She’d come to Oak Ridge to welcome me. Me… the rebel teen and recent cult outcast. She smelled of cigarettes and metallic fizz. (No doubt there was a 2 liter bottle of Tab between her knees.) We were sitting on my grandmother’s concrete stoop, a kitten named Pony between us. The sun warmed our shoulders as she poured her heart into mine.
This woman smelling of tobacco and Tab soda was my Aunt Ann, and this was the most time I’d ever spent with her. How had I lived so long without truly knowing her?
She was a wizard of warmth and wisdom. It rose from her being in whispers, soothing and soft and slowly sifting into you, until you also felt wise and warm just from being near her.
We talked for hours that early May day, pink primroses nodding their heads as whipped cream clouds floated overhead, and my love for her and the entire Peters clan settled like seeds in my soul.
I’d always been a part of them, but now I was deep in the midst of them. Transplanted, grafted to their stalk by coming to live with their matriarch — our matriarch — my grandmother. And I was all in.
It was the best, most glorious thing that ever happened to me. I think that’s why my core aches so when I lose one.
When my grandmother died, a sore rose on my chest, directly above where my heart sits. It wept and ached, a simmering wound that lasted for months. Eventually, it faded, but the pruning scar still shimmers silver in the right light.
And then when my father died — before we knew he’d passed — my heart bled into a backache that bloomed the night it happened and didn’t subside until we found him the next day.
And now Ann. My precious, beloved, my dearest Aunt Ann.
Yesterday morning out of nowhere, while baking up banana bread for my boys, that familiar bruised heartache unfolded itself beneath my left shoulder and I knew it was the day. The day I would lose her.
And it was. And my body suffered with hers until she breathed her labored last. The ache in my shoulder subsided, but the ache in my heart will go on forever.
My grafting was so complete on that early May day in the twilight of my 16th year, that I am destined to feel every growing pain, from new blossom to withered vine, on our family’s tree. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My heart is a nesting doll. There is an ee cummings poem that holds special import in my life and speaks to the love I have for this family I’ve been so firmly grafted to.
i carry your heart
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)