“So you’re back,” my landlord Bill said to me today, standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, looking up at me through my open window.
He often does this, as if it’s perfectly normal to just start a conversation as if we were already in the middle of one, when in reality I was only walking toward the window to shut my blinds in an effort to avoid such an interaction, having just flopped my yoga mat on the floor.
I said hello to Bill and thanked him for bringing in my mail while I was gone, as if for a moment we could pretend I’d been out of town on vacation rather than the reality — that my 20-year-old nephew Jackson had been in a fatal motorcycle accident.
Bill made small talk about Peaches, my cat, only briefly before cutting to the chase.
“Motorcycles,” he said, shaking his head. “Were you close?”
“Yes,” I said, instinctively, defensively.
“Persevere, my dear,” Bill replied, for once knowing exactly when to end a conversation.
I started my yoga practice and kept catching Jackson’s picture out of the corner of my eye.
I was feeling like a liar.
Were we close?
I last saw him not two weeks before the accident, at his brother’s graduation party. I remember walking up to him, asking if the chair next to him was taken — and his reply, “it is now” as he gestured for me to sit. I remember his quick and easy hug goodbye as I stood in the kitchen shortly after, and his walk — that specific, measured walk of his — away from me, as I called, “You coming back?”
He turned back, nodding.
“See you later, Auntie Al.”
But we never did.
When Jackson was born on January 1, 2000, I was almost 16. I rode with my parents to the hospital, reading East of Eden in the backseat of the Taurus. I was nervous to hold him for the first time, though he wasn’t the first baby I’d ever held. Just the first in my new role, Auntie Al.
Oh, how I loved Baby Jackson. As I loved 5-year-old, 10-year-old, 15-year-old, and yes, 20-year-old Jackson. I could only hope that he, and later Drake, and later Polly and Araceli, might ever love me even a fraction as much as I loved them, with such ferocity it frightens me a bit to imagine the depths of the love a parent feels.
Were we close?
Yes, don’t ever doubt it.
Today I read a post Janelle Monáe wrote about Chadwick Boseman, the actor who died a few days after Jack:
“I think you realize how much you need to have people that you love. It’s not as much about them loving you — it’s about you needing to love people.”
Adapted from letter to A&P, notebook entry, 9/1/2020.