Life’s not fair, yeah, I know and thanks for the reminder

I just got a phone call from my third aunt – Aunt Lili is in intensive care at the moment and they don’t think she’s going to make it. According to them, she’s barely hanging on with kidney and liver failures in additional to other things that happen when your liver and kidney give up on you and she’s only alive because of extensive tubing and machines.

Everything feels very far away at the moment – I saw her earlier this month and we (and ten other people) went out to a fancy dinner together. She looked beautiful and healthy and vibrant and now, less than a month later, I’m hearing that might have been the last chance I had to talk to her.

Regrets. I know that I’ve said that I try not to do anything to cause regret, whether through action or inaction, but now I’m realizing just what it truly means to always treat every moment as the last you could have with someone and I regret. I don’t so much regret that I didn’t talk to her more, but I am sorry, so sorry that I didn’t tell her when I saw her last how much I appreciated how good she was to me.

Aunt Lili isn’t actually related to me by blood. In fact, her beginnings aren’t the most auspicious if one really gets down to it. She worked for and with my grandfather, but I’m pretty sure their relationship was never purely professional. Both because they shared an apartment at one point and because my grandfather told me to call her “yi-ma”.

To put things into perspective, we call grandmothers “a-ma” and back in the day, you called concubines “xeh-yi”. So that “yi-ma” was some sort of portmanteau of “yi” as in both aunt and inferring concubine status and “ma” to infer that she was equal in status to my grandmother.

But I didn’t know any of that then. All I knew was that my yi-ma was a beautiful, patient, and lovely woman who always had patience to listen to me talk and who seemed to truly love me for who I was. For more perspective, my own mother parked me in front of a tape recorder at least once and told me to talk to it because she needed me out of her hair. I was a very, very talkative little girl. There’s at least four hours of tapes that survived the ten moves between then and eighteen. Implying there probably was a lot more at some point.

I didn’t see her much after that couple of years when I was young. In part because my family was still living predominantly in the US and I’m guessing in part because her position in my grandfather’s life changed. By the time we moved to Taiwan when I was about 8 or 9, she and my grandfather no longer lived in Taiwan and the last time I saw her was some years before that.

I only met her again this summer. She took a string of garnets from her wrist and pressed them on me. It says something of how she treated me as a child that my mother didn’t object when she saw them on me. Usually it’s not done to accept random gifts from people, but my mother only sighed slightly and said, “she was always very fond of you”.

The prognosis isn’t good. My third aunt and my cousin are flying to China tomorrow to see her and my aunt told me that it would probably be the last.

If that’s true, then she’s going to be the third death in my life where I question why someone so wonderful has to be taken away from us when people like my grandfather are still kicking around ruining people’s lives.

The first was my ex’s grandfather. I met him only once, but I fell in love a bit with him when he patted me on the cheek and said in gentle tones of rueful sympathy, “you’re a fragile hothouse flower, aren’t you?”.  I have no recollection of the conversation before and after, but I do remember that moment.

I would have wanted to slap anyone else who said such a thing, but he said it in such an inimitable way that I somehow felt cherished and invited to join in an in-joke rather than derided.

I am a hothouse flower. It’s unfortunate, but true, and he’s perhaps the only person in my life, including myself, who’s ever said that in such a way that I felt that he truly felt sympathetic without judgement.

When he died, I told my ex that I was sorry that mine didn’t die instead of his. For those of you gasping in horror, I refuse to burn in hell for that statement. My grandfather is a miserable old man who delights in delusions that he’s some sort of emperor and like all terrible emperors before him, his hobby is tearing lives and families apart. Especially his own family. As emperors tend to do.

Then there was Akhil. It hurts to think of Akhil; he left this world far sooner than anyone expected, dying of cancer before he even saw thirty.

And now Aunt Lili is lying in an hospital bed somewhere, living off tubes, and part of me is so viciously mad.

She’s near sixty and she’d been working her ass off because my grandfather asked it of her. Getting up at 6am in the morning and falling into bed at 3am and doing it seven days a week. Working herself to the bone while fielding hate from my relatives because they’re afraid that she might be trying to get some of what’s “theirs” and dealing with an irascible old man who is never satisfied, never willing to believe the best out of anyone, and who is about as constant as a roulette wheel.

I ache for her and for what made her feel like this was something she had to do. If I were her age and I were well off, there’s no way I would have stepped into that nest of vipers for anything. There’s a certain extent to which loyalty will carry me, and as far as I’m concerned the old man doesn’t come close to deserving that level of devotion even from a dog, much less a human being.

But my fury will do nothing and if I must send her off, I’d rather it be with beautiful thoughts. Thoughts worthy of this lovely and warm woman.

Aunt Lili:

I love you. Thank you for your presence in my life. Thank you for the love you showed me. Thank you for loving me as I am, for appreciating the girl I was even when I was so outside the box for what a “proper” little Chinese girl should have been. Thank you for all your kind words to me and your faith in me.

I wish you the best. I pray that you will pull through, that we can look at each other some day and smile over this scare. I hope that I will be able to see you again and tell you how very much you brought to my life.

I wish you strength and I wish you peace, Aunt Lili, and I will always hold you in my heart.

 

 

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