This is a sad story that ends with me peeing in my pants.
My mother’s twin sister died. If you have twins in your family you know what that means. It means part of my mother died. And half of my childhood.
My mother and aunt are/were insanely beautiful creatures. As legend would have it there was a good twin and a bad twin. I secretly loved the bad twin too.
There was the time she took me for my allergy shot and let me hold the steering wheel for the entire ride, and the time I felt sick in the car and she put her hand on the cold windshield and then put her cold hand on my forehead to make me feel better. All the times she went shopping with my mother and me, trying to buy me things that would make me beautiful like them. I would stand there in the dressing room, with my hair a mess, legs splayed in baggy tights, seeing their reflections behind me, cheering me on.
My aunt had movie star hair, she wore red lipstick, and she walked with the kind of femininity that you don’t often see on real people. Her cheekbones were so prominent I remember her touching them. When she smiled, it felt like something was happening in the room. Her nails were polished on her death bed. And even though she was dying, when she lifted the covers and one of her long, thin legs peeked out, it was like opening the door and seeing Cher.
She was also the rule breaker, the one who overspent, who put herself first, and the one who was most likely to burst out laughing if someone had a coughing attack.
She was the one who toughened me up.
“You let a stranger make you cry? Oh honey, never let a stranger make you cry.”
I used to fake sick to stay home with my mother and my aunt. I imitated the way they talked, the way they walked, the way they sipped their coffee, and the way they looked in the mirror. Their twinness will always be the focal point of my life, my sister’s life and both of my cousins’ lives. The twins were pathologically close. Mentally conjoined like a twisted, gnarly vine. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. My sister and my cousins and I know we are their slightly less identical shoots. Whatever we are, we are still rooted in sameness. Our mothers.
I’m not sure my mother even realizes what just happened to her.
At my aunt’s funeral service, we sat in a circle. Most of the family was there and a strange woman was sitting in the room with us. She was there to officiate the service. There was something judgmental about her expression, although none of us had ever met her. I wondered if I should have worn black or some kind of a religious hat. What were we doing wrong? I wondered. Maybe she wasn’t used to seeing a family that sat so close to one another and looked so much alike. We were practically in a huddle. Whatever it was, I sensed her disapproval.
We were so stunned by the idea of a non-family member sitting in our circle, we were all overly polite to her. My mother offered her a tissue.
“She’s not crying, mom,” I said.
I imagined my aunt sitting there, making faces behind the woman’s back.
“Who invited her?” my aunt would have joked. “This is ourfuneral.”
We sat there in that cold room whispering to one another. Some of us were crying. Some of us were numb. And there sat the stranger.
“I would like to start the service now,” she said.
There was a dark silence.
We all looked at her, and then at each other. We were holding it together, but we knew whatever she was about to say would bring us to the breaking point. She was about to make it perfectly clear that my aunt was gone forever. That we would never see her again. I’m not one to turn to poetry because I never understand it, but I kept looking at my mother and hearing a jumble of words . .
“I carry your heart with me. . .breath of my breath. . eyes of her eyes. . .”
How would my mother’s heart beat without her sister’s? Whose air would she breathe?
And then, as God is my witness, the woman started belting out a tune.
It was a religious tune and I can tell you that no one in my family knows anything about religion other than that we are all afraid of God. Were we supposed to sing along? No one knew.
I looked over at my cousin whose eyes were bulging out of his head at the sound of this woman’s unbelievably loud voice that came out of nowhere. The only thing worse than the fact that she was singing so loudly in such a small room was that she was trying to sound good. She was using all sorts of vibrato techniques, changing her pitch, and going so low at one point, I thought she was going to fall off her chair.
I tried not to look at my cousin again, but I knew he was about to laugh, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Everyone’s shoulders were bouncing up and down as we stole glances at one another. Baseball hats were covering faces.
The more she sang, the more I told myself the same thing I always tell myself in situations where one shouldn’t laugh at people who are just doing their jobs, like: teachers, doctors, performers, small children, anyone wearing a bow tie. I once laughed out loud at a bride.
“You don’t have to laugh,” I said to myself.
“Just don’t do it.”
“Choose not to laugh.”
“Show your family you can handle a funeral service without acting like a five-year-old.”
“Think of something sad.”
“Your freaking aunt, who you loved like a mother, just died!”
“Try to cry!”
And then I spit laughed and peed in my pants at the singing woman. At my aunt’s funeral. In front of my entire family.
As I flew out of the room, I felt my aunt’s cold hand grab mine.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” she whispered, and together we laughed at the stranger for the last time.