It starts with the call you hope will never come from the relative you pray will never visit, not for a day, not for an hour, not even for a minute.
"I'm coming to stay with you," Aunt Corona says.
Not a question, a directive. The call is unexpected. Her tone is commanding, as if she has the power to stop time. You're not prepared with an excuse, a.k.a. a plausible lie.
"Um, sure, yeah, okay, but I have this thing..." You stammer.
"What thing, dear?" Aunt Corona asks.
"Just a thing." You've always been a terrible liar.
"When is it, darling?"
You blanch. Her sickingly sweet tone and use of endearments are pure manipulation.
"Um, I'm not sure when it is. Any day now? Maybe in a few weeks or months?" You try and change the conversation. "I thought you were in Asia."
"I was but I did everything I wanted to do there so I made my way to Europe."
You're not surprised. Aunt Corona has always been that elusive relative who travels the world and comes and goes as she pleases. Her stay unwelcome and too long.
"It must be nice to see so many interesting places." You say, stalling some more, trying to think of an excuse that will keep her far from your home, from your community, from your life. You fear a repeat of 1981 when your great aunt, Corona's mother, came to town and didn't leave for decades.
"I'm in the States now," she says. "Got here a few days ago in time to celebrate the new year. 2020 is going to be awesome. I can feel it."
You hesitate to ask the next question. "Where are you in the States?" You say a prayer she is not nearby.
"Outside of Seattle. Heading to San Francisco next. After that I'll travel across the country to New York City. You know how much I love the city. I plan on doing some serious damage there. Then I'll make my way to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras and to Miami for the Winter Party. That's when I'll stay with you."
Again, not a request.
"Uh, great. Sure. Um, for how long? I mean, I'm trying to make plans for this thing I have."
"Right, that thing."
Did Aunt Corona snicker?
"Cancel that thing," she says. Her voice lowers as if sharing a secret. "Actually, cancel everything."
"I can't cancel everything." You shriek at her audacity. "I have to go to work, I just joined a new gym, I have plans with my friends and family..."
"I know you have a busy life, dear, but trust me, you'll be slowing down."
Anger boils in your gut and you recall a story your grandmother told you about when she was a little girl in 1918 and her aunt, Corona's great grandmother (you think), came to stay and didn't leave for two very long years, the entrails of her destruction the ever-lasting reminders of her visit.
You think, shouldn't I be the one to stop this pandemic of visiting relatives, intruders actually? Why do I have to continue with the family tradition of being manipulated and used? You decide to stick up for yourself and for all your relatives before you.
"No," you say, hoping the word came out of your mouth with as much force as you heard it in your head.
Aunt Corona chuckles. "That's cute, dear. I'll see you no later then March first. And, darling..."
You hesitate to bite, but you do. "Yes?"
"I'll be staying a couple of months. But don't worry, after I'm gone and you go back to work and return to the gym and you spend time with family and friends again, don't be sad. I'll return a few weeks later."
She hangs up. Your iPhone sits in the palm of your hand. You search your recent calls. An incoming one from your sister twenty minutes earlier. Another incoming call from your brother the evening before. No recent unknown calls. No recent spam alerts from AT&T. You put your phone down, let go a long exhale, and search the genealogical chart in your head. You recall no Aunt Corona in your family. No unwelcome relatives coming to visit and staying too long. You think to call your mother or your siblings to make sure you have this correct but realize they'll probably think you're crazy. Your brother will make a joke about you needing to start taking meds. You laugh and realize it was a bad dream. One of those wide awake nightmares. You smile and try to remember that thing you have to do.
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