Now I know what you must be thinking, I have a sister named Fran, and she just mixes us up. This would make perfect sense. Heck, I’m guilty of mixing up all three of my kids’ names, and I have two boys and a girl.
But Francine is not one of my sisters. She’s my aunt. For some reason, I’ve never figured out, my mother always calls me by her older sister’s name.
“She’s not talking to you Aunt Fran, she’s talking to me. Mom, I’m Kathy. Your oldest child. You named me.”
“Very funny Fr… Kathy.”
Then we all start to laugh.
Today we were all together for a few hours. Oddly, not once did my mother call me Fran. I believe this may be the first time, ever, this happened.
Two months ago, her doctor said she was cancer free. Though she was still very weak, the hope was that her energy would soon return and she could go home. Perhaps even be able to go back to her job as a high school drama teacher.
Last week we found out that the cancer is back. She can not be alone.
As we pulled up to my aunt’s house, I could see all of Fran’s beautiful flowers. Gardening is a passion of hers, just like it is with my mother and me. I knew it was killing her that she couldn’t work in her flower beds.
It occurred to me that as long as I have known my aunt, this has been her house. This was where I learned to swim and eat with chopsticks when I was little. It was also a place of refuge when I was a teenager.
The free-spirited choreographer who always looked so graceful struggled to just get out of my mother’s car. The chemo had erased her dark curly tresses from her scalp. Her body, once lithe and graceful, moved slowly and cautiously. She was clearly worried about falling. She held on to the car, then shifted her weight to her cane as she slowly made it up the stairs to her home.
As my mom and Fran went through the mail and got what she needed, I sat on the couch that I remember helping her and my mother pick out years ago. I looked around at the Asian art and pictures of dancers on the wall and remembered how much I use to love to come here.
Her home always seemed much more exotic and interesting than the conventional decor of my parents’ house.
“Fran, three dresses? That is all you are going to take with you? Three dresses?” I could hear my mother’s voice from down the hall.
“Yes. This is all I need.”
Both women looked at me with frustration about the other.
I laughed and realized how different they were. To my mom, the clothes she wears and her looks are a vital part of who she is. Whenever I say I have somewhere to go, her first question is almost always, What are you going to wear?
My aunt has always been more comfortable in t-shirts and flowing skirts that allow for easy movement. Fashion has never been important to her.
I always wanted to be more like her. Free-spirited and committed to my art. It took a while, and enough money spent in therapy to buy a small house, to realize that as much as I admired her free-spirited artistic ways, I longed for security.
She has always made her living as a dancer, director, choreographer, and teacher. I left acting years ago in order to pay my bills. I worked in an office and then left work to take care of my children. Very different choices from the ones she made.
We took one more look around and left. But not before my mother made one more mention of the fact that three outfits were not nearly enough.
“Aunt Fran,” I said. “My mother will be on her deathbed, and she will ask me what I’m going to wear to her funeral and suggest what piece of her jewelry will look best.”
We both started to laugh as my mom got into the driver’s seat.
“Are you two making fun of me again?” she said, laughing.
“Yes,” we both replied at the same time.
As we left the house, I wondered if I we would ever get to come back as the three of us. Everything was up in the air. Would she try chemo again? Would she decide she has had enough? Nothing was certain.
“Fran, before we go too far, get your water ready and drink some. You’ve only had one bottle, that’s not enough.” My aunt looked back at me and made a face.
“Kathy is my sister making a face at me?”
I was very struck that my mother very clearly called me Kathy.