My aunt and I never got along.
I'd like to say it was because she was a drug-addict--because she burned through what was left of my mom's savings the moment she got her hands on it, using it to live the brief, spurious high life. I'd like to say that I was wholly justified in my hate.
But that's not entirely true. Yes, in some ways, she had acted like a terrible person. But the primary reason I think I hated her was because she wasn't my mother.
I've always hated hospitals, too. This one was no different--a place full of sterile, clean rooms. A place where human drama played out in precise, measured increments--doctors with clipboards arriving on schedule to dole out the news, good and bad.
My aunt was wired up to a bed. She was in bad shape--someone had done a serious number on her. Her face was swollen and bruised--one of her arms was in a splint, and it looked like they had to bandage her up in several spots along her chest and legs. When our eyes met, I could tell she had been crying.
Suddenly, I wanted to find who had done this and hurt them. Hurt them bad.
Once again, that scared me a little.
"Sue," she said, her voice a hoarse croak. "Listen--"
"Just relax," I told her, sitting down on the chair besides her. "Don't try to talk too much, okay?"
"The mortgage," she said.
"I'll take care of it."
"Under the sink," she told me, then she licked her dry, broken lips. "Bucket of bleach. Money there."
"Use it. For the mortgage," she told me.
I stared at my aunt for a little while. The fact that she had been hiding money from me--that didn't surprise me. The fact that she was now telling me where it was, and telling me to use it for the mortgage? That did surprise me.
"I'm sorry, Sue."
Okay, that one surprised me a lot.
It occurred to me suddenly: Ever since my mother had died, we'd both been alone. My aunt and I never connected. We'd always been at each other's throats--and the circles she moved through weren't the sort that fostered love and friendship.
Someone had given her a hell of a beating, and it didn't take a neuro-rocket physicist with a degree in smartology to figure out the who or the why. She owed someone money. Probably a lot.
She was scared. But most of all, she was alone.
I touched her hand and leaned over her face. "Hey," I told her. "It's okay. Just relax. Worry about getting better."
"I don't know if we can afford this. I don't have insurance," she said.
"We can afford it," I told her, lying. "Everything will be fine."
It's a funny feeling to realize that you are needed. Before that moment, I felt I had every right to hate her; I felt entitled to that hate. There were at least fifty thousand dollars worth of reasons to keep holding on to it.
But in an instant, all of them evaporated.
"I love you," I told her, and then I hugged her.
She started to cry. I kissed her on the cheek and told her I'd be back later.