I haven’t written about Aunt Gerry in a long time. It is due largely to the fact that I simply don’t see her as much as I used to, but it is also because we kind of got in a fight, or as they say in Hebrew, we had “brogus,” a word that sounds much more like how I feel about what happened.
What happened was this: I had gone over to her apartment to help her set up her online dating profile (of course). We spent hours going through not just her answers, her photo, etc., but also the basics of how to use the iPad and the world wide web. I wrote out step-by-step instructions for her – this is what the power button looks like, slide the icon like this. From a design perspective it was actually really interesting to have to explain all of these actions to someone who had no familiarity with the interface… how DO you get to that one spot where the pictures are? What IS the difference between email and the rest of the Internet?
Anyway. We had finished our vermouth, and I was on my way to what would turn out to be an incredibly weird date, and was feeling a bit nervous. On my way out the door, Aunt Gerry remembered a book a friend had recently given her that she wanted to show me: Women, by Annie Leibovitz. The book is beautiful, full of Leibovitz’s trademark depth and richness, depictions of, as you might expect, women! - famous ones, beautiful ones, politicians, dancers. As I was flipping through it, Aunt Gerry said, oh there’s one in here that reminds me of you, let me find it, and she flipped past the glamour and the athletic, past the hot, tan-all-over dancer, past Hilary Clinton, and stopped at a photo of a chubby, terrible-haired teenage girl wearing a too-tight see-through dress and standing in front of a trailer.
“This one?” I said? “Are you sure?”
“But this girl is like 17 years old, and I really feel like she doesn’t look like me.” I said, already feeling a little stung, but trying to suss out where this was all going.
“Well.” Aunt Gerry said, “ I think everyone thinks this, but I am the only one to be brave enough to say anything. You dress oddly, and it’s time you stopped. You need to dress and look more like a woman, and less… youthful.”
She went on to give me very specific examples of the clothing that was not only acting as my chastity belt (jean shorts), but also as the antidote to potential future fathers of my potential future children (ripped jeans), and my most assured spinsterdom (ink stained tank tops).
Taken aback, I made my excuses and promptly left for the date wherein one of the least weird things that happened was returning from the bathroom to find him reading through all my text conversations on my phone, having spied my password at some point, and feeling free to hack away.
But that’s not the important part of this story. The important thing about this story is that Aunt Gerry, the very next day, or maybe even that night, called me and left a heartfelt apology on my voicemail. After feeling my way through the hurt of it all I realized this: Aunt Gerry meant what she said. She also means it when she tells me how beautiful and wonderful I am and that she loves my dresses and shoes and my arguably strange fashion sense. But what she really means all the time, is that she wants me to be happy. To her, happiness will be when I am married, and start a family (“you will undoubtedly be such a wonderful mother,” she tells me regularly). Maybe she’s right, and maybe it’s more complicated than that, but two things strike me now, many months after this whole incident - 1. That she did in fact speak up about something she thought important enough to talk about, despite the potentially difficulty aftermath, and even though it wound up being off the mark, and 2. That when she realized just how off the mark it was, and how hurtful it wound up being, that she was just as vocal, and just as honest.
Lesson 14: Keep talking. All the way through.