I was nine years old. I was walking down the street with my mother; I cannot remember where we were going but I remember she asked me, “If anything ever happened to me who would you want to live with?” Without one thought, I replied, “I would live with Aunt Tricia but she doesn’t like kids.” All my mother said was, “Oh okay”, and we didn’t talk about it again. Looking back on that moment now, I remember saying what I said only to give my mother an answer. I did not think she was asking me because she was sick! If I had known she was asking me because she was dying, I never would have said you lol. We (the cousins) thought you were the mean aunt. You did not have any children so your house was not fun; plus I couldn’t touch anything. Your house was the house that everyone went to eat at holidays because you always cooked so much food. But it seemed like all you did was yell at us, “Stop jumping on my bed!” “Get off of that!” “Sit down!” I really believed you didn’t like any of us. Even when my mother and I would come to your house to visit, you would sit and talk, leaving me out; in fact, when you did talk to me it seemed like you were always messing with me. (At least that’s how I felt.) Although I saw you regularly I was not close to you at all… Certainly not close enough to want to live with you. Saying I would live with you literally just rolled right off my tongue without a thought. If I had known my mother was asking me for a reason I would have named somebody in the family with CHILDREN (lol). But, I never thought about it again. However, my mother did think about it. A lot. She began planning.
She died the next year and I had to come live with you. You didn’t know this, but I cried to my sister to let me come live with her. Even once I moved in, I used to cry to her every night to come get me. She would always tell me, “It’s going to be okay. You will get used to her.” I remember her telling me, “Aunt Tricia is the fun aunt. That’s the one you want to live with.” I could not see how. I remember crying every night for two reasons…. because I missed my Mommy and because I did not want to live with you. You let me sleep with you ONE time, the first night. I was so used to sleeping with my Mommy all the time, sometimes even on top of her so this sleeping alone thing was new to me.
I remember thinking you were so mean. You barely let me outside. I could barely talk on the phone. I was miserable. And missing my Mommy. I wanted to be held but I could not bring myself to hug you, or lay my head on your shoulder. Or play with your arms while I sucked my thumb; I wanted to so bad because your fatty arms looked so much like my mother’s. But I could not bring myself to touch you because I thought you wouldn’t let me. I thought you would have pushed me off of you.
I later realized that you felt the same way. You wanted to hold me. You wanted me to lay on you. You wanted to love on me too. You were craving the same affection I was, maybe more than I was. But you could not bring yourself to it because you too thought that you would be rejected. You thought that I would reject you because you were not my mother.
So we clashed.. because we loved each other so much but our own pride kept us from giving one another what we both needed.
I remember the first time that I realized that I loved you. We went to the movies with one of your friends and her daughter. We wanted to see something different from what you wanted to see so we decided you would go see a movie by yourself and the 3 of us would go to the other theater. I remember watching you go down the escalator and in that moment, I felt bad. I felt that because I was going to see something different I was abandoning you. Although I actually wasn’t abandoning you, it was the same feeling I used to have for my mother anytime I did not want to do something with her. I was about 12 years old; and I remember realizing, “I love her”.
Living with you got better over the years, although I began to rebel and do my own thing because you were so strict. I felt since you weren’t letting me do anything I’ll have my fun during school hours. Hmph! That didn’t last too long! When you sent me to live with my father I remember crying to you for days to let me come back home. That was when I realized how good I had it at your house. You did not give me everything I wanted, but you provided everything I needed. I did not have the clothes I wanted but I was clothed. I was well taken care of and did not want for anything. But I’m glad that you sent me away now that I look back; I was beginning to get out of control and your health had just began to decline. Once I got older, I realized that I was not making it any easier for you.
I ended up moving back in after high school and I remember being surprised that you were not strict anymore. I could come and go as I please as long as I did not wake you. I did not know this “cool side of you” but I LIKED it (lol). Freedom. That was until…… I became pregnant.
The most hurtful experience was when you made me leave when I became pregnant. You told me I was not bringing a baby into your house and that I needed to get myself together. During those nine months I felt more alone than I ever had, even more than when my mother had died. I was pregnant, alone, and had nowhere to go. Throughout my pregnancy all I wanted was to come back home. All I wanted was for you to talk to me…. which you did eventually a couple weeks before I had the baby. It was Thanksgiving and I was just so happy to be eating your cooking again and being “home”. I remember you came to see her as soon as I got home from the hospital. And you fell deeply in love with her from the first time you saw her. She was your baby, even though you couldn’t get her name right for the first couple months (lol).
Looking back, I am beyond blessed for the tough love you showed me because it forced me to be strong and independent. Had you let me stay put with my baby, I would have gotten comfortable and never got out on my own. I was forced to go to a youth shelter for a few months. From there I went to transitional living where I was able to save for an apartment, buy a car, and become an independent adult. As hard and painful as it was, I thank God for the experience because it was in that hard time that I learned perserverance.
Over the years, we got closer….. Talking on the phone every single day, most of the time about nothing. We started talking about everything, even men (lol). Bringing Kyelia to see you and get on your nerves became the norm. You eventually explained why you had been so hard on me. You were afraid that I would continue the cycle that plagued the family for so many years. So you had to push me. I had not realized how much you loved me until then.
As your health began to decline, my fear began to increase. The fear that eventually I would lose you too. I would often think about it and cry at the thought because I knew there would come a time that my Aunt Tricia would no longer be here. I started to accept it more when I had to watch how much suffering you endured… not just the physical suffering, but the suffering of your dignity. I remember the look on your face when you had to be cleaned up and cared for like you were a baby. You hated the fact that you could no longer do for yourself more than you hated your physical ailments. And I felt for so bad for you. I hated to see you go through so much but I was not ready to let you go. I know it was selfish of me but I still needed you. Kyelia still needed you.
I will never forget the day that it all became so clear that it was time for you to leave us. When I arrived at the hospital, I was not too worried because we had done this many times before. You would go, stay for a few days and then they would let you go. This time was different. The doctor pulled me into the room and told me that I needed to have all family members come to the hospital if they wanted to see you one last time. That was when I knew.
The next day when everyone was there together is when we decided we would let you go. You had said many times before if it ever came to this you did not want to be on a life-support machine. As hard as it was to sign the papers to let you go, it would have been even harder trying to hold onto you knowing it wasn’t what you wanted. We all gathered around your bedside and I laid on top of your stomach so that I could feel you breathing one last time. I cried hysterically for you calling your name, knowing this was my last hug. When the nurse said, “Sorry Ms. Case,” as she was removing the tubing, I realized it was too much for me. I couldn’t be in that room while you took your last breath. I couldn’t bear it. I went to the lobby while everyone else remained in the room with you.
I was sitting in the lobby crying shaking my head, mad at myself, and thinking about how I punked out once again. I immediately regretted leaving out the room. The same way I punked out when I was ten years old…. when my mother was on that same machine and reaching out to grab my hand. But I wouldn’t go to her because of fear. And I wasn’t in the room with you when you took your last breath….. because of fear. The same way I did not hug and kiss you… because of fear. There are a lot of things that I wish I could take back…. but I cannot. Most of all, I regret not staying with you when you said, “Just stay for a few more minutes.” I said, “But I gotta go to work Aunt Tricia.” And I left. Lord knows I wish I knew! I wish I knew that was our last conversation. I wish I knew you would be brain dead the next morning. I wish I knew I would be letting you go in two days. I wish I knew I would be burying you a week later…… I would have stayed longer……. I would have hugged you tighter……. I would have loved you harder.
You always told me, “Yall gonna miss me when I’m gone.” You have no idea, Aunt Tricia. I still want to pick up the phone. I still want to call you for advice. I still just want my Aunt Tricia sometimes. I do not sit around and dwell on it anymore. I accepted it a long time ago that you are gone; I had no choice. It’s a part of life. But I cannot deny that a part of me died with you. I thank God every day for putting me in your care. I can’t even think of you without thanking God for you. I am also very thankful to God for using me as a vessel to minister to you. I am so thankful that you accepted Him before leaving this earth and professed with your heart and tongue. And for that, I have hope that I will see you again. Until then, I will miss you Aunt Tricia.