ode to the house i remember as the one where i lived right after my aunt had died

posted by Hatty

I remember the summer I came home after freshmen year. It was right after Hurricane Katrina had hit, months after my aunt passed away of heart attack. My parents had moved immediately to house the look after my two newly orphaned cousins.  

The living room was spacious with a real fireplace and hardwood floor, enough room for two sets of couches. We held a party here once, Christmas/housewarming/birthday party for Hannah. My mom said that losing aunt shouldn’t rob Hannah of her celebration. Her birthday was two days before Christmas. we spent more than two hundred dollars buying fancy ornaments at Macy’s, per Hannah’s request. Handmade glass, colored orbs, beads and angel figurines. I got so upset with the selfishness, the extravagant planning my mom had never done for me. She invited friends for a feast and a gift exchange. We all sat in a circle in that huge living room on a sumptuous carpet, opening presents: a box of Ferrero Rocher, stuffed animals and coffee mugs. What we ate, I don’t remember. People left early, their gifts sitting unwrapped in the living room.

My parents’ room. I would sleep there sometimes, not having a space of my own. One morning I woke up crying. The muscles were tense in sorrow, tear ducts already in motion. I couldn’t stop the tears even after I had realized it was a dream. The girl in my dream was playing and jumping on a row of beds like Snow White and her seven dwarves. From one bed to another, she bounced across till she reached the end of the row, and I met her there to hold her in my arms. Where’s your brother? I asked, time to go now. But she looked sad as I stroked her hair, her head in my lap. I have no family, she said, I don’t have a home to go back to. I sat there, she laid still. As the body came to consciousness, I told myself, this isn’t real. But I will cry for you little girl. I will cry for you my cousin.

Hannah’s room had a walk-in closet so big it could’ve been someone’s studio. Her clothes all hung coordinated by colors like a rainbow of shirts and jackets and dresses. Half of them I had never seen her wear. Bags and bags of them from her mom’s store now run by my parents and me. That’s what I did all summer, keeping track of tank tops and belts from small to large in red and black and white, while Hannah dropped in every now and then to take things. I protested once. My mom said, leave her alone, it’s her mom’s store. In anger I raided her closet, picking out stuff I wanted to wear. Once we had a big fight. She locked herself in that room; I was ready to ax down that door, calling her names, hollering, throwing my body against the door that didn’t open.

Right outside her door was the kitchen with new stove top, new oven, new microwave, new everything. I started baking for the first time. I bought butter and white flour to bake cookies: peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisins. But nothing came out pretty. Nothing looked anything like the ones on allrecipes dot com. For my brother’s birthday, I baked a fancy cheesecake. This time it came out beautifully, decorated and garnished. Later I saw my present, still cooling in the fridge, broken. A slice missing. Hannah ate it. Even before we had the chance to celebrate him, before dinner, before my parents came home from work, she ate it. I was beyond angry. I was fuming. Maybe that was when I charged her locked door. I took off and found myself driving all the way to my aunt’s cemetery. The long L.A. traffic up to Rose Hill Chapel. I couldn’t find her grave, spent hours driving around, just gave up and sat on the grass. Letting go.

God I have no idea how we survived it all.