The night Aunt Lucy went insane Lisa and I set out at about 7:00 PM with a vat of beef stew in the back seat. I had made the stew the day before and knew at some point we’d get hungry. It made complete sense in our mad rush to leave to just take it with us.
Aunt Lucy was always teetering on the edge of sanity from my very first memory of her. OCD tangled in the rules of religion; she is a tiny waif skittering on the edge of family parties dressed in multiple skirts and shirts. She is my mother’s older sister and someone my mother holds close in her heart. She feels responsible for her. In fact, it is my mother who watches over Lucy as her mind starts to unravel. Lucy had been complaining about heart problems and went to the hospital. In the Emergency room, my mother realized Lucy was loosing her mind. She took her home to see if she could fix her, spare her from being committed. My mother should have been resting as the chemo had taken so much out of her. She is headed for another round in two weeks. These chemo sessions are the last ditch effort to save her life. Yet, the thought of Lucy going insane keeps her from her bed.
That night happened two years ago. The next day we were meeting with the priest in Chinatown. Lucy and my mother would have both lost their minds if they had known our quandary. We didn’t tell them. Lisa and I are the family “fixers”. When there is a problem we are the ones called and the ones who put everything right. I will be the first to admit that Lisa is the brains and I am the muscle. No, I don’t beat anyone up. I drive through storms, in the dead of night; I argue points when needed and basically am good with strategy. Lisa finds the person or places needed. We make a good team.
It takes an hour and a half to drive to Saint James where Lucy lives. That’s enough time to do problem triage with a Blackberry and a plan. I drive and Lisa puts the plan together. She calls doctors, hospitals and relays information back to my mother and Colleen. Colleen works the phone from her home in Connecticut. Lisa also calls the priest and postpones our meeting pushing it back two days. He understands once she tells him our problem. Throughout all of this the smell of beef stew weights the air along with the task at hand.
We arrived at Lucy’s apartment to find my mother looking grey and worn. She is relieved we are there. Aunt Lucy has been talking for two days straight. Her voice has the tone of a feral cat and her eyes pop like an angry bug in a cartoon sketch. She seems shockingly tinier than I remember. Maybe it’s all the missing shirts and skirts.
I immediately want to feed my mother. It’s late and she needs nourishment. I open the container holding the stew and find a congealed ball of glue. That was the moment I learned you should never mix the noodles with the stew until it is time to serve. My mother looks into the container and says, “I see you tried to take a short cut.”
“Yeah, it looks more like a ball of glue. Do you still want to eat it?”
In a whisper she says, “I’m famished. I would eat anything.”
Aunt Lucy was streaming angry words in the living room as I warmed the stew.
“Hey Mom, is it too late to thank you for breeding with Dad? I don’t understand an ounce of what Lucy is going through in there and I suspect it’s Dad’s genes that are the reason. I thought now would be a good time to thank you.”
Her face brightens and she quietly giggles. She is so tired and worn and yet the memory of her breeding speech and me finally thanking her lightens her mood momentarily. I could swear for a second her sallow skin has a hint of pink.
“That was the best gift I could have given you girls.”
Now more than ever, I know she is right.