It’s been a while, I know.
I’ve missed you too, but frankly with The Heathens out of school and my commitment to celebrating the humidity of the season by complaining loudly to no one in particular, my schedule’s been rather booked. It turns out that when I try to issue my complaints at the top of my lungs no one really wants to be around me, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time by myself in the back corner of our property yelling at fence posts and fireflies and not getting much traction with my issues. So I thought I’d return to you and family as I turn to thoughts of someone who loves this kind of weather: Aunt Viper.
As described in previous posts, Aunt Viper is the only blood sibling my father has in this country and earned her name by way of description from The Lyin’ Dutchman (who would never say it to her face): “Thahht wooman ees a goddahm viper, son”. She’s vicious and loyal, determined to survive in a world where her existence is in a constant state of threat, perceived or otherwise. She’s 4ft. something, jet black hair and is still pissed at another brother of hers who, she claims, tried to sell her into a prostitution ring when they were younger in order to get cigarettes. My uncle vehemently denies this accusation as the ramblings of a “teepical woman”. Personally, I believe Aunt Viper.
I’m currently on our family’s version of what we call The Great Indonesian Wheel of Fault & Fate, or more conveniently, The Wheel. My brothers and I came up with The Wheel as a way to describe that period of time when we are considered “dead to me” by either our father or aunt. We are a large enough family, and dysfunctional enough, that The Lyin’ Dutchman & Aunt Viper feel the need to always have Favorites and Enemies. One of us is always on The Wheel, for that makes it easier to talk trash about them at family gatherings (the Starbucks in La Cumbre Plaza, if you happen to be free), where The Dead One isn’t present and is usually considered the current source of all ills in our family dynamic. I’m presently Dead To Them for a wide variety of crimes against The Family, and the only way off The Wheel is to approach the elders and beg for forgiveness, even if you have no idea why they’re currently ignoring you. Typical family dynamics, really.
Living 2000 miles from them allows me the privilege of enjoying their shenanigans from afar, never having to have direct contact with her anger, risking lung cancer that much less, since no encounter is complete without some second-hand ingesting of a pack of Virginia Slims per hour. Last I talked to Aunt Viper she was openly running smack talk against her co-workers in their presence, regaling me with tales of their incompetence and bigotry against the elderly (her) and their nerve, their very nerve, to try and get rid of her. She’ll leave when she’s good and ready, dammit, probably on a gurney with her fist gripped around the neck of the paramedic, demanding someone tell her “just what de hell you tink you’re doing to me? Trying to kiiill me?” She finds the coastal temperatures of Santa Barbara “too freegin’ cold”, thinks that people on the East Coast are much kinder than “dese assssholes and idiots in California”, and is mildly irked that she hasn’t really dated since 1978, when a man we knew as Uncle Jake got fresh with her in a bowling alley and put his hand on her leg.
Probably the best example of her outlook on this life is the time she arrived at The Lyin’ Dutchman’s house in her car, took one look at his then-wife and pronounced that her car was about out of gas, and would she be so kind as to go the Shell station and fill it up? Because, in her own words, “a reeeal lady don’t pump her own gas.” On a related note, she doesn’t have too many female friends, either.
But what she does have, and what she cherishes in her own mind, is family. She hates my guts right now, but I, and the rest of us, belong to her. My father is a colossal mess and has virtually, single-handedly alienated every person he’s ever been close to, but he just can’t shake Aunt Viper. She won’t have it. We have a running bet that when her casket is being lowered into the grave, her final act from beyond will be to have The Lyin’ Dutchman trip and fall into the coffin, thereby assuring an eternity in each others company. Being on The Wheel, I don’t get much more than a card from her on random holidays, but she never forgets to send The Heathens a nice note and some money on their birthdays. Through it all, and through the fog of the various hurts we’ve heaped on one another, she has a deep, if not twisted, love for her family. More than willing to start a race riot on our behalf if she feels slighted (which she has done), she also makes a mean Indonesian meal with her special wok, seasoned with piss & vinegar, no doubt. There are brief moments when I truly miss the weekends at my fathers house, the smell of her cooking permeating the neighborhood, her bigoted racial epithets being screamed at the television as she took in that “sissy sport, football, my assss…..RUN YOU FREAKIN N—-!”, the neighbors wondering just how much their property values lowered when we moved onto the cul-de-sac.
These are the things that rambled through my mind as I yelled at the fireflies about the heat & humidity. Next thing you know, I’m seeing a little Aunt Viper in myself, arguing with no one in particular, only two feet taller and not bigoted. Despite my position on The Wheel, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to pump my own gas.
And if she ever reads this? I’m reasonably certain she’ll clobber me with a chair, grind a smoke out on my cheek and screech at me to “knock eet off, smaht-ass!”
It’ll feel just like home.