corner of a bedroom where they would not be in the way. "Why is hospice moving so quickly? I'm not dying tomorrow!" I helped bring in the groceries from the trunk of the car. Apparently, there was a sale on Barilla pasta. Aunt Helen is a very practical woman and I have always felt very close to her. She is my Godmother and has also given me her ceramic rabbit collection.
Aunt Helen truly will not die tomorrow. Though she is a bit green-gray, the fact is, she has sported this hue for quite some time and she still manages to eat pizza, to talk a little dirty and to attend her daily church services. She’s a good story teller and often has eye twinkles. She told me she had a dream that she was visiting her friend Dorothy, who is deceased, and in the dream Dorothy lived in a big house on top of a mountain range. She was visiting Dorothy in this house and decided, after having visited for a while, to come down the stairs which ended on the top of a mountain. She looked down and picked up a curved object made out of stone and the center of it was dug out like a canoe. And when she looked into the depression of this little stone canoe, there was the face of Jesus. "I think this is a good omen," she told me.
I did not press for further meaning. I have read that people often dream of traveling at the end of their lives. Also, I am not a huge fan of Jesus visitations, but my Aunt loves the guy and so I couldn't possibly have a conversation with her about this. We changed the subject and talked about my sexuality. We talked about the obituary she received about her old antiques business partner, Kitty, who tried to kill her mother by giving her too many pills and letting her lay on the floor without calling an ambulance and how Aunt Helen came over and made her call. “She was a witch,” she said. Michelle sang the refrain, “A witch.” Sitting at the kitchen table with the plastic coated tablecloth, we ate very tasty Jersey pizza. Honestly, the best I've had in years. And after that, Aunt Helen had to go to bed because she was so tired.
I stayed a while longer. I installed a new toilet paper dispenser, brackets first, then the two side pieces screwed onto the brackets. I helped Michelle work the messaging options on her cell phone. Michelle is a lovely and distressed woman who has had a very rough life. In 1969, she lived with us in Spring Valley, New York for a few months, went to the famous Woodstock concert, blew her mind on drugs, fell off the back of a truck and returned to our house days later, strung out and covered
with mud. Since then, she's often repeated that performance in some form, with or without Creedence Clearwater Revival. Michelle really works at being sober. She walks with a cane. Her warmth is the size of Trenton. She does not shut up.
I got back on the Garden State Parkway, drove up to Exit 163, took Route 17 North to Mahwah to my brother's house and I sat in the new great room and watched a Val Kilmer movie with my brother, Greg and his wife, Deb, on HBO, followed by Fox News. I then drove across Bergen County back to my sister's house and went down to the basement and I gave my mother the two OxyContin pills that Michelle gave me to give to her for the pain in her legs.