Three times in the last few weeks I've remembered pieces of this, a small, deeply buried piece of who I am. First, in an airport conversation with Robyn, second, in a facebook exchange with a new friend, and third, in some photos I saw here on Chris' blog.
She quietly makes the rounds. She's learned already to be invisible. That's how you hear the best grown-up conversations. That's how you get to eat lots of potato chips and dip without getting in trouble. You lick the dip from the chip and get more dip til the chip is soggy and stays behind in the dip and then you get a new chip and start again. There's squishy red pimientos to suck from green olives and green olives to admire at the tips of all ten fingers. They don't quite fit though, even on her tiny three year old fingers. They split at the sides and the saltiness drips and she gives in, eating them thumb to pinky then pinky to thumb. She doesn't leave any salt to dry on her fingers or wipe on her shirt. She keeps her fingers in her mouth until they taste like fingers. She moves on to the bottles and drinks the last half-sips of beer in each one. She's learned early this flavor, this drink and it's smell that already encircle her.
She begs to go along with her dad well, he's her step-dad and the only dad she has memories of living with and her uncle well, he will be her uncle when he marries her aunt even though everyone says he is nearly as old grandpa when they decide to ride the motorcycles. Begs until her mom nods. She smiles inside her gold flecked bobble head helmet as they kick start the bikes and push forward to flip up the kickstand and she knows it's time to climb up. She just knows how to avoid burning her leg on the hot side and for the first time she hears him call her 'Monkey'.
She rides behind so she can hold tight with both arms and she never lets go. Her first crush begins then.
They go fast. There are flashes of green everywhere and there is the brown river first on one side and then the other. The sun is bright. It's over too soon. She is lifted off the motorcycle and away from her almost uncle.
She does not want to be invisible anymore. She brings him the bowl of dry-roasted peanuts and offers the olives, shiny-smooth and black this time, from her very own fingers. She confesses her love for him simply, "I love you!" and climbs uninvited onto his lap as she wraps her arms around him again this time face to face with no bobble head between them.
He unwraps himself and looks her in the eyes and says,
"Monkey Face, let me tell you about love."
He speaks and she listens. She does not understand his words, but she understands his voice and she sees that his words are not meant just for her. He is looking at her aunt.
She forgives him then for marrying her aunt. For loving her more.
Monkey Face climbs down and disappears under the table with the jelly filled mints that look like little white pillows and wonders why some melt in her mouth right away and others need to be broken on the outside by her teeth before they will begin to melt.
My aunt married a dentist. It was the second marriage for both of them and he was much older than she was. He was a true outdoorsman. He camped and hunted with a procession of Brittany Spaniels in an old aqua truck named 'Thumper'. He made fly rods and tied equisite flies. His hair and his beard turned white as the years went by. He spelled his last name with one 'm' just like Ernest and the family resemblance, though distant, was striking. He taught me how to mix his drinks and I knew he wanted another when he said, "While you're up, Monkey Face."
I adored him.