I was either writing or reading something since I was thirteen. I published my first novel when I was forty. I hadn’t written anything in between for over a decade. I’m still trying to understand where along the road I took the wrong bend.
My mom’s sister was a member of our family. She came to live with us when it had become known that my mom was pregnant, and she had stayed with us until her last day. She was twenty years older than my mother, so our neighbours and people who came into mom’s life later thought that she was my grandma.
What a woman my aunt had been! Up until today, I haven’t met anyone even remotely like her. As they say, they don’t make them like that anymore.
The oldest child in a large family, she was used to taking care of everyone around her. Having children of her own was her biggest dream. Alas, that dream wasn’t destined to come true – due to her husband’s vicious deceit – and when she found out that her little sister was expecting, she offered her help right away.
When we talked about my aunt’s extraordinary abilities, my mom used to say: “Every time it took me by surprise – I come home and a room is freshly wallpapered, the dinner is ready, and she smiles at me bright-eyed like a young girl.”
Everything she did, she did with ease. Household chores didn’t seem a burden to her. And her garden was so flourishing that our neighbours who lived in the countryside permanently, exclaimed with envy: “I’m slaving on those vegetable patches all year round, while she comes over for a week, and my crops are nowhere near hers.” I hadn’t realized it then – and frankly, I hardly gave it a thought – but now I believe that the reason why any small seed, no matter how old and dry, she put into the soil, grew into a plant that could easily win any farming competition, was that she did it with love. She didn’t treat working in her garden as “slaving”. It was a kind of meditation for her.
She also wasn’t averse to non-conventional methods. Once, we’d found a rat in the rat-trap in our country house’s basement. My aunt dug that rat under the cherry tree that hadn’t produced a single berry since she had bought that house. Believe it or not, that cherry tree put Japanese Sakura to shame that year, blossoming so amply as if to compensate for all the years it made us look at its ugly bareness. And the cherries were sweet and tasty.
When she was barely twenty, she was approached by a KGB guy and declined his lucrative offer to join the sinister service. And the men, who loved her, never forgot her. Once, when we were visiting the town in the North where she spent her youth, a man started talking to her. We were waiting for a trolleybus, and the man kept repeating that he knew her. The trolleybus came, we entered, and just before the door closed, my aunt told him her name. Thirty-five years passed, and I still see his face as if it happened yesterday. There was such a rapture mixed with the devastation that it was absolutely clear that despite their last meeting taking place a quarter of a century ago, the feelings he had for her were strong in his heart. How he ran after that trolleybus! A well-dressed man way into his fifties. Like a young man in love. And only now do I think I’ve gained an understanding of why my aunt acted like this. I’ll never know if she had feelings for that man. What I know is that she didn’t think it fair to give him hope, since she would never change her life and leave me and my mom without her care. She had chosen the role of my guardian angel, and I was the most precious, the most important thing for her.
Well, dear Diary, now you know what kind of a remarkable woman raised me. While the mothers of my girlfriends taught them household chores, my aunt let me study and read. And read I did! When someone was unguarded enough to allow a remark regarding the danger of me not acquiring vital skills of cooking and cleaning, my aunt cut them off saying that when the urgent need to boil an egg occurred, I’d have no choice but to learn how to do it.
My aunt’s unconditional love for me let me explore what made my heart beat faster. It turned out to be books and writing. She never scolded me for lying for hours with a book or typing away at my typewriter, wasting loads of paper. Instead, she carefully gathered the results of my creative labour, and thanks to her, I have two boxes filled with my teenage scribblings down in the basement.
And still, at some moment my creative spark faded away, and I stopped drawing strength from the words I wrote. Led by practical sense, I chose Business Management over Journalism, and dove into studies and part-time jobs, having thrown away childish notions of my stories holding any value.