It's 12:09. I know this for a fact because, randomly, the alarm clock projects the time on to the ceiling. I also know for a fact that I can't sleep.
It's 12:09 and she's not coming back.
I keep waiting for the punchline. Even as I saw her, lying so still, her face finally full of peace. It couldn't be real. You can't be fifty-four years old and gone. Two sons and three daughters can't really not have a mom. Five grandchildren can't be without their mamaw. A mom can't really not have her daughter. My dad and his sisters can't really not have their baby sister. This doesn't really happen to real people in real life.
I wish I could explain to you how wonderful she was. My very first memories of her are of her smile. Big and bright and wide. I don't recall a time I ever saw her without a smile, even when the cancer ravaged her body. The smile remained.
She was funny and more than that, she was fun. Only twenty years older than me, she still seemed like a kid. She had a childlike spirit, always making jokes.
She was a light. A light in a dark world.
Because in the south we somehow have beauty pageants for things like our grocery stores and pickles, she was one year crowned Miss Dam Fruit Stand. There was a fruit stand and for some reason it was located at the dam and for some other reason I'll never understand, she was the Queen of it. There is no mistaking she was beautiful...so beautiful. I always wished I could look like her. Be like her.
It wasn't all laughter and sunshine for her. She was a teen mom, long before being a teen mom was "cool". There were no MTV cameras following her around, no paparazzi watching her every move, no big checks for telling her story. It was hard. Looking back now I understand that her life was truly never easy. She just made it seem that way.
She was my aunt Debbie. I love her.
Time ticks away on the clock and my daughter stirs next to me. She and I are lying side by side in a borrowed bed. One of the many good things about my family is that someone is always willing to give you a room, a warm bed, a cool drink, a hot meal. The Girl Child throws the covers off, mumbles something about how warm she is. I fight the urge to reach for her, pull her to me and never let her go. My grandmother and her sad eyes haunt me. It wrong, so wrong, for a parent to outlive their child.
By the time the projection on the wall reads 3am, I'm angry. I'm furious. Cancer is a huge bitch and I hate it. I hate how my aunt had to suffer. I hate how much pain she was in. I hate that the only thing that brought her peace was death. I hate that her children only have her memory now and I hate, hate, HATE that there is nothing I can do to make it better.
I'm angry at myself. I have a file folder on my computer that's taunting me. It's the sequel to my first book and it's done and I can't do anything else with it and it's just...sitting there. Because I'm afraid.
My aunt went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They told her there was nothing else they could do. She came home, went to her regular doctor and said, "Well. What are we going to do next?"
It's not that she wasn't afraid. I know she was afraid. I know she was in pain. I know that in the back of her mind she was always worried that the next thing they tried would be the last. But she did it anyway. Because fear isn't a good enough reason.
I'll never be able to tell my Aunt Deb everything she meant to me...how even in death she has taught me so much. All I can do is not be afraid. Even when it's hard. Even when it's impossible. Even when it hurts and even when I cry.
Aunt Debbie had much harder trials, much greater difficulties and she kept on smiling. She kept on going even when she was afraid.
She was proud of me. She told my dad once that she was having a really, really hard time when my book came out. She read it and it made her laugh so hard. She needed that laugh and I'm so glad I was able to give it to her.
She was my Aunt Deb. She was a bright, beautiful light in this world. She was brave and amazing and a fighter. I'd like to be half the person she was.
Even though I'm afraid.