Something like ten years ago, my crazy Aunt Sharon bought a dog, named him Max. My grandma is an infamous dog-hater so Sharon was too afraid to bring him home. Maybe that might have been something to consider before purchasing a dog.
The drywall company was, well, I hesitate to say it was still in “business,” but the office was still open and Sharon, who had recently taken (stolen) the reins from my mom, had decided it would be a fine place to turn into a kennel.
Before long, the office was full of dog toys (Max had more toys than my kid), half-chewed raw hides, and the stench of dirty dog. The couch, which Sharon kept covered with a decorative tapestry, no longer invited asses to sit upon it thanks to its new dog fur slip cover. I hated having to go inside there, and apparently so did all the contractors, so after time the drywall office became less a drywall office and more of Sharon’s hostel.
She would feel so guilty leaving Max down there alone that she began spending the night, sleeping on that disgusting couch. She’d go home occasionally to check on my Grandma, who was in much better health and still driving back then, and to take a shower. But the showering thing apparently started to become too tedious for Sharon so eventually her hygiene fell into the same perilous pit as her sanity.
This was the time she was really starting to lose her mind. The office had become a vault of magazines she stole from the library and circulars she stole out of the garbage from the post office across the street. On top of the shower boycott, she was also not really changing her clothes. She wore the same ripped jeans every day and eventually the rip became so bad that she was in danger of not being allowed in stores. I remember one winter, she met me at Kohl’s; my grandma had given her the Kohl’s charge with which to buy me a new winter coat. She was wearing those fucking accidental parachute pants and I was horrified.
Of course that would be the day I would see one of my old high school friends. She had a little boy with her and I remember thinking, “Oh my god, she has a kid now!” and wanting to go over and say hi, to meet her little boy, but Sharon was right next to me with her matted, unwashed hair, obscene pants and psycho eyes. So I didn’t. I turned my back, acted interested in some rack of old lady blouses, and hoped my old friend wouldn’t see me.
To see Sharon like that was heart-breaking. When I was growing up, she was the “cool aunt,” the one I would turn to for boy advice, the one who would leave me encouraging notes when I was feeling down, the one I would vacation with to Europe (though I will admit I hated traveling with her). She was well-dressed; trendy, even. She had wild frosted hair; the best jewelry collection (fine and costume; in middle school, I would stop at my grandparents house before school to pilfer through her many jewelry chests); and even an occasional boyfriend, like the Wilkinsburg cop my friend Liz and I were desperate to learn more about when we were in eighth grade, thoroughly irritating Sharon with our obnoxious inquiries. And on weekends, when she wasn’t at her job at the University of Pittsburgh, Sharon wore ripped, stonewashed jeans. Fashionably ripped stonewashed jeans. She was the epitome of hot ’80s fashion, and she followed the trends all through the nineties, right up to my Pappap’s death. Her decline was slow and steady at first.
A couple years ago, my family decided to put the drywall company up for sale. With all the utilities turned off, Sharon could no longer “live” there and had to unfortunately move back home. With Max.
I’m not even sure of his breed. Some sort of terrier maybe. Sharon originally kept him on the indoor porch so he’d stay out of my grandma’s way. I’m not sure what that changed though, because the last few times I was allowed to enter the fortress, the carpet in the den was coated with Max-fur and dog toys were strewn about in such disarray that I would always sweep them off to the side for fear of my grandma tripping. Somewhere along the way, my grandma had grown to enjoy Max.
Well, too bad Max died last week, Grandma! Oh, wait – Sharon hasn’t told you yet?
“I’ve been carrying around a stuffed animal with a blanket over it so Grandma thinks it’s Max,” Sharon told me last Thursday. “So far she has no idea!” Sharon must have detected the horror in my face, maybe the way my mouth was twisted into an “O” of disapproval, because she quickly went on to say, “I mean, this is only until I find a replacement!”
“Um, Max wasn’t a goldfish. You can’t just get a new dog and think Grandma won’t notice. You need to tell her.”
“Oh, that’ll break her heart!” Sharon exclaimed. I’m not sure how long this charade is going to play out, but it makes me sad that my grandma’s being treated like a child. I feel like the last ten years have been one cumulative “Don’t tell Grandma!”
“Don’t tell Grandma you went to Australia!” (I did, I told her.)
“Don’t tell Grandma you’re pregnant!” (Told her that too, obviously. Fun phone call!)
“Don’t tell Grandma we had to take out another mortgage on her house!”
“Don’t tell Grandma the bank owns her house!”
I don’t have the heart to tell her the other stuff I know. The stuff involving that drywall company being fucked in its frightened asshole. The stuff involving the IRS and various foreclosures. The legal clusterfucks.
And now I can’t even tell her the truth about Max because that would require me finding a way into Fort Knox.
Supposedly, Sharon had Max buried in the yard, but I’m going to tell my brother Corey to walk around the house and see if he smells eau d’decomposure seeping from the foundation.
“You have to tell Matt about your family,” Lisa prompted the other night when I was visiting her and her husband, freshly transplanted from Colorado. I told him all of this and more.
“And I know it sounds morbid,” I said, wrapping it up, “but I kind of feel like Sharon’s not going to tell anyone when my grandma dies; she’s going to keep her dead body propped up in that goddamn chair by the TV.”
“Are you even sure your grandma is still alive?” Matt asked, in no way trying to be a dick. “I mean, has anyone besides Sharon seen her lately?”
I considered this. “Well, my mom talks to her on the phone…” I said, with only a touch of doubt.
“Is she talking to your grandma, or is she talking to Sharon pretending to be your grandma?”
I had no words for that, just kind of sat there and stared off in horror after Matt said it, while his suggestion hung in the air like a dog fart. How had this thought never crossed my mind?
On my way to meet Jessy last night, my mom called.
“If Sharon calls you, don’t answer!” she warned. “I’ve been laying on the couch sick for the last two hours. She made some shit that’s supposed to be eggplant parmesan or something, I don’t even know —”
“Oh Christ, and she’s going to try and give me some,” I finished in exasperation. Sharon fancies herself to be a Food Network-worthy chef. Her, let’s just say “inventive,” dishes make my melted-spatula garnished pierogies sound like something that would give a 4-star Michelin chef a food boner. Her holiday side dishes are what covert napkin-spitting was made for. Her stuffing, don’t even get me started on her stuffing. I could probably make Gordon Ramsay weep through description alone.
I’m convinced that Sharon is trying to poison us all.
Right on cue, she beeped in.
A few months ago, I was cleaning out a desk drawer and found this letter that Sharon wrote when I was senior in high school. It made me cry when I read it because I was reminded of how much more of a mother she was to me than my own mom. Part of me wants to believe that this Sharon is still in there somewhere, underneath all the hoarding, Grandma hostage situations, and inability to properly grieve the death of her father. But the realistic part of me knows that it’s over, it’s done. The Sharon I used to know and love, the Godmother who gifted me with my beloved Purple on the day of my birth, the cool aunt who gave me her pair of Laurel and Hardy earrings and who bought me clothes from boutiques so I would never be caught wearing something other girls had on in school? That Sharon is dead. And I really fucking miss her.couch, grandma, heart, mom