We just got back from a week in my hometown in New York. We went for my mother’s funeral, but we spent the week visiting my friends, most notably, my best friend Cathi and her husband Joe. My daughter took to Cathi like she’d found her soul mate. Cathi had a way with Rose and even when she was difficult with Mommy, she was a perfect angel for Aunt Cathi.
We stayed at Aunt Cathi’s house, and when she and Joe went to work, Rose would ask, “Where’s Aunt Cathi? Where’s Uncle Joe?” When they were home, she’d crawl up on the couch and snuggle with Aunt Cathi. And if she wasn’t with us at any given time, she was with Cathi. I love that Rose loved her aunt so much, and vice versa. I kept thinking that I don’t want distance to weaken this relationship. Truth be told, I’ve been thinking for a long time that we need to be closer to Joe and Cathi. But I don’t know how to make it happen.
The simple answer is to move back to New York. But it’s not simple. New York holds good memories, sure, but it also holds a lot of horrors for me. I love the availability of good pizza and bagels and Chinese food and Italian pastries. I love the people there and I’m proud to be a native New Yorker. But there is so much there that I would rather leave behind.
The simplest scene triggers visceral memories. Vibrant fall leaves bring on another school year: intimidation and humiliation in grade school; unrequited obsessive crushes in high school along with lapses in sexual judgment that shame me to this day. Bare branches on the trees hearken the winter: harsh reprimands for turning up the heat; more time under the roof of an angry father. And everywhere I look the bleak background portends my future in this place. It’s the same way I saw it when I was young. The depression I suffered all those years envelops me once again. There is more but I don’t even let myself remember most of it. There is nothing for me here.
I have always sought out new places to live and their inevitable adventures: Tampa, D.C., Seattle. Could be that I’m just adventurous but maybe it’s all been an attempt to wipe out bad memories of home. I don’t know. I just know that no matter how much I want Rose to know her Aunt Cathi, or how much I want to live near my best friend, I cannot go back there. But I have to find a way. Those relationships are just too important.
I’d like to say that I’m brave enough to overcome the memories, but I don’t think that will ever be true. What will most likely happen is that we’ll visit more often, and we’ll fly Aunt Cathi and Uncle Joe out here, the way we do with Rose’s grandmother.
When we got off that plane and rode up I-5 toward home, I felt so much lighter, so relaxed, so unburdened. And I can’t allow myself to live with the memories and the shame, no matter how important the relationship with my best friend. She and I email daily, and if a once a year visit is good enough for Grandma, then once a year has to be good enough for Aunt Cathi too.