81: Auntie Cathy

81: Auntie Cathy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Auntie Cathy

Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.

~Emily Kimbrough

Growing up, I thought the world was as safe and sound as it was in the sitcoms I watched. Then, as hopscotch and Barbies gave way to trainer bras and braces, followed by a dash of sassy attitude, our family went in another direction. My parents saw this change in me and tightened their rules.

I lived in a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do household and I was not allowed to show any negative emotion. Back then, keeping my emotions in check was becoming less and less controllable as the end of my twelfth year neared.

I was just coming off a weekend grounding for (are you ready for this heinous defiant act of preteen behavior?) stomping my foot at my father. He refused to let me go to a friend’s coed party, and I instinctively stomped. So while I was stuck in my room, everyone else was not only having fun, but was sure to tell me all about it when the weekend was over.

By Monday morning anger and frustration still had a grip on me. I wanted to stomp my foot again! I wanted to give him a real piece of my mind. I wanted nothing to do with that mean tyrant. I wanted freedom. My dad was driving me to school that morning and was criticizing my new hairdo. It was none of his business (although many years later I would come to realize he had a point). When I purposely slammed the car door I knew I was risking another grounding, but it felt worth it.

About twenty minutes later, I was standing in the multi-purpose room in my P.E. clothes after fainting. I was sent to the nurse’s office and soon was told that no one could come get me because there had been a death in the family. I’m mortified to say that the feisty, naïve, preteen girl I was stupidly and flippantly answered, “Well, I hope it was my father.”

Many hours later when our neighbor came to the nurse’s office, my heart pounded in panic. Why would Vivian be picking me up?

“Marilyn honey, I’m so sad to have to tell you this, but your dad died this morning.” She was crying. “He had a heart attack. He died instantly.” As best as I could tell, I had fainted in P.E. at the exact time my father had his heart attack.

I stared at her... past her. No tears. No way. Tears meant it was true. No way could this be real.

I thought I heard Vivian tell me that it was all right to cry. But who could hear anything over the screaming in my head?

She took me home and I made my way through all the sobbing people to my bedroom. I sat on the bed and stared at nothing. I stared at an empty future. I stared at the earthquake that had just changed my world forever.

Did I do this? Hadn’t I wished him dead?

I couldn’t breathe.

My Auntie Cathy walked in. She sat down next to me and put a soft arm around my shoulders. I continued to stare.

“Honey, I know this is devastating, but I promise you will get through this horrible loss.”

“No, I won’t.”

“I promise.”

She could promise nothing. She said the words that adults say to children when something bad happens and no one can do anything about it except sprinkle their pity with a little false hope. I wanted her to leave my room so I could begin my punishment.

We sat in silence for a long time and then she wept. “Your dad and I were in a fight. I never got to make it right.”

Tears were washing her face and making little pools in the creases of her neck. I put an arm on her quivering shoulder. She was so upset.

“It’s not your fault,” I comforted.

It was my fault, I thought.

“No one knew this was going to happen, Auntie Cathy. Who knows, maybe tomorrow you would have fixed it.”

Who knows, maybe tomorrow I would have fixed it, I thought.

“You’re pretty smart for a twelve-year-old, you know?” She blew into her already saturated hanky and sighed a long one. “You are so right, little one. People don’t have heart attacks because of arguments. They have them because their heart — the organ, not the soul — is defective. If his heart had gone out next week I might have already called him and made up. I was thinking about doing that. I love... loved... no, love... my brother, and he knew it. The fight was so stupid.” With that she began to cry again.

You want to talk about a stupid fight? How about fighting about my hair? That was really stupid, I thought to myself.

Hot tears finally began to come. We cried forever. We cried and laughed and cried again. We did this for days. And slowly — sometimes with years in between — we began to heal.

I hated myself for slamming that car door. I will always regret it. But that devastating day could have been so much worse for me growing up if hadn’t been for my aunt’s own guilt. In trying to make her feel better I was unable to ignore the logic of my own advice.

~Marilyn Kentz

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