Note: this post originally appeared on one of my previous incarnations of my blog. I have been thinking about this post lately and I wanted to preserve it. It was originally written in 2014. I still miss you Renee.
The elevator lurches to a stop on the second floor. My feet are firmly cemented to the floor as the door opens. I notice Gerald first and head his way. After a solemn greeting, we make our way toward room #225. As we walk, Gerald is very soft spoken, visibly tired, and sad. “She’s not doing very well. She looks rough. I don’t think I can go in there anymore.” His wife of over thirty years is on her last lung.
Before crossing the threshold, I stop and ask Ashley to remain outside. I give her a kiss on the cheek, tell her I love her, then I enter the room. The room is full of people sharing stories. Old friends reminiscing about better times. The conversation is nearly washed out by the sound of struggled breathing, the kind of breathing that sounds painful. I see the source and I honestly do not recognize her. My Aunt Renee is dying. Tumors on her lung are slowly asphyxiating her. She looks tired. Her frame is very frail, very thin; Her eyes sunken. There are blotches covering her exposed arms and legs. I do not recognize her.
Renee has been battling cancer for a while now. Her initial treatment was rough, but she had come through it. Unfortunately, cancer does not give up easily. It had come back in an agressive way. When I saw her at Christmas, I could tell that she was in pain, but she did not show it. She did not complain. She was much more interested in seeing her grandnephews and grandnieces. She looked different than my childhood memories, but she still looked like Renee.
I start heading toward Vickie. While I walk, I cannot help but notice the flooring: It is a cheap laminate made to look like hardwood. The kind of floor that sticks to your rubber soles and makes this suction noise, regardless of how light or heavy your steps are. Vickie embraces me when I approach her. Visibly upset, she tells me that her sister can still hear visitors if they lean in close and speak in her ear. By the side of her bed, I lean in and call her name. Her eyelids part to reveal bloodshot eyes. Pupils change shape and her focus beams in on my face. Even with a huge beard and a different hair style, she immediately recognizes me. “Todd.” Her eyes close. This is the last time I talk to my Aunt Renee.
Pooh and Christopher Robin
As a child, I spent every other weekend at Renee’s house. I might be exaggerating, but if I am, it is not by much. I loved seeing her. Her house was the cool house: There were wide open fields for my Power Wheels truck, a swimming pool (so bad ass), and a ridiculous amount of Nascar Diecast race cars (somewhere between 50 and 70 at one time). It also did not hurt that Renee would spoil me with anything that I wanted. Looking back, I can quantify my time there into the same patterns:
- Gerald would pick me up on Friday night. We would dine at the restaurant that Renee was working at (Georgiou’s Restaurant (now defunct), Majestic Pizza & Steakhouse, or Sedalia Restaurant (pronounced Se-dale-yah Rest-urnt by the locals). After our meal, Gerald would take us back to the house to wait for Renee to get off work. Once Renee was off work, we would watch the local news and then some show on Nick-at-Nite (Green Acres sticks out the most).
- Saturday was my day: Whatever I wanted to do, I got to do.
- Sunday always involved a trip to Trace Creek Baptist Church for the morning service, chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken (extra crispy) and, for roughly three-fourths of the year, a Nascar race.
Eventually, Renee had a good enough job that she did not have to waitress anymore. Then she started to spend Friday nights having fun, instead of working. This usually entailed dirt track racing at Paducah International Raceway, rooting for Randy Sellars (a local driver that she was friends with). I loved these races. When I think back to these days, I still can smell the gasoline fumes. My eyes will start to burn from the dirt in the air. I will get a ringing noise in my ears from the loud engines. It was great.
For some reason, I stopped going to Renee’s house. I am not even sure why. I think I outgrew her house. I started to make friends in school, friends that lived close enough to my house that I wanted to spend time at their house and hang out with them. I still loved Renee, but I had other interests and I struggled with making time for both of them. It was as though I was Christopher Robin and she was my Winnie the Pooh. I regret this so much. I really wish I would have spent more time with her. I wish I would have went to eat with her. I wish I would have visited when I obtained my driver license. I wish I would have called her more. Just to talk. I could have spent more time chatting with her on Facebook. I could have done a lot things. But I didn’t. And I never will get the chance to start doing those things.
The second-to-last conversation I had with Renee was over a phone. She was already back in the hospital. I called Vickie once I had heard the news. Vickie handed the phone to Renee. I could barely understand her; Her voice was a strangled whisper. We had a short conversation. Toward the end I broke down crying. I apologized for throwing a checkerboard at her (I was such a sore loser as a child). I told her I loved her. She forgave me. She said she loved me too.