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My aunt died on July 10th or 11th. I’d been waiting my whole life for my her to leave us. She was always either sick or in love, sick or in love.

It started with love at 15. High school, pregnancy, marriage, alcohol, divorce, needles, Hep C, Jesus, marriage, alcohol, pregnancy, Jesus, pregnancy, sobriety, beatings, meetings, divorce, the good years, marriage, cancer. My mother watched from near and from afar, clasping her hands and clutching her own children, counting and praying on us like rosary beads.

She was sick in the way that is probably worst: wasting slowly, illnesses and pain stacking up inside her chest. It was the type of sick that could be delayed but not stopped. She fought it in each new form and so did her family. I was removed from it mostly, living in Kansas, the creeping things taking over her body a thousand miles away.

Her cancer had stretched out over organs and years. I forgot about it most days, and on the ones I remembered, I felt horrible, but mostly horrible for myself and for how I hated that I was the type of person who could forget.

Toward the end, we knew it was coming. My aunt and the creeping things inside her had been gasping for days.

About a week before she died, I rode my bike out onto the floodplain at night. Everyone else was praying for her to get better, but I wasn’t. I told God I wanted it to be over. I whispered it to the dark river. I told her I was sorry. I meant every word.

She died on July 10th or 11th. I cried on the phone with my mother, but not because I was ready. Only because she was crying and she was my mother.

For the first week, I was mostly sad in the way that sadness travels like a laugh or a yawn, jumping forcibly into and out of a chain of mouths whether they want it to be there or not. My brothers and I flew to Montana for the funeral, meeting in the Salt Lake City airport and taking the same connection out to Butte. I sat toward the back of the small plane and tried to figure out the appropriate acts of penance. The right words to say to my mother, my cousins, new rivers, old gods.

When we first moved to Kansas, my mother would cry while she vacuumed the house. Her tears were for her sisters, her brother, her mother, her past, her uncertain future, and sometimes, in weakness, herself. Her sadnesses are perhaps too many to list, too many to bear. She is a woman who has survived things, survived people. Stood at bedsides and next to phones, silent or weeping or screaming.

I do not know how to mourn instead of lament. I write, I ride, I whisper. Easy flagellations. I do these things because I think they are appropriate. Because I need a rope to tie to my feelings, so I can drag them behind me across weeks and years, until I am finally strong enough to lift them to my face.

I loved my aunt and I miss her. She died on July 10th or 11th and was buried on the side of a small hill in the valley where she and my mother grew up. In the afternoon, the shadow of Mt. Haggin covers her grave. My mother doesn’t talk about her as much anymore, doesn’t cry when I mention her name.

Now, my mother only cries when she says goodbye to her children. She smiles and pretends to know how to love us without fear. I don’t believe her.

One, two, three, she counts us and prays. One, two, three, she watches us leave.

She waves until we are out of sight. She goes on living. Outliving.

Gordon St. Raus

Gordon St. Raus peaked at 15 and is mostly held together by masking tape.

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