Often times in our lives, we are faced with ambiguity, leaving us unsure where we stand with someone. Then, sometimes, it takes only a small gesture to displace the ambiguity forever.
Such was the case with my Aunt Mary Carol. She was a relative who was just kind of there for the taking or leaving. She did not impose herself nor was she standoffish. She just was.
I, too, just was. I was an unconventional child who never fit into any social group. Not that I never tried, of course. I just never fit into any conventional box. Because of this, I was under constant criticism, and my self esteem was in the dirt.
Sometimes, a relative or family friend would invite me to spend some time with them, only for me to realize (too late to escape) that they were not interested in actually spending time and getting to know me. It was only an opportunity for them to lecture to me on all the things I was doing "wrong" yet giving me no keys of advice on how to achieve "normalcy." Being a very trusting and lonely person I fell for this dehumanizing trap many many times.
In the summer of 1987, when I was 14, I was visiting relatives at the far end of the state from where I lived. My Aunt Mary Carol lived in the area, and showed up, wanting me to go to her place for the night. At the time, I never had much to do with her. Don't get me wrong, I liked her okay, there were simply some other relatives that I was closer to. I opted to go with her. This could be another trap but I was used to those. I thought those were normal. We got in her car.
One thing about me that seemed to irritate some people was that my music traveled with me. I had my boom box (remember, this was the 80s!) and several cassettes that traveled with me. It was just one of my many "things" that just came with the full package. Quiet drives just didn't happen with me.
I figured that if this was going to be another "I love you but your problem is..." visit, we may as well get that part out of the way as soon as possible. Maybe if the lecture was done first she might want some real time with me afterwards. It was worth a shot. I loaded my weapon, the ammunition being Billy Idol's Whiplash Smile, and slipped the cassette in my boom box. I turned the volume knob up all the way.
The song, Don't Need a Gun, began. It starts out abruptly, yet quietly, with an ominous feeling that steadily grows for about a minute. When suddenly, Billy screams:
"WOP BOP A LU BOP SON, YOU GOTTA MOVE UP FLIP FLOP FLY!!!"
Aunt Mary Carol's eyes went BOING!!!
I laughed and asked her mischievously, "A little loud for you?"
At this point, most people would have started in with something to the effect of, "Actually, I've been wanting to talk to you about your failings..."
Instead, she said simply, "No, I like it."
I did not expect that. Not at all. What she said had a much deeper meaning than the simplicity of her words. She was not just saying that she liked Billy Idol music or liked that it was loud. What she said told me that she liked me. All of me. Even the parts of me that the conventional society does not accept. This was not a lecture trip. Aunt Mary Carol wanted me to be with her just because.
I spent two days with her. We talked, played cards, went for walks. Sometimes we talked, but she seemed to understand that I was not terribly chatty, and she made no attempt to "fix" that so we had quiet times as well. She made no attempt to fix anything about me, except for the places in me that were broken for real, such as the lonely parts that craved acceptance. She accepted me. She loved me. There was no ambiguity in her love.
Towards the end of 2013, cancer ravaged my dear aunt. I stayed with her for the last week and a half of her life. We spent hours talking and not talking. That had been our way for decades. As the illness took parts of her away from me, both in body and in mind, she kept making sure I was there, not leaving her. She loved and accepted me. All of me. She needed all of me with her.
The day before she died, the last bits of who she was were reduced to her speaking a repetitive chant of, "I love you forever. I love you forever. I love you forever..." When she became to weak to chant, she spoke no more in this world.
I miss her. Her love for me was always real. I knew this to be true since 1987, thanks to Billy Idol.