When the Past, Present and Future Collide

Some people say time is not linear.  I guess then, in terms I can understand, Star Trek’s space/time continuum conundrum is more than a plot enabler.  Or life with and without George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” are just two realities that co-exist in different time dimensions.

And so the space-time continuum has been crashing around me recently.  Recently, I have been getting information overload about my aunt that make me wonder, “did I ever know you?”

When I was young, my aunt was gorgeous, avant grade and in the art scene. She was our idol. She knew how to talk to us kids and we felt in our bones that she loved and adored us.

Even as I got older, I knew very little about her family of origin.  She cut off any discussions about it.  I knew she had a sister who was married, with two boys, and the boys and their father were jazz musicians.

I didn’t realize how thick that wall was until, when Mom was sick, my aunt mentioned that she missed her sister and that she had died of cancer a few years before.  I was dumbfounded.  I was in my late 30s.  How come she didn’t tell us?  Why didn’t we ask?  Were we not as close as I always thought?

Now, as I clean out her pack rat apartment little by little on Saturdays, I guess I should not be surprised at the person who is my aunt and what I find out about her.

Let’s review the non-traumatic facts I have learned since she died:

  • she was decidedly older than she admitted (no biggie).
  • she had an “emotionally and mentally disabled” sister as well (no one really knows what that would mean today) who lived in their parents’ apartment until the building was torn down and died some years later (sad, but, again, not a biggie).
  • but her birth date wasn’t even the date she told us (ok, getting, odd), let alone the year.
  • she had an artist’s eye for the human body complete with Polaroids of people we know (a little ooky, but it would be really cool if it were someone ELSE’s aunt and uncle in the pictures).
  • her other sister, whom she told me she missed, died ten years before she told us and they had not really spoken in 30 years (getting odder).
  • her mother died young, but did NOT die in childbirth as we were told (ok, but suggests a trauma anyway).
  • They all led a hard life of immigrants in New York from the turn of the 20th century onward.

So, I guess the theme here is that the “facts” of my aunt’s life are more accurately, rebuttable presumptions.  Maybe, if we live to 91, the “facts” of our lives will be similarly suspect.

But here is the fact that I can’t let go of:

It turns out, in a twist a la Mark Twain, my aunt’s disabled younger sister’s demise was exaggerated.  She is decidedly undead, though aged and in decline.  And all her life, this sister lived close by but still far from sight.  There is no evidence that my aunt helped her.

What happened?  There is a story behind this.  Maybe there is something in their upbringing.  Maybe it was the hardscrabble immigrant experience.  There is no one left to say (the surviving sister has dementia).

It makes me think about the trajectory of people’s lives and how, maybe, whatever happened in that tenement on Third Avenue in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, may have set a course for three sisters, all estranged and one essentially left behind.