When I was 9, I learned that the only way to play a good hand of cards was to have a cigarrette in one hand and a beer close by.
I learned this all from my aunt BG, whom I spent a few summers with as a little girl. She's my Mom's oldest sister and she even has some kids that are older than my Mom. She's the first party animal I ever met. I used to think it was funny to watch her turn on the music loud and shout in the streets that she wanted to party. I thought it was fine that she didn't start her day until after 2 o'clock or that she sent me down the street often to buy her packs of Salem cigarettes.
The best part of my day was when she had a deck of cards in her hand. It was then that she taught me to play all the different forms of gin rummy and eventually pinochle. When she got tired of me always asking her for a game, she taught me solitare. She had a large book and movie collection that spanned the ages. After spending a few weeks with her, I read Hamlet and watched "The Graduate" "Jason and the Argonauts" and "Fatal Attraction" (they covered my eyes on the sex scenes, but I was able to see enough.)
It was years before I realized Aunt BG had a problem. She was always a tiny woman, but she got skinnier and skinnier. Mom wouldn't let me spend time with her anymore and my aunt distanced herself from family get togethers, stumbling into a heavy drug addiction. She was on the streets for several years and the last time I saw her was when I was 17.
We got word recently that Aunt BG had surfaced and she was in the hospital for kidney failure, among other ailments. So myself and a bunch of my relatives drove to my hometown to visit her in the hospital yesterday. I am not exaggerating when I say she looked horrible. She weighed 85 pounds and I could see the bones jutting out from her hospital gown. The whole top row of her teeth were gone and she was bald -- apparently, her hair had gotten so matted that she decided to shave it all off. There was a white film over her lips and her left jaw was swollen. It was frightening.
I already hate hospitals, so this was not an ideal situation for me to be in. It got worse when one of my relatives pointed me out to her and she wanted to hug me. I was too upset and disgusted to go anywhere near her, but I hugged her anyway. I stood wedged in between her hospital bed in the wall while everyone surrounded her and try to talk about old times. Aunt BG was still her same feisty self -- she didn't shed a single tear. She even swore a few times and jumped out of the bed often. At one point, I was trying to help her get situated in the bed when she half jokingly asked for a beer.
I'd say the worst part of the evening was when I realized that I was standing in the worst possible position in that hospital room. I was fine for some small talk and trying to persuade her to eat, but other than that I tried to make myself invisible. And I succeeded, up until the time Aunt BG asked me to hand her the bedpan, which was apparently to my right. I did as I was told and I had a clear view of her trying to wedge her miniature behind into the bedpan.
The doctors aren't really giving us any straight answers on her prognosis and auntie has made it clear that she doesn't want to be hospitalized much longer. I hope there is a solution somewhere out there for her. I hate for what I saw this weekend to be my last image of my aunt.
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