Moments like this feel as if someone had dropped a brick on your head. There’s this dull impact, that instant of being stopped in your tracks, you’re perplexed and in a daze. It just doesn’t feel all real. It sounds like a cruel joke. You hear the words, yet can’t make sense of them at first. The voice on the other end of the line keeps cracking down in tears and your mind balks at their meaning, while you’re frantically trying to access the registers of your memory to find the right words to say. “How can I help? Let me know, if you need anything.”
The phone call lasted only a few minutes. You get up, walk around, look outside. The irony. A spring that seemed intent on never coming is now finally making it to our parts. There’s the typical white clouds and blue skies, which are the colors of the state’s flag and which her natural citizens are so proud of. The beautiful weather suddenly turns into a mockery of the message received.
“She died about two or three hours ago. There was nothing they could do for her. The aneurysma had flooded her brain and stopped the breathing. They resuscitated her for more than 25 minutes, but she would never start to breathe on her own again.” Images of tubes and wires and medical staff dressed in white penetrate my imagination. “We’re about to leave her and go over to her flat to look for further instructions as to how to proceed according to her will”, the tearful voice stammers on the other end.
I had meant to go see her on one of the coming days. While I had talked with her on the phone many times, the ugly truth is, though, that it took me mustering all courage to go see her, fearful of what I might be confronted with. I guess, my subconscious knew this could come any day now and wanted to hang on to images of her in better days. Days like this summer break from school at around age 16. She had landed a summer job for me with her employer, so I’d get to taste an environment that was all different from the small city life I was used to. I must say that the annual summer break was always a most welcome change of pace in itsself. I seemed to become a different person altogether on the very first day after school was out. And this time, I’d have all kinds of new adventures and experiences, I’d get to try myself on a real job in the big city, getting familiar with bus stops and the street car directory, the ticket system, in short: I’d get to experience and adjust to a routine most adults lived by day in, day out. I’d become a little bit like one of them!
After I had unpacked and settled in to her comfortably furnished flat in a large appartment building, we’d sit on the balcony, had a beer together and talked until sunset. This would become our almost daily routine after coming home from work: We’d sit outside, order food in or enjoy what we had picked up from the store on the way home, we enjoyed our meal and a beer or two and had conversations that sometimes went until after dawn. I was under the impression that she enjoyed these hours almost as much as I did. I think, she said so at one point.
I would often grab the bike then and go for a little ride to the nearby airport, place myself at the top of the runway and watch the planes come in and touch down.
On the job, I was free to pick whatever department I felt like exploring. I’d usually start in the bakery in the mornings and enjoyed the smell of fresh baked loafs of bread, French croissants and a piping hot cup of espresso the supervisor lady would sneak in for us. After a little second breakfast it was all hustle and bustle until noon with patrons flocking to our little counter. I would then grab lunch at the cafeteria and usually walk over to the park for a little walk and rest. Afternoons usually started at the pastries counter and after another hour or two there I’d assign myself to other tasks, whatever was needed. We’d meet for closing hour and then took the bus and street car back home, which would take anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on traffic. Then dinner and our personal beer buzz, my bike ride and heading downtown on weekends. I had a first taste of feeling free and I loved every minute of it! In retrospect, I think this summer very much lives up to a formative episode in my life, of which there are just so many. This was definitely one of them.
I owe it to my late aunt to have lended me a hand in growing up to be a man. By landing me this summer job and letting me stay with her away from parental scrutiny, she bestowed a gift on me I will treasure forever. While I’m deeply saddened over her passing, I’m glad on her behalf that she got to return to her own appartment for another little while after gruelling months of intensive and later rehabilitative care. She had so looked forward to being in her little flat again and kept her spirits up by being resolved on tending to her small patch of garden downstairs. Except for the very last few days, she was at peace and happy again. I would like to think that she completed her journey in these spirits.
Rest in peace, Aunt Carol. And – thank you.