Copyright is held by the author.
MY MEMORY’S not what it used to be. The doctor says I might have early onset dementia, but I remember the night my Aunt Janine stormed into the house all livid — that’s the word Mom used — and collapsed on the couch next to Rex, our Labradoodle. Her face was as red as the clay in our yard. Mom nodded at me, a signal I knew meant it was time to go upstairs.
Instead, I went into the dining room far enough so they couldn’t see me and sat on the floor with my back to the wall. I could tell by her voice that Aunt Janine was really upset. Every time she said Uncle Bill’s name, her voice elevated to a higher pitch. She talked and sobbed at the same time, which made it hard to understand what she was saying. That was okay, because a few words, especially those that surrounded Uncle Bill’s name, weren’t suitable for a 10-year-old’s ears.
She told Mom how whenever she and Uncle Bill argued, which was a lot, Uncle Bill would rant and rave about being under appreciated, and then he’d storm out of the house saying he was going to see his friend James. Aunt Janine followed him tonight and saw Uncle Bill standing in front of an apartment building kissing someone who definitely was not a James, unless James was a cross dresser with long, black hair, wearing a short dress that showed off a pair of athletic calves. Aunt Janine stopped talking and cried so hard she choked.
After a long silence, she said she didn’t have any other family nearby and asked if she could spend the night. “I don’t know what else to do.” Then in a softer voice, she said, “You won’t even know I’m here.” I edged along the wall and saw Mom get up and bring her sister-in-law a glass of water, then hold Aunt Janine in her arms and rock her like she did me when I had a fever.
My mother said, “Of course, you can stay.” Neither of them spoke after that, so I went to my bedroom and played with my Power Rangers until Mom hollered it was time to go to bed.
Now, 40 years later, I’m sitting alone in my own home, on my own sofa, rubbing my Schnauzer Gus’ belly with my right hand, and holding an empty Miller Lite in the left. I don’t need to find a place to stay, not like Aunt Janine. My Karen and her ‘James’ ran off someplace. Her note didn’t say where. I suspect Las Vegas. She’s always wanted to go there.
I never understood what was going on in Aunt Janine’s head that night long ago. I do now. And it sucks. Marriage is supposed to be forever. I keep making mental lists of what went wrong, what I did to make her leave. None of them make any sense to me. Maybe that’s the real problem.
I’ve been fighting off the tears and the sobs and the angry words for three Millers. It’s not a manly thing to do, but I wonder if it might help. Aunt Janine seemed better the next morning.
Gus looks up at me and burps, as if to tell me to get on with it. I pet his stomach. He rolls on his back to give me better access. “Oh, what the hell, boy. It’s only me and you.”