I didn’t talk to her on our birthday this year, but I left her a goofy rendition of the Happy Birthday song on her answering machine; a tradition resulting from sharing the same birthday. Just over a week later, I got the call.
She was the cool one. The boisterous one who commanded attention, not because she wanted it, but because she was so outgoing everyone paid attention. She never showed her anger or raised her voice, though there were many times she could have; she was a lot like Granny that way. She could put me in my place and it never hurt because I knew she was right and it came from her heart. She was an amazing force in my life; a larger than life presence. No matter what was going on and how shitty life was, she could always make me laugh. Always.
She was never afraid of looking like a fool. At least in my mind she wasn’t. She would mirror anyone. I found a picture of her on the ground with my brother, pretending to suck her thumb as he sucked his while watching TV. She and my dad traded gag gifts for Christmas. They were the biggest laughs of the day.
She gave me my first teddy bear – Teddy. I took him with me everywhere and I cried if anyone tried to take him, even if it was just to wash him. I dressed him in my old dresses and didn’t care that I identified Teddy as a male. Even teddy bears can be queer or gender fluid.
We shared a love of Barry Manilow, France, wine, ballet, art & impressionist painters, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and guacamole and tortilla chips. We were both Girl Scouts and we both spent time in Job’s Daughters. Helping clean out her condo two weeks ago was a reminder of all the things we had in common other than our birthday.
I saw Stars Wars for the first time when it came out on beta and drove a ’72 Corvette Stingray around her condo complex thanks to her friends. My first experience with losing someone I knew to an inoperable brain tumor was at a young age; the same friend of hers who started my lifelong love affair with Star Wars.
Once my parents moved us to Southern California, she took me with her to her classroom (she was a high school English teacher) and let me borrow a plastic tub full of books more than once. You know, those plastic tubs that were popular in schools way back when. I filled one up until I couldn’t fit anymore in without any falling out. I helped her grade homework. Yep, a kid still in elementary school grading high school homework. I was far from perfect in English, but even Auntie Boogie recognized that I was miles ahead of her own students. As I got older, I traded books with her and Granny. I picked up my love of Margaret Truman from them.
There were yearly trips to Rodeo Drive with her and Granny. We packed a picnic lunch and ate nearby before wandering up and down Rodeo and Beverly, checking out our favorite stores: Cartier, Chanel, David Orgell, Geary’s, Gucci, Hérmes, Jessica McClintock, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., Valentino, Versace, Williams-Sonoma. The stationery store (closed years ago) was always the last stop so I could buy something I could afford. To end the day, we ate dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes we took a slice of cheesecake back for Papa.
She took me to ballets and museums, along with Granny. I saw The Nutcracker for the first time and watched the Joffrey Ballet with them. We went to the La Brea Tar Pits a lot when I was younger. She took me to Disneyland more times than I can count and we created more inside jokes than I can share during those trips.
We lounged by her pool and she watched while I swam. She made sun tea and I thought it was the best thing in the world. She had an “OH SHIT” sign hanging in her apartment and I loved it. Teddy would play with Cuddles, a stuffed doll of hers, when I visited. I loved playing her 8-track tapes (back in the day) – TV was never central in her home.
I spent a week with her one summer in high school to help her clean her condo. After a long day of scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom downstairs, including getting on my hands and knees to do the floors, the hot water heater busted overnight. We woke up to a disaster, then the garage door broke when she hit the button to open it. We both wanted to cry, but we were too exhausted and in crisis mode trying to clean up the new mess.
She listened to me vent about my English 101 instructor then gave me advice on how to do the re-write I didn’t want to do. He asked for a written self-portrait and my layer of purposeful vagueness was lost on him. She simply told me to give him what he wanted even if it went against what I was trying to do with the piece. I did as she suggested and wound up with an A. Go figure.
I wanted her opinion on Family Ties. Then, the part of me that wanted to make her proud and the part that wanted perfection held back, waiting for a finished product to give her. She’ll never hold in her hands, but I choose to believe she’s with Granny and Papa, watching me and proud of me for finally getting out of my own way to focus on writing. Chasing my dream, which is all she wanted for me, my siblings, and cousins.
To say it’s unfair that she left us so unexpectedly is an understatement. She’s gone; her absence rending the biggest hole in my heart to date.