My brother and I dropped over to visit my Aunt and Uncle to wish them Merry Christmas. Janice has always been a pill, but she was nearly killed during a car accident back in college and underwent her first hip replacement before she turned 30. Dennis is Dennis, stable, cheerful, supportive, in love with sports, fine wine and technology.
Both are well past 70 now, and their condo is evidence of decades spent working abroad. The place could double as an art museum, every item unique and exquisite, right down to the mechanical hummingbird, a wind-up toy that sounds and moves like the real thing.
Janice drags us into her room. We're about to watch some video, old 8mm film converted to VHS. We're about to see ourselves as we were long, long ago. I see myself as a toddler, operating on the principle of preservation of momentum. Someone must be moving. If my great-grandfather sits then i must run. I watch his long gone form chasing after me again. There's my mother in a dress, 20 years and exquisitely beautiful. Mom, it seems, was a babe. As was Janice. My Dad as a very young man. I watch them play charades and a friend of Denny's swilling beer on a pleasant New Year's Eve.
Finally i see my Aunt Jean. She died in 1986, and rarely appears in these pictures. She took most of them. She bought the movie camera and projector. I remember how many times we stared into the brilliant lights so she could film some important moment of our lives.
These films don't show much of Jean. She was the quiet one, the plain one, the one who spent her last years caring for her Alzheimer's stricken mother. When we went to clean out their home she had stacks upon stacks of Harlequin romances in the guest room. I had no idea they had published so many.
Jean never married. It's not that she was unattractive, but she came of age back in the fifties. Back then female brains didn't matter much and Jean had major brains. She became a secretary because back then nice young girls didn't become physicists. Guys didn't want women who were smarter than they were, they didn't want quiet responsible girls so much as they wanted pretty girls who baked a mean meatloaf. Well Jean could make a mean meatloaf-- she made a few for me when I was growing up, but she was never a party girl. She was a geek before the word existed. My brother and I served as her surrogate children. We used to spend every Saturday night with her until puberty hit and suddenly kind middle aged aunts became a lot less interesting than our peers, particularly the now curvy girls.
Jean was relentlessly good. While she never, ever mentioned it, I think the mountain of romances she read stood as testament to the one part of her life that never, ever found fulfillment. She would have made a fine wife, particularly for a man who enjoys a woman fully capable of matching him. She'd have raised wonderful children. But this very good woman never found love.
This world is not a fair place. We sometimes hope that things will even out, that sooner or later the scales will balance. The words "You'll find someone" roll so easily off the tongue. But there are no guarantees. Breast cancer claimed Aunt Jean. She died quietly in her sleep, having spent her entire life taking care of everyone else, and hardly ever herself. If only someone could have been there to take care of her.