What You'd Know if You Were Allowed to Visit Your Aunt

You see her. In the sixties. You weren't born yet, but you remember seeing that senior picture with the delicate collar and finely coiffed hair, like Doris Day. Her wide made-up eyes and unmoving half-smile, so different from your dad's full grin, tell of white cotton sundresses with eyelet detail, debutante balls, and awkward, sweaty drive-in encounters with Matthew, the man of her short-lived marriage.

Try harder and you can see her in the seventies. This is much more important. There's no record to be found at home, no photos, but right there, in your Introduction to Women's Studies class, if you're looking hard enough, you can see her name in the acknowledgements of a lesbian herstory book. The words cut into the page, clear and sharp against the mass of inconsequential text surrounding. Jane Everson.

You can rub your finger over your aunt's name and try to see her there, picketing with the Austin Lesbian-Feminist Organization. Her fingers gripped a sign, nails cut neatly, each knuckle well pronounced, like all Eversons, underneath still-resilient thirty-year-old skin. Her hair was matted with sweat, sticking to her tanned and freckled neck and shoulders, those permanent half circles of dark skin her tank tops exposed to dry summer sun. The other girls called her "Pixie," didn't they, because she wouldn't butch up those golden strands. Not even for the cause -- not that anyone was sold on rules of appearance at all. Whatever goes, girl, whatever goes. And for your aunt, that meant letting her blonde hair grow long and tangled. Dirty, sweaty, whipping corn silk. She was an independent being, damn it, and she wouldn't let men or aggressive politi-dykes with the best intentions tell her what to do. You're sure of it.

If you look harder, you can see the outline of unrestrained breasts underneath the fabric of her tank top. They're fuller than the other girls'. They dip lower. Remember these breasts nursed your two cousins, the ones who live with their father and his new wife, the ones you've never met. They seem to you like the breasts of a mother, but that must not be true as multiple judges have ruled that she's more than fulfilled her use. Unfit till she comes to her senses, they said. You may not see the defeat in her eyes amidst the signs and chanting and brazen cheerful waves to brainwashed shopping sissy housewife women who watch the demonstrations with distaste from their cars, but it's there. It grows while you're not watching.

You've spent much of the eighties and nineties learning to trivialize her over dinner with your parents, so seeing her name in a book will unnerve you. She isn't good company, they've said, and she definitely won't be bringing over any "friends" when she's in town to sightsee, not in our house at least. And she looks more and more like grandpa every day. That hair! Or -- wait! -- she looks more like your uncle in the Navy. She just takes after all the men in the family, wouldn't you say? Everyone laughs at this, even you, and you feel sick about it, but even more once you see her name in that book.

You dream of visiting her, of sitting down for coffee and letting her real voice wash over you with the intense unfamiliarity contact with long lost relatives, or celebrities, or anyone else you foolishly think you know, can bring. It's an obsession. You want to hear the whole story from her mouth. You want to say you're sorry about her children.

But you never will. The only thing you really know about your aunt is that she runs a mental health practice outside of Baltimore, encouraging middle-aged housewives to remember abuse from their pasts. And while you've never seen her up close, your sources say every morning she slips on a polo shirt and too tight khakis, runs a hand through short grey hair and prays the children of her straight and judgmental siblings will never call.

About the author:

Keith Sherwood holds a B.A. in Political Science, a minor in Screenwriting, but likes to write prose instead. He works as a web design consultant and lives with his partner, Justin, and their dog and cat--Katie and Oliver, respectively--in Orlando, FL.