What I remember about my aunt: I lived with her. I tried to love her. I was instructed to think of her as a mother. She tried to love me. Once, she dragged me to the bathroom and dumped an entire plate of food onto my head. I’d refused to eat and that’d angered her. She scrubbed the food into my scalp as if it was some strange sort of cleanser. I was crying the whole time. When I flinched away from her grip on my hair, she pulled me back. Stay still, she said. I stilled immediately. Her voice was so calm.
Another memory: at ten, I am afraid of shadows. The shadows at the corners of rooms where things seem to melt out of shape. Take on new forms, monstrous forms. A witch formed by a scarf on the hanger. The devil in a pile of clothes. I am terrified of these images, of the things they can do to me when no one’s looking. I try to hide my fear. I keep it small and contained in my gut, cradle it. But she notices. It’s not so hard to put it all together, but she still makes me spell it out. What are you so frightened of? she asks. I am sobbing before she starts. She drags me to each room, to each shadow: the witch, the devil, her own figure at the space where a closet meets the wall. She shoves me forward, tells me to touch the shadows, walk into them. See? This is what you were afraid of, she says. When her husband comes home hours later, I’m curled into myself like a shell. The cushion I bury my face in is damp and warm. What have you done to her? he asks. Why is she—
It’s nothing. Someone needs to show her. She’ll be fine.
Over the phone, I overhear her talking to my grandmother—how do I raise her? how can I tell her what to do, how far am I allowed to go? (some talking on the other side, perhaps a consolation) yes, but she’s not my daughter, we all know this. I can’t deal with this, it’s exhausting—
She did try to love me, in her own way. Years later—when I’d left her house and no longer looked her in the eye—she said, didn’t I buy you a dress for each dress I bought my daughter? didn’t I buy you necklaces each time I got her one? didn’t I treat you like one of my own?
Each time we are seen together, people mistake me for her child. I look like her, more than her real children do. Sometimes she corrects them, other times she doesn’t.
I want to say this, too, could be a kind of love.
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