And I’m telling you because it was so sudden, and I can’t bring myself to write about anything else. A tragic car accident on Old Montauk Highway in Montauk. When I heard the news from my husband, I was spooning zucchini fritters into a frying pan in the kitchen, the baby playing with cups at my feet. In an instant, my mind flashed back to when I was 12-years-old. Aunt Janis, with her long blond wavy hair, sometimes kept me at her house for weeks at a time over the summer, since my cousin, Heather (her daughter), and I were so close.
We all have that aunt, the one that makes you feel less like a girl and more like a grown-up at that tender age when you’re trying to be exactly that. She’d ask me about boyfriends and giggle about summer crushes. She was fun and carefree, a former hippie with three kids who always had a hammock in her backyard. The kind of person that drove her Jeep barefoot, sand covering the mats and all of the windows down. She’d ask me about my life as a teenager and actually listen to my responses, showing me that there were adults other than my parents interested in what I had to say. We’d talk about books and TV shows and her rescue dogs, like they were people. More than once, she joked that I could be her daughter, since I looked so much like her middle child, my cousin, Jenna, and I liked that, since it made me feel like I was somehow more special to her than everyone else. As an adult, busy with my own family and jobs, I saw her less frequently, but when I did, we’d talk about writing; she wrote for the East Hampton Star for 20 years.
So when I heard the horrible news yesterday, that’s where my mind reeled: I was suddenly a little girl swimming on a sun-drenched beach in Montauk, my aunt in a lounge chair near me in her tortoise-shell sunglasses. She’s smiling. She may have had hardships in her life, but she always smiled when she saw me.
In my kitchen, a second passed, maybe two. Then the reality of what my husband was saying hit me: car accident, gas truck, dead on the scene, 12:40pm — and I collapsed into his arms. Broke down in tears.
Later, I spoke to my father, her brother, and he was more stunned than I was. He kept telling me: “Drive safely, honey. Please. I love you.” It was an odd request, but our brains do funny things as we process the news that someone we love is suddenly gone. Besides, I knew what my dad was really saying: “Don’t leave me, too.”