When our story left off, Annette had just come out as a Lesbian to me and my wife. This revelation would fall under the heading of Confirming Our Suspicions. Nevertheless, it was a huge deal to come out in the mid to late Eighties. We came to understand that her sexual orientation was just one aspect of who Annette was a person. What Annette never had was an enduring relationship. She had attractions, dalliances, affairs. We never met her lovers.
She was a loving and caring aunt, but a realistic, observant and feisty one. She rapidly discerned that her surrogate parenting job entailed damage control around her brother’s marital and familial escapades. She once confided in me that Leroy had an eye for “White Trash”. He would get married, with all the accompanying optimism. Then the drinking and the late hours at the Safeway would erode the foundation of family life. Finally the once-blissful bride would depart, to “find herself”, leaving Annette with the job of taking care of her niece, then a nephew, whilst Leroy was at the store. It actually worked out fairly well, because Annette had both a sense of responsibility but also fun. There was the pool at Aunt Lois’s for summer days. In its quirky, near dysfunctional way, the children received nurturing and parenting.
Meanwhile, Aunt Ruby’s health was declining, in a predictable descent; diabetes, impaired circulation, nerve damage, gangrene, amputation, and heart disease. Ruby passed, leaving Annette and Leroy in the bedlam.
The niece and the nephew, children of different mothers, grew up. Annette’s health spiraled downward, so that the house she inherited from Aunt Ruby fell into disrepair. An opossum moved into the attic through an open vent. My brother named him “Maurice The Marsupial”. Her obesity had rendered her disabled. She moved in with Aunt Lois. Things were good at first. Aunt and niece would go to farmers’ markets, and cook for the family gatherings that occurred at the holidays.
Annette lived her lesbian life vicariously, through the internet, The Advocate, and lesbian-themed DVD’s. It was no kind of life for anybody to live. Soon the wheelchair was a necessity and the wheelchair ramp became part of the architecture of the postwar bungalow Lois and Annette called home.
Annette became Lois’s reason to live. She took her to dialysis, the numerous other doctors’ appointments, and in January 2006, to the Medical College Hospital, where Annette lapsed into a coma, and died of renal failure. There is a reason why they call it Morbid Obesity.
Leroy was the last of the family, Uncle Jim, Aunt Ruby, Annette were gone. About a decade before, Safeway pulled out of the Richmond market. Leroy then went back to school, and became a computer nerd, earning a good enough living to afford his own house with a swimming pool, private school for his son, and Austin Nichols Wild Turkey Whiskey.
His alcoholism captured him, isolating him from the family. He surfaced for the principal family events, which were now funerals. My brother, through a circuitous system, involving Magic Jack, would contact him of the passings, Aunt Lois in May 2011, my Dad in August 2011, Cousin Bailey in January 2012. He and his son would show up at the funerals.
One day, in March 2012, my siblings, my elder son, and another cousin were cleaning out the house where Pop, Grandma, Aunt Lois, and finally, Annette had all lived, preparing it to sell and settle Lois’s estate. We were interrupted by a call from Leroy. He had fallen and cracked a vertebrae in his neck. He was in the hospital. The neck fracture came from bones weakened by metastatic cancer of the lung. Leroy was still smoking the Marlboro Reds in the box, just like he did in High School. His son was joined by his daughter, now an Army wife, who had flown in from Germany. His ex-wives came back as he now lay in hospice. Within two weeks of that phone call, Leroy was dead.
After Leroy died, we learned his biological father had not died as we were told. Ruby had divorced him. The family was a family of secrets. There were emotions, numbed by food, turned raw by alcohol. Were Leroy and Annette ever happy? Probably not.