My sister emailed me some rather upsetting news today. Apparently my great aunt, who is 93, blacked out in her living room and took a spill. Her fall landed her in the hospital for four days where she heard her carotid arteries are blocked. This was not a surprise really, for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard her talk of the blockage. The last time I saw her in person, they were 80% blocked. I’m not sure what it’s at now, as we aren’t on speaking terms and I’m sure my cousin, who gave my grandmother the news, who passed it on to my mother, who gave it to my sister to tell me, never thought to ask. My great aunt isn’t speaking to very many people in the family.
Until I moved to Florida, I was among the few people she actually liked. I’m sure she spoke badly about me behind my back as she did every other person she shares a kinship with, but since I actually visited her, and always cooked, cleaned and “yes ma’amed” her, I think I gave her little fodder. That is, no doubt, why she invited us to move to Florida to live rent free in her apartment building. In exchange for not having to make out monthly checks, we would serve as property managers and fix the place up. The building, which houses five one bedroom apartments, is located right next to the oldest inn in America. In fact, people would often show up on our doorstep, thinking we were the inn. Once a couple actually walked into my apartment and seemed offended when I told them they needed to walk a few more steps. They never even apologized.
I have fond memories of the home from my childhood. It was beautiful. The grape arbor in the backyard always had grapes ready to be plucked off and popped into my mouth. There was a darling bench to sit on near the flowers at the end of the little path that led to the back gate. The other apartments weren’t rented then. My aunt and uncle kept them for company, so it was fun to hang out in the back hallway and climb under the half door that led to the kitchen. By the time we moved in though, the backyard resembled a jungle, the grape arbor was splintered and overgrown, and there were palmetto bugs (read HUGE flying cockroaches) everywhere. All the other apartments had not only been rented, but the downstairs, which was always meant to be one residence, had been turned into two with only a thin stained glass door between them. It was not only possible to hear our neighbor’s TV, but to see some of the objects in her miniscule living room/kitchen.
To make matters worse, my great aunt who I’d always gotten along with turned out to be impossible to live near. The first week we lived in the apartment, we pissed her off. My husband started it by reaching for the door handle and putting his hand through the glass door. My aunt appeared to be very concerned which seemed normal until I realized her concern was for who would pay for the replacement glass. We did. Our next mistake was asking to have a phone in the apartment. There were a few jacks in the house but we soon learned they were actually all connected to our neighbor’s phone. Since the downstairs was originally a single unit, only three lines were put into the building. When we explained that we needed a phone, my aunt could not understand, since when she had lived there, she’d had a working phone. After days of going back and forth, we got our phone and a hefty bill of $110 for the privilege of talking to the outside world. We also found out that first week that the air conditioner was broken (in the middle of June), the sink was completely backed up, and almost all of the windows either didn’t open or had no screens, so we were stuck in a hot apartment with a horrible odor emanating from the kitchen. She couldn’t understand why the sink, which she hadn’t used in twenty years, was backed up. She insisted I pour baking soda down it. When the Roto-Rooter guy told her that would actually gunk up the pipes, she waved her hand at him, telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. She did that to professionals a lot.
Over the next few months my aunt got mad at me for buying a car without asking her first. It didn’t matter that I got it from the dealership she uses, or that it was the exact same make and model as hers, just a few years younger, or that I picked it because she’d be able to ride in it comfortably. I didn’t ask first, so she was mad. I angered her further by getting my hair cut without telling her. I’m not sure if it was the actual length that offended or the fact I didn’t first query her to find out who gives her her monthly perms before I did the deed. I nearly brought down the entirety of her wrath because I wouldn’t quitting teaching, the profession I spent over $20,000 of my own money to get licensed for and had been doing happily for nearly 7 years to go into real estate so I wouldn’t have to grade as many papers and could spend more time cleaning up her house for her. When I told her I couldn’t come over the exact time she wanted me to due to a teacher’s meeting, she threw a fit and actually threw the fact that I didn’t change professions to suit her in my face as one of my personal failings.
What finally sealed my fate in the hurricane state was not any of this though. It was day I gave her a heart attack. Never mind the fact that she was 91 years old or had already had a previous heart attack. My stubborn refusal to quit my job and wait on her hand and foot was the reason her heart started palpitating. She started telling anyone who came within five feet of her room this story the night we sat in the ER with her for three and a half hours. Over the course of the next four days, she stuck strongly to her story, even when her family doctor and cardiologist insisted it was her previous heart condition and her blocked arteries that landed her between the starched white sheets. She looked them both straight in the eye and told them they were wrong. After all, she’d never had a heart attack before, no matter what either of them, or her records said. My ungrateful attitude was the cause of her suffering and no one was going to argue with her. When her doctor made the mistake of telling her she couldn’t take some of her vitamin supplements because they would react with her needed medications, she fired her on the spot, after five years of being under her care, and replaced her with the son of her vitamin sales woman. My aunt, is not a woman to be reasoned with.
This is where my problem lies. A part of me wants to send my aunt a card, telling her how sorry I am that she is not feeling well. I know she mistreated me and misrepresented her expectations to me, but she’s old and while I never want to be close to her or even really involved in her life again, I also don’t want her to be sick and hurting. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I actually send the card, she’ll think I’m trying to worm my way back into her affections, and more importantly to her, her will. I know as soon as she opens it, I will be vilified to those few family members who still converse with her and I’m sure many of them will tell her what she wants to hear, “you’re absolutely right, she’s after your money.” I want nothing more from my aunt and while it shouldn’t matter to me if she abuses me further to distant relatives I’ll probably never have to see, I’m torn. I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of thinking she is right yet again, and that I am money grubbing like so many of the others around her. And, to be honest, I don’t want her thinking my card is a note of surrender or an apology. I just don’t want an old woman to be alone and sick, even if she’s brought her isolation on herself.