My aunt, Juanita Harmon, died in the Salvation Army Thrift Store collapse.
I haven’t seen her since I graduated in 2009. I rarely see my father’s side of the family since my dad and I have kind of…broken up? I don’t know how else to describe it. He pretty much stopped being a Dad on the regular and only picks it up when he feels like it—he’s totally aware of it—and i guess ok with it….anyway…he made that clear when I turned 18.
But God, do I have the most memories of an aunt on my dad’s side with Aunt Wannie. She lived in such a cool neighborhood—sloping hills and front yards filled with flowers and porches strewn with bikes and toys because everyone had kids my age. my parents had me at an older age, so my second cousins were my age…those were her grandkids. We would all get together with the neighbors and play hide and go seek until the streetlights came on. All the Acme trucks would be parked at the lot that her street overlooked, and my cousin Alyssa and I would sit on the steps watching the sun set behind those trucks just talking….until Aunt Wannie called us in for dinner. It took this long for it to hit me that when i was running through those streets i didn’t care if those kids liked me, i didn’t care what i wore or what i looked like. i felt free. it was the only place where i’ve ever felt free.
She was funny. blunt. to-the-point. she called us all “bucketheads” and had a knack for hitting us upside the head for being goofy. she would always give any of us who came in injured a glass of kool-aid from her magnet-covered (and i mean COVERED) fridge to go with our band-aid…she had a magnificent dollhouse ON the dining room table. she had a room full of dolls. i loved that she would let us touch them, play with them gently. she was probably in the basement of that thrift store looking to add to her collection.
i get 99% of my groceries from trader joe’s. it’s across the street from the thrift store. in order to eat like i’ve grown accustomed, i must go there. it’s hard. the bus lets you off right there. there are people gawking at the scene, there are dead flowers. and i have her voice in my head saying “i’m not there, buckethead” and it makes me get through it without the tears.
but i’ve kind of needed someone to be there for me; to understand. i feel like i lean on my boyfriend too hard. he says things to me like “you should really talk to your therapist about this.” and tries to give like, clinical, over-simplistic solutions to problems that are anything but. so i’m trying to like, leave him out of this.
i needed a ride to the color me rad 5k on sunday. i thought i could go on septa by myself but being out in west philly by the el stop at 7am in running shorts sounds like a call, like “hey! kill me!” i called around, but i know that my aunts on my mother’s side get brunch on sunday mornings but maybe they could leave a little early and drop me off. i call my Aunt Neicy but my Aunt Rita came to visit from Virginia and the world seems to stop for aunt rita for some reason…although i have yet to see the reason for myself…so my aunt neicy is too busy to even really listen to what i’m saying on the phone. all my friends are busy with legitimate reasons. my brother says no for some reason too…and all i think about is how much i’m there for these people i called. how i’d be there for them in a flash. and how getting brunch and a new car that my brother doesn’t want to get dirty and just general wanting to sleep in kept people from doing me a favor. a quick favor that at that point meant quite a bit to me. shit, it meant everything.
i cried like a baby after i exhausted my last phone call. i didn’t sleep. i didn’t know why i was so upset. part of it is anxiety about seeing my father because our relationship is so strained that the thought of it sometimes can give me panic attacks where i vomit, sweat, and shake.
i didn’t go to the 5k. i lied about my bad ankle acting up. everyone bought it. in retrospect, all that would have been out in west philly at 7 on a sunday would probably be old ladies going to church. but i panicked. and i wanted a ride, damnit. i wanted someone to be there for me.
the 44 bus is the one i ride to and from my job in Bala Cynwyd. it drives past the salvation army thrift store site. it lets me off in front of it to go to trader joe’s. i got off today. “i’m not there, buckethead.” i say it out loud to get through it, to get to the market and get home. i’m tempted to tell the gawkers that my aunt died in there. but i decide against it. the policewoman guarding the site (for some reason) waves and smiles a little baby one of the gawkers has with her.
i make it past the site with no tears. “i’m not there, buckethead.” and i make it to walnut street to wait for a bus to take me home. i pull out my phone and debate to tap my aunt neicy’s name….i remind myself that aunt rita left yesterday. we talk, and she says that aunt heidi (i know, a lot of aunts) could have driven me i should have said something. and i said that i did, but aunt rita was there and she wasn’t listening to me. and i tell her i wish i had someone who got it. no one gets it.
my aunt walked into a store and it fell on her and killed her.
since aunt neicy is pretty much the only aunt i talk about, she’s basically my mom, certain people called and made sure it wasn’t her. i tell them i wouldn’t be able to update facebook or even talk to them if that was the case. but she doesn’t get it. like. this is an extraordinary, random, awful thing that happened and it’s still happening to me every day. i’m upset. i’m mad i don’t get to see her again and it’s not because she got sick or complications during surgery. it’s because someone operating a crane was on drugs and knocked a wall down wrong.
no one deserves to go that way.
and still, i have work. i have school. i have rent. i have to buy groceries. i have a boyfriend. i have bills. i have a mom who thinks consoling me means buying me a printer and then commenting that my acne has returned and that my “face looks bad….again.”
i just want someone who gets it. who’s like hey….this is hard. it’s gonna be hard. and it’s ok if you’re upset even after the news stories die off and it’s ok that you’re anxious and sad. it’s ok that you’re stressed out. i’m gonna come over and eat with you. we’re gonna talk about whatever you want. i won’t complain about it. ever. we don’t have to talk at all. but i understand that it’s a lot. and that you feel like you’re alone. but i’m here now, and you’re not gonna lean too hard. go for it. try me.
i thought that was aunt neicy. i want that to be her. maybe i’m boring or something.
i don’t know. i keep saying that. i don’t know anymore. buildings fall on people you love and you don’t know anything anymore.