On the fourth shelf of the rather large bookshelf in our living room is a light blue vase with a fat circular bottom and a smaller circular top. It’s dressed in varying shades of blue paint, swirled all around the entirety of the vase, except for the inside, which remains the burnt orange color of the clay it was made from. A sleek, shiny glaze coats the outside, and is the very reason why I enjoyed rubbing my finger on the side when I was younger. The vase is full of nothing but dust and old memories; I always found it ironic that we all called it a vase when in fact no plant of any sort has ever occupied the dark inside. On the bottom of the vase are the two letters: R and U, followed by a large, poorly drawn bumblebee.
The story of how my Aunt Ruby had been in “great peril” whilst trying to put the blue vase she made for us in a kiln during her college years has been repeated to my sister and I enough times to where we could tell the story with matched enthusiasm and exact words.
“I assumed that it was safe to be in there!” Aunt Ruby would practically shout with her hands outstretched and shaking to put an emphasis on how safe she thought the room containing the kiln was. I would throw a glance at my older sister Tara and roll my eyes; not necessarily because I didn’t want to hear the story for the one hundredth time (I actually enjoyed listening to Aunt Ruby talk with her cheerful, boisterous voice) but rather because Tara is older than me and much cooler and I used every opportunity to make myself seem like her equal. Tara would cross her arms and smirk in response to my eye rolling. This always made me feel slightly giddy as my sophisticated sister and I got to share a mutual feeling towards one of our relatives whom we both loved dearly but who also liked to repeat herself.
“Of course I had forgotten to leave the door open, as is one of the rules, so that huge cumbersome door slammed shut and little did I know that it locked from the inside! And guess what?” Aunt Ruby would pause at that point in the story, but not long enough for Tara or me to respond. She always did like creating suspense.
“I only had the key for the outside of the door! So after spending twenty minutes banging on the door, I finally gave up! I had to wait for a full four hours before someone came in! Can you believe that? Four whole hours! I missed two of my classes and as soon as that clunky old door opened, I shot out and ran to the bathroom because I had been holding it for a full two hours! Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s humanely possible but I did it!” Ruby would exclaim, almost too prideful of what she had “accomplished” while waiting for the door of the kiln room to open.
Before Tara or I could get a single word in, Ruby would quickly get up off the red couch in our living room that she bought for us from a yard sale and clap her hands together. “Trevor! Why don’t you go get it?” ‘It’ of course referred to the vase that had so dangerously made its way into our living room.
I would nod and routinely get up off the floor and walk over to our bookshelf and take the vase over and hand it off to Ruby who would stroke it lovingly. My sister and I would wait for the last part of the story and would mouth it to each other as she said it with her eyes closed and her words dripping with nostalgia:
“Despite all that, I went back to the kiln room and made this vase for you guys.”
Aunt Ruby had always been there for us. From my little league baseball games to my eighth grade graduation and from Tara’s swim meets to every single one of her high school homecomings; she never missed a single moment of our lives, no matter how insignificant. When we were little, Tara and I didn’t mind the obnoxious cheering and extremely bright flash of her camera as she took hundreds of pictures to later be used for the annual calendar she would create using only pictures of us. Once Tara turned thirteen, she started complaining about how “annoying” and “embarrassing” Ruby was to our mother. I was only nine and thought it was preposterous that Tara disliked the amount of attention Ruby gave us, especially considering how little our actual parents came to events important to us. Our mother would listen to Tara’s seemingly endless rants, usually while cleaning something, and say practically the same thing in response to Tara’s irritated outbursts: “At least your aunt cares about you.” Tara would storm away, frustrated at not hearing what she wanted.
As I started to get older and became more influenced by my sister’s example, I too started to become slightly humiliated by the things Aunt Ruby would do for us. I don’t think I will ever hear the end of the mocking by my high school baseball team for the display of affection she had shown me after we won a crucial game against our rival school.
Yet despite our clear (quite rude I might add) distaste for our Aunt Ruby’s involvement in our lives, she still remained. Looking back, part of her avid participation was out of spite but most of it was because she deeply loved and treasured us.
Ruby had never been married so there was little chance that she would have ever have kids of her own. She always said she never wanted any and that Tara and I were enough, but I think deep down she would have wanted to have a child of her own. When I was younger I always wondered how she wasn’t married. She was funny, kind and always gave me gifts which seemed to be traits desirable to any available suitor. Ruby used to joke that she could never get married because her heart was already stolen by Michael Jackson, who she had been listening to since she was young.
She loved art and was extraordinarily good at it. She did everything from watercolor paintings of landscapes to pottery which was her favorite. She signed off on each piece of artwork the same exact way; the tall thin R and U letters followed by a fat smiling bee. Tara and I used to try and recreate her abstract paintings and became jealous when our art never turned out even close to Ruby’s. After dragging us to numerous art museums around the continental United States in her green van, I began to have an appreciation for art that not many individuals my age had. I saw everything from statues of hefty naked women to gigantic canvases with only one thick paint smear. Some of the art I loved and some of it I hated and some of it I didn’t understand. The unique thing about Ruby was that if I expressed my negative opinion on a piece of artwork, she didn’t shoot me down the way most adults would. She would nod and either disagree or agree with me and then she would take the time to actually explain the piece to me. It may have been slightly exhausting walking around each art gallery and trying to appreciate every piece of art, but without all that, I never would have chosen to take an advanced placement art history course at my high school. I didn’t think Ruby had ever been prouder of me.
That’s why it was such an awful, gut-wrenching shock when we found out she had passed away.
The memory clings to my brain like a huge magnet. It was February twenty-second of last year, late evening on some average weekday. Tara’s boyfriend Levi, a decent basketball player who cared just enough about his grades to keep playing sports, and who Ruby had an obvious repugnance towards, had been over at our house. Our parents had given up trying to enforce the rule that he was only allowed over on weekends until eight p.m. The two of them were in Tara’s room while I remained in the kitchen, digging around for leftover snacks and trying to understand my algebra homework.
A harsh knock sounded at the door in the foyer. Instinctively I quickly crept over to the window by the door (my mother had always put an unnecessary emphasis on the danger of strangers). I peeked through the sheer, white curtains and was surprised to see a police car with its red and blue lights burning through the darkness in our driveway and a somber looking police officer standing on our dirty welcome mat, his fingers hooked into his belt loops.
“Tara! The police are here!” I whispered as loudly as I could. I knew she couldn’t hear me, but I couldn’t think of any possible explanation for why they were here besides something Levi might have done. Cautiously, I opened the door.
“Good evening. Is this the Russatt household?” The police officer asked with a rough, low voice. My eyebrows furrowed.
“Are your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Russatt here?”
The rest is a blur. I remember bounding up the stairs and bursting into my parents’ shared office and quickly blurting out the situation. The three of us went downstairs and the only thing I remember the police officer saying was:
“Your relative Ruby Jane Everose died two hours ago.”
Apparently it had been a drunk driving accident. The worst part is, it wasn’t the other driver’s fault. In fact, no other drivers were even involved. My pure, perfect aunt Ruby had been extremely drunk and had crashed her car into a tree and died almost instantly.
Apparently aunt Ruby had had a drinking problem for several years; all the way back to when she a teenager. After my mother and Ruby’s father left, Ruby started getting heavily involved with drinking, drugs, and excessive partying that only got worse as she went to college. Though she tried quitting numerous amounts of times, she was never able to fully get rid of her horrible crutch. She had even tried rehab a few times but nothing worked. Practically no one knew, not even her own sister, though my mom recalled having suspicions.
“If only I had confronted her about it,” my mother squeaked through streams of tears across her twisted face during Ruby’s funeral.
I remained in shock and stone silence for a while. I felt absolutely nothing but bitter emptiness in the depths of my being. My grades started dropping and I started skipping baseball practice and games, but I didn’t care at all. The tears came three weeks later, once the event started to lose attention from legal figures and neighbors who pretended to be concerned by offering to bake our family a casserole. I had been lying in my bed, my mind a completely blank slate, when I felt the urge to rifle through the useless junk under my bed. Among the protein bar wrappers, baseball socks, and old torn papers with attempted homework scrawled all over them, I found an old mug that I had completely forgotten about. It was small and almost square shaped, with leaves etched onto the sides. The brim was chipped, and my mind immediately flooded full of a memory of something that I had long forgotten.
Ruby had made the mug for me after my flute recital when I was eleven. I genuinely liked it, even though that very same day I dropped it and it chipped.
The mug reminded me of the last conversation I had with my Aunt Ruby which I regret to this day. We had it the day before she got into the car crash. I had already been agitated that day from a math test I had done poorly on and seeing the girl I was fond of, Melanie, flirting with a boy I was not in favor of, Casey. After school I stormed into the house and angrily stuffed potato chips in my mouth while avoiding my homework and trying not to think about the inevitability of my baseball coach yelling at our team for losing our most recent game.
Ruby called me on my phone, which was rare of her to do, but I answered anyway.
“Hello?” I practically shouted into the phone.
“Whoa! I haven’t even said anything yet!” Ruby’s voice echoed through the phone. She was chuckling but I was so annoyed I found it the furthest thing from funny.
“Do you need something?” I asked gruffly. Looking back, I’m sure my aunt was taken aback by my unnecessary rudeness.
“Well I was going to ask if you wanted to come over, but if you are busy that’s fine. I’m supposed to have a pottery class later, and I thought you might want to come, but its fine Trevor. See you later.”
She hung up before I could respond. At the time I was thankful to have been relieved from the phone call I had deemed so unworthy of my time, but now that I was thinking about it, if I had said yes, she may not have ever gotten into the accident. The reason she had gotten so drunk was because she had been alone and depressed. If I had just forgotten about my own selfish ambitions for one minute my aunt Ruby would still be alive.
I sat in my room and cried into that chipped leaf mug for hours, loathing everything about my existence.
Though her death still consumes most of my thoughts, things are relatively better now. I managed to maintain an A in my AP art history course just because I know Ruby would have liked that. Tara ended things with her boyfriend Levi just a few days after Ruby died. I suppose our aunt had been right about him all along. I started taking baseball more seriously than ever before, and my grades slowly began to rise back up again. As for Melanie, I completely dismissed any thoughts about desiring a relationship with her. Death makes you see things in a different light. But sometimes that’s good I guess.
While visiting her grave is tough, Tara and I made an agreement that we would do it every other week. Sometimes we spend hours sitting in silence in the eerie graveyard, while other times we glance at it for a few moments before heading home.
Taped to the wall in my room is a tiny, bee shaped pin right above my bed.