Tag Archives: Aunt

Brick Bye Brick

My aunt’s boyfriend was neither smart nor kind, but he was tall and with a good amount of hair, all things considered. That was more than enough. That was all that it took for him not only to become a part of our lives, but placed at its very centre by the adults in the family. To this day it disturbs me how small we were; how easily we shuffled or were pushed to the periphery.

Eventually, they married. Then divorced. I don’t know where he is now, but it doesn’t matter.

This story is about what happened before all that. This is about that one time with the brick.

***

He stacked the brick on a set of rough wood planks, and left the setup in the parking lot behind my parent’s store. For about a week, you could find him back there, s-l-o-w-l-y bringing his arm up past his shoulder then s-l-o-w-l-y easing it back down again to touch the brick with the base of his open palm, feet planted wide, knees bent, cheeks puffed out and sucked in by big, exaggerated breaths.

Just like that for days and days. Preparing. Getting ready. “Training.” All this (need I say it? He had absolutely no martial arts training whatsoever), because he was bored and because people had stopped paying attention to him and because Jackie Chan was huge that year.

Rumble in the Bronx? A classic even still.

But Jackie Chan wasn’t all that tall and his hair was only OK. And besides, boyfriend knew that he could do it – break that brick straight in half – because he not only did he believe in himself, he’d never stopped believing in himself, no matter what. He was, in other words, a winner. Number 1!

And wouldn’t you know? Could you guess?

YES. Of course the stupid motherfucker broke his hand, and badly. The brick remained totally unscathed because OF COURSE IT WAS. The second best part? Boyfriend kept his busted-up hand wrapped in dirty bandages for weeks until he finally went to a doctor, who admonished him for waiting so long to get his “work accident” attended to.

The day after he broke his hand, the brick was gone. Gone like it had never been; as if everything surrounding it had never happened. Even the wood planks had been disappeared. No one needed to tell us that under no circumstances were we ever, ever to talk about the brick again or about martial arts or about Jackie Chan (who, in any case, used a stuntman sometimes, the wimp, or didn’t we know that?). No need to embarrass ourselves, talking about something that didn’t happen, right? Also, these bandages are from WORK ACCIDENT.

Sure, asshole. But why couldn’t you just keep them clean?

***

Time makes fools of us all, no matter which direction it comes at you from. Telling you all this now, about the brick, after so many years, makes having lived through it doubly worth it, even if I’d give most anything not to speak of him, as if he’d never been. As if he’d never happened.

Like I said, fools of us all.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Childhood, Education, Family, Movies, THE PAST, Time

Reliable Witless

One of my aunts once tried to sneak up on a peacock at the zoo, in a vain attempt to pluck one of its magnificent tail feathers, a souvenir to remember the day by. We were in the picnic area eating our packed lunch (day-old pork-chops and corn brunt on the cob); the peacocks wandered among us, free-range. Squatting on her haunches creep-creeping along, a wicked smile on her face (or perhaps a wide grimace) she extended her hand, fingers grazing a fringe of iridescent feathers of blue, green and gold. I watched. I could not not watch…

…then I realized that the memory actually occurred to me during a dream, in which I was walking through Chinatown looking for cutlery and came upon a store display with peacocks feathers for sale for a buck a piece. The memory of the zoo was part of the dream and upon waking and right now as I’m typing, I cannot say whether the memory in the dream was a real-world memory, or a dream of one. I don’t remember. I can’t distinguish.

I could ask my aunt, but if she lied I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I don’t know if she’d have any reason to lie, especially about something as seemingly harmless as this (of course, for this to be true, we’d have to set aside the peacock’s POV because I don’t imagine it would consent to such mistreatment), but confirm or deny the matter nevertheless remains, crucially, beyond me.

A memory in a dream, or a dream of a memory. It happened, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Dreams, Family, Food, Places

Car Trouble

1. Ontario is a province of periodic ice storms. Big ones, nasty ones, ones that come in big and powerful and loud and whose consequences linger for days on end.

Accidents are not meant to happen, but they happen anyway. From the outside looking in, watching the accident as it happens, it can sometimes seem less of an accident and more a twist of fate.

There was a terrible ice storm that hit Toronto years ago – not the one where the mayor called in the army, but one a few ice storms after that. Stephen and I had decided to drive back into the city after visiting my parents about hour or so away. The storm was gentle at first, just but a touch – a whisper really – of inclement weather that seemed innocent enough, weak enough, fleeting enough.

But then. Well.

But then it was too late.

Slowly, imperceptibly and then all at fucking once, the highway became slick with snow and ice; the highway was a waterslide, a slough of cold, wet malice. We inched along, pumping the brakes as we skidded here & there, to & fro, as side became front became side became back & front again, as we lost track of the lanes, as we lost all sense of direction and any semblance of hope.

All around us, cars, vans and trucks crashing into each other, skidding at wicked angles down wrong lanes, striking the median with their bumpers and hoods, plunging into ditches.

And yet somehow we made it. Whole, without one scratch, through the melee traffic. Not one scratch, despite the calamity, the sheer inevitably of it for everyone else, anyone else at all but us.

 

2. The bird darted out of the woods and smacked into the grill of the car so hard and so suddenly that it took a full moment to register what had happened, even as the windshield was showered by a burst of blue, white and black feathers. There was also some blood, but not as much as you might think. Just flecks. Nothing outwardly incriminating.

My field director was driving and all he could say at first was, “Huh.”

Pulling the car over to the side of the road allowed us to fully realize what had happened. It’s almost worse than I can tell: the bird had melded with the grill of the car. It was as if one had become the other. They had become inseparable, the car and, of all things, a Blue Jay. Rare enough to see one of those these days.

It could have hit any car, but it hit ours. It could have hit any car, so it hit ours.

Feathers of blue, white and black against chrome. Any car, really, there were so many out on the road that day. Or maybe even none at all. If only.

What kind of a luck is that? What events or factors or circumstances, like the planets above, had to align for that poor bird to so inelegantly thwack against a random/not so random car.

So many things.

Too many things to count, that are, finally, worth counting.

 

3. We had never had a flat tire before that flat tire, and never had one since (so far). It was summer and the drive was fine – smooth, uneventful – and then we started kind of thumping, tottering, hobbling Not exactly a pleasant sensation. Not one I’d recommend offhand.

We parked precariously on the side of a ditch. A cop stopped to ask us what we were up to (“Nothing going on here, is there folks?”), then piled back into his cruiser and drove away when it was clear the situation wasn’t any more nefarious than the changing of a flat tire. He honked, waved goodbye (“You got this.).

Neither of us had ever changed a tire before. It took us a long, long time but we managed to switch out the tire for its spare. Elated yet defeated (the plan had been to visit Stephen’s sister but we had spent too long changing the tire and it was too late), we got back on the road and turned off the next exit, homebound.

Days later my aunt told me she and my other aunt, their spouses and my cousins had passed us on the highway while we were stranded, in the ditch, attempting to change that tire.

“You looked like you needed help,” laughed her husband. They didn’t feel like stopping, it turns out, because then they would have had to take the exit and backtrack. No one wanted that. Who would want that?

Strange how a moment can bring you together or rip you apart. Funny how coincidence works itself out.

Years later, he lost all the money he and my aunt had, and they, in turn, lost their cars and their house and were forced to sell most of their things, including all their precious koi from the, frankly, undersized pond that held them.

They separated. A year later, he died.

Huh. Didn’t see that one coming, not by a long shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Death, Family, Nature, Relationships, THE PAST, Transportation

The DENTIST

Do you like going to the dentist?

Does anyone?

***

I never know what to do with my eyes at the dentist. Where to look? Not at the dentist, at least not into their eyes (best to let them concentrate).

Where then? Where is the middle distance in a situation like this?

Where indeed.

Some dentists have flat screens mounted to the wall, complete with streaming services. Pick a movie or show of your choice! Stare there, OK? Tune out!

As if. I have yet to deploy that particular option. There are too many choices and I want to be agreeable, pick something we can all enjoy or at least not hate. Besides, why potentially ruin a good show or movie via association? Tricky business, that.

I’m so glad they got rid of the mirror. You know, the one that used to hover above your face so you could watch yourself, immobilized, while a near stranger dug around your exposed teeth and gums with sharp metal instruments you didn’t even know the name of (even if you wanted to know them).

That was a hard sight to see. Hard to avert the eyes from that.

Out of sight, out of mind?

***

What’s worse is the tongue. What to do with the tongue while the dentist or (more likely) the hygienist in in there poking around with their instruments and fingers and thumbs? The tongue is definitely worse.

To the left? To the right? Up, down, side to side…?

But that’s the thing about tongues.

They are uncouth.

***

My aunt’s dentist sells Botox and other “injectable fillers.” Not such an odd combination of services, once you stop to think about it.

No free samples there, unfortunately. Not even the customary complimentary toothbrush, travel floss and/or sample toothpaste once your appointment is finished. Nothing of that sort. Just simple professionalism, whatever you come in there for.

Habit breeds expectation, after all. Fix your teeth, rejuvenate your face.

Smile pretty!

***

If I were a dentist, or ran a dental office, I would deal in teeth and manicures. My office would be called “Tooth and Nail.”

I imagine I would have to turn a lot of people away who come expecting Botox and other “injectable fillers.” I also imagine that some would come expecting a pub of some sort, but in that case would be covered: I would, naturally, locate the office near a good pub, maybe even next door to one that plays live music on Wednesday nights.

I would do it all for them, the people.

At least then they would know where to go; have a good notion of what to do with themselves, given the options, teeth or no teeth, dentist or no.

Really. It would be the least I could do.

***

Dentists used to be barbers. Or was that the other way around?

But no sense there, you know, in splitting hairs, etc.

 

 

 

 

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Big, Little

The hedge encircling our house was a world onto itself, a network of tunnels and hidden places we scurried and hid in like rabbits. It was a refuge, a hideout, our shared headquarters. It went on and on, right around the house and into forever.

That was years ago. Years and years, the kind you can put into groups of five or ten and count on off. Our house, a squat three bedroom bungalow, was at the bottom of a hill, right at the dead end street behind which the train tracks that ran. Not exactly prime real estate, but then I never minded the trains (freight, never passenger), and missed them after we moved away.

Next door was our neighbour the hunter, and his pack of three walker/beagle hounds. Across the street was the family whose kids we feuded with on and off and whose grandmother had a pug. We also feuded (again, on and off) with the next door neighbour’s kids, three girls (but not one for each dog, as I’d assumed. The dogs were their father’s dogs and his alone).

Later, the next door neighbour acquired a chihuahua, which had puppies after he “accidentally” let it out loose in the neighbourhood with my aunt’s chihuahua. There were three or four of them, I could never keep track.

He named one of the tiny dogs Rambo. He never offered my aunt any of the puppies. As mad as she was about it, she still let her dog roam the neighbourhood untethered after the fact so it’s hard to feel indignant on her behalf.

***

I check in from time to time, on the old house, the old neighbourhood, despite myself.

The hedge has been removed, pulled out from the ground, roots and all, and replaced by a sagging wire fence (maybe it wasn’t always sagging…I have just only ever seen it sagging). The space the fence occupies, once enormous, seems so small now as to have been frankly impossible. Perhaps it shrank? Or maybe it just atrophied in memory.

The bungalow – somehow even squattier now and dingy in spots (the once white brick, the once gleaming windows) where I remember it had been pristine – has been split into two (of all things, lengthwise), and has been remade into a rental property with faded patio furniture in the driveway (at last glance, three off-white plastic chairs and an overturned table).

Other things, too, have changed.

The houses up the street have been bought up by the city and are in various stages of being torn down so that the street can be widened and a new, modernized transit system can be put into place – in this case, a light rail transit system and not, as I’d initially assumed, a monorail. Pity.

Some years ago, our next door neighbour died (in his basement), as did the man across the street (in his sleep), although that one is more recent. A coma and then a recovery and then that singular twist of fate that took him out of the picture.

The dogs, naturally, are all dead too. Rambo included.

My aunt gave away her dog soon after she had children. Be it shame or indifference or something more or light banal or benign, she never mentions him. It is as if he never existed, as if none of it ever happened.

Like none of us were ever there at all.

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Childhood, Death, Dogs, People, THE PAST

Favourite

I have an aunt who would ask me all the time, “Am I your favourite?”

I have a lot of aunts. She wanted, it seems, to stand out distinguished among them.

(Though there are a lot of aunts, they are not interchangeable, but the issue seems to be hers exclusively.)

As time passed, the questioned changed:

“Who’s your favourite?”

And changed again:

“I’m your favourite, right?”

Until, finally:

“Tell them who your favourite is.”

“No,” “Why,” “I don’t know” did not deter her from asking her question, and neither did “Yes.”

“Yes,” as you can see, was what led to further questions until the inevitable “tell them.”

(NOTE: “I don’t have a favourite,” was met with disbelief and scorn, and also the equally predictable demands for a “real” answer. Demands for “the truth.”)

The truth is this: I no longer speak to that aunt. Not anymore than I have to, anyway. Which is to say not a lot. Which is to say not much.

Funny now, looking back on things. Funny the lengths we go through, the trouble and expense, to define something for others on behalf of ourselves.

Among other things, “favourite” means “chosen”, “preferred”, and “cherished.”

No longer speaking to my aunt is my choice, it is my preference and something I have come to cherish.

My favourite.

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Family, Relationships, THE PAST, Words

Social Mediations

 
My aunt recently joined social media and it is slowly becoming the defining feature of what remains our somewhat shaky, tenuous-but-working-on-it relationship. Really.

It’s complicated.

My aunt has always been more of a senior sister to me: still young enough to be relatable, but just older enough as to throw scandalous suspicion on our outings together. You know.

A “cool mom” type.

Lorelei Gilmore.

Ideal.

But.

We drifted apart as I grew older, and she grew still older. The reasons were mostly philosophical in nature but damn real nevertheless.  I fought for them, back in the day.  I really did.

Given the chance, I suppose I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Though way less swears probably would have helped.

It’s a shame.

Anyway…

slowly, slowly, we began to reconnect, memory and emotion dulled and blunted by the passing of time, time, time.

And now she wants to be my “Friend”.

It's free but don't worry: you'll pay anyway.

When “always” also means “why not?”

When we see each other, that’s almost all she ever asks me now: “Why don’t you ‘Friend’ me? Why don’t you ‘Friend’ me?” A simple request that’s simple enough.

And yet I hesitate, my natural inclination being to question motive. To cross-examine expectations. To scrutinize hearts evidently on sleeves.  You’d be surprised.

Still…

Social media is exciting to the newly initiated for as long as it stays that way. When you start, you want the instant gratification that comes with having/pursuing/generating LOTS of it, and the more the merrier etc., etc., etc. That could be about all she’s after. I, then, would be incidental and that kind of works for me.

On the other hand…

Perhaps her request is really just a ploy to gain access to information she can pick and choose from, information that admittedly, yes, OK. I put out there in the first place but I can’t possibly be expected to remember absolutely everything that I say that I do and think when I post can I? Point is. She’ll know some Things, which means I’ll have to assume she knows All the Things, and it won’t really matter that I won’t  or can’t ever really know what she really knows. You know?

Then again…

It may be that she really wants to get to know me and is using what’s available because that’s just where we’re at right now, and given our history, well, that’s progress?  Even though the me she will get to know will be the me that I want to be known or at least hope to be known or at the very least want to be seen as because there’s not much else involved than that right there when it comes right down to it.

So, is that good enough?  And is it a starting point or a finishing line?  A means or an end?

It could be better than nothing.
 

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