She coos at him, and he smiles at her, while still nursing.
“He’s very lucky to have you,” I tell her. “And you’re right, you still have time to decide. There’s no rush.”
“Yeah, he’s really all I need, anyway,” Aunt Barbara says, with a resigned yet contended-seeming shrug. “And whenever I start to think about how mean my sister was to you, I just think, well, it’s her loss and my gain, because I love little Maxim! But I know it must be hard for you…”
She trails off again.
“Oh, God. I’m so sorry! It seems I can’t stay away from sad topics today!”
“It’s fine,” I tell her. “Obviously, I was already thinking about my mom, anyway, this being Mother’s Day and all. Can’t really avoid it, so might as well talk about it.”
“True,” she nods.
“I have no idea what made her so evil,” I tell her. “Any insight?”
She hesitates, then sighs, as if her telling me this was long overdue but also as if it’s time.
“Our family has just been through a lot, and I think it turned most of my siblings into assholes. I know you’ve only probably gotten a glimpse of it from Uncle Bob, who has both his good sides and bad, and you’ve certainly seen your share of it from your mom. Our other brother, Steve, is the worst one of all, and things with him are so bad that, as you know, none of us ever see or talk to him. He became an alcoholic and may have drunk himself to death by now, for all I know.”
I nod, sadly thinking it sounded familiar. My mom had her own struggles with the bottle, while lecturing me righteously about never drinking, doing drugs, or having pre-marital sex. I sometimes wondered whether she was in denial about her own problems, or just didn’t want me to repeat them – she had married my dad young, due to being pregnant with me, and they did not have a good marriage.
In fact, they straight up hated each other and only stayed together for the sake of appearances at their church, which didn’t believe in divorce. Now, looking back, I think it was a bit of both but mostly my mom just didn’t want her perfect image being shattered by having a pregnant teenage daughter.
“Our own parents were very cold to us,” Aunt Barb explains, and my ears perk up, because I never knew much about my grandparents on my mother’s side, both of whom are now deceased.
My mom moved away from Pittsburgh when I was a baby because my father was from Bloom and he had only been out here for work. They were closer with his family – who I got the feeling her family had always hated – and didn’t keep in much contact with her own after she left.
“There were alcoholism issues there too, and abuse, and we kids just did what we had to do to survive. Whenever I get mad at your mom – or any of my siblings – I just remind myself that they came from the same awful environment I did, and they can’t really help but be this way,” she finishes.
“Yeah, but you turned out so nice, compared to them,” I say.
“We can’t really choose what personalities we come with,” she tells me. “I mean, maybe to some extent, we can, but I think I was just ‘blessed’ or ‘cursed’ with the gift of kindness, whichever way you want to look at it. Your Uncle Bob is business savvy and got rich off of driving a hard bargain—”
Don’t I know it, I think—
“—your mom has her religion and her close-knit religious community to lean on—”
—and the bottle, too, I think—
“—and your Uncle Steve was some kind of hippie who believed in letting life just happen to him and going with the flow. He had no desire to care about anyone else or how his behavior affected us, but that in and of itself was a protection mechanism. A way to cope. So, sometimes, I think maybe that I’m too nice – that if I were able to get out from under the weight of caring about everyone else’s problems more than my own, that maybe I’d have had a better life. But then I look at little Maxim and know that means I likely wouldn’t have had him in my life, so, I think everything is turning out exactly as it should.”
I think so, too, I think, as I try to surreptitiously check my phone, since what she said obviously made me think about Derek.
Sure enough, there’s a text from him, which must have come in when we were playing on the swings, because I had been checking all last night and this morning.
My heart leaps as I read it.
Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you have a great day, beautiful. You deserve it!