"Hi!! How're you guys doing?" I said, struggling to make my voice heard over the sounds of everyone else. My words echoed through my aunt's audio, and I could hear her saying "What? What'd she say?" to my baby cousin George. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen her in person, a year or two ago. It had been at grandpa's funeral, and she had been very drunk.
"Hey Maisie, come on over here. Come on!" she'd yelled over from across the field. She was on her fifth martini, but I didn't stop her. No one did, because she'd just lost her father.
"Hi, Aunt Margaret! Are you doing okay?" I asked, being very careful how I phrased things. I didn't want her to have a mental breakdown.
"Aw, I'm fine. He's up there somewhere, having a jolly good time." She replied with almost no thought, as if she didn't want to believe anything else. That was okay, though, if she didn't want to face things then.
"If you every need anything, anything at all, I'm here, Auntie." I hugged her hard, much to her surprise, but I wasn't about to stop. I wanted her to know. As a psychiatrist-in-training, I knew the horrible ways that grief affected people. I wasn't about to let my Aunt become one of my hopeless cases.
"Aunt Margie, I said hi!!" I yelled, trying to get my voice across. She seemed to realize it, and screamed "Hello!!" back. She seemed to be holding up okay, which meant that she'd somewhat recovered. I was glad.
"Hey Maisie, how're you doing? How's college?" I could barely hear my brother as he spoke, and it was almost impossible to get a reply across, so I traversed the chat.
(Privately) to Lucas Horowitz
Hey Luc! Has it been that long? I finished college five months ago lol
(Privately) to Maisie Horowitz
WHATTTTT!!!!!! And you didn't tell me!? Come on, Maisie! Well, have you found a job?
(Privately) to Lucas Horowitz
Yeah, at an orphanage all the kids are so cuttteeeeee!!!
Our whole big family had been doing Secret Santa for years now, but then the stay-at-home order hit. Now, we had to do it over Zoom, with a private chat message. I would've been fine with anyone, except for Grandma.
She'd gone off the deep end a while ago, tending only to her flowers and cats, but we still had to include her. After all, she was still family.
"ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE!!!! I WILL BE THE ONE PERSON HANDING OUT PEOPLE THIS YEAR, SO PICK A NUMBER AND I'LL MESSAGE YOU THE PERSON IN THE CHAT!" My Dad boomed, as if he was trying to scream for help. "Who wants to got first, eh?"
I raised my hand with glee, giddy with excitement. Who would I have to buy a gift for this year?
"I'll choose number eight!" I said. My mind was so hopped up on Christmas joy that I couldn't even acknowledge the worst possibility. But there it was, staring me in the face.
(Privately) to Maisie Horowitz
You have Grandma Chrisie
Shock was all over my face, my eyes wide, but I wasn't surprised. I was the psychiatrist, and she was the coot, and they most likely wanted me to coax her back to reality. Well, they were right. I had too big of a heart to leave her suffering unnoticed.
The rest of the Zoom went by in a blur, probably due to the lag and the frozen screens. None of the people in my family had ever been particularly tech-savvy. Then again, they were all either sixty+ or infants. That is, besides my brother and I. We'd always been best friends, even when we moved away. He had become a stockbroker, just like our Grandpa, and I'd become a psychiatrist. We came from the same world, but it felt like we were in two different ones.
What I should've been focusing on was what to get my Grandma. She wasn't an artsy person, and she had enough plants, cats, and old plates. That was all that we knew about good old grandma, since she'd dropped off the face of the Earth about two years ago. It was even harder then, in quarantine, to find out what someone wants for a present. The rest of the world may have adapted to the technological world, but my family sure hadn't.
The next day, I went online, trying to find something for her. What were you supposed to get a widowed cat lady? I looked on what seemed like five billion websites, but I couldn't seem to find anything that she might like. There was only one option, I knew. Facetime.
It took seventeen missed calls for her to finally pick up the phone. "Hi Grandma, it's me, Maisie!" I said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
"Oh, Maisie. What... What are... are you doing calling me?" She asked, with the saddest voice I'd ever heard in my life. I wanted to walk to the ends of the Earth right then just to bring her back her husband.
"Well, Grandma, I need to get you a Christmas present. I didn't know what to get you. Is there anything that you'd like for the holidays?" I tried to phrase it as well as possible, because I didn't want to come out and say "You've closed yourself off entirely."
"Oh. Um, there's not anything I need right now," she mumbled, and started to trail off, when the perfect idea hit me!
"Grandma, that's okay, I'll call you again some other time! Bye!" I said, not bothering to look at the surprise on her face. I opened my computer with a flourish, and thought back to when my Mom died. What had I done to get through it? I had mostly wallowed in self-pity, not caring about what anyone did or said. Grandma had been doing that for years, though, and I thought past that. How had I gotten through it?
"Mom, why'd you have to leave me? I didn't do anything, right? It wasn't my fault?" I cried, in a fetal position on the couch. I sobbed and sobbed, the pillows soggy and wrinkled.
"Maisie, get up. Come on, now," Lucas said with a strong tone. I wrestled with my inner sloth to get me to my feet, and my legs felt sore.
"You need to try and move on. You didn't do anything to hurt her. You especially didn't cause this. You need to understand that." He shook me a little, as if he was trying to get it into my head that way. I nodded, and then he pulled me in for a tight hug.
"How are you so fine? She loved you as much as me!" I asked, as I nestled into his shoulder on the couch. He seemed so calm.
"Maisie... She'd been suffering for a while. She'd been through a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. Death is a part of life, and I know that her death put her out of her misery." Lucas told me. "You wouldn't want her to have to go through more pain just so you can have more time with her, would you?"
No, I wouldn't. My mom needed her sleep. Thank goodness for Luc, for my family. Without them, I would never have made it through her passing.
I knew what she needed. A family. A friend. I was going to be that friend, to help her through her pain, and to put my education to use.
____________ 2 Years Later_________________________
"ALRIGHT, WHO WANTS TO GO FIRST!?!" Dad's crackly voice echoed through my computer.
"I will, Joe." Grandma said.