I had a phone call to my mom. Towards the end of the conversation she mentioned she had something to tell me. Judging from her tone it wasn’t going to make my day, I felt that drop in my stomach. “Your Aunt Lisa died, likely an accident, but we are waiting for the coroner’s report.” It wasn’t a shock, though she was just shy of her 57th birthday. Unfortunately Lisa’s drug use began early, and defined most of her life. I went to one of the pictures I have, from her 16th birthday. On the back “To my favorite niece, Here’s a mug shot of me, from me to you with lots of love…..Always! Love Aunt Lisa.” To be fair, I was probably her only niece at that time. That is the Lisa that I will always remember. I was lucky enough to know the pre-drug Aunt Lisa, something my siblings did not. My mother’s other two children are 10, and 18 years younger than me. They were visiting me recently, and it really hit home how different each of our childhood’s memories were. I didn’t even live in the same house with my brother, ever. So this is for them, as well as a tribute to my Aunt Lisa.
The Peanuts character “Peppermint Patty,” reminded me of my Aunt. They even sounded a little bit alike. Easy going, and always one that appreciated a good laugh. I thought she was the coolest human being on the earth. My grandparents moved to California around 1969 (my best guess) taking my Aunt with them. Being from California made her even more epic in my mind. I followed her around like a puppy dog whenever we were together.
One trip back to New Jersey occurred when my Lisa was 13. I recall her using her own spending money to buy me a little gift at “Sam’s” a local corner store. What 13 year old uses their own money for such a purpose? I think it was a paint by numbers kit, from my child’s view it was a treasure. It was probably all of her spending money for the trip.
My parents divorced when I was in fourth grade. During that fuzzy period when we were moving from New Jersey to Colorado we made a trip to visit with my grandparents in California. My Aunt was probably a junior in high school. She played the guitar, the banjo, sang, and had quite a few friends. Lisa had such a natural talent, she could hear a song and pick up the instrument and start playing it. She made an attempt to teach me too, but it didn’t take. She gave me her harmonica. Probably so I would not feel bad about my failure. She was talented, funny, kind, and took time out of her teenage schedule to hang out with her very not cool niece. I adored her.
Lisa started her downward spiral soon after that visit, which I don’t care to detail. She had no children, never married, and probably left a bit of a mess for her siblings to sort through. She was far from perfect. Her legacy to me was that drugs destroy even the kindest of hearts. When I was 11 she attempted to give me an anti-drug talk. She couldn’t get out of their way, but I got her message loud and clear.