Our Aunty Suzie

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As a writer, it’s often the people we love the most who are the hardest to write about. Our stories too complex, operatic with an orchestra bursting with feeling and emotion. Strings and percussion staccato along with laughs and fun while bass and drums thunder in with rocky patches and rough seas. The curt goodbyes or the childish jealously are stored in our hearts and memories in amongst the fact that you sat side by side at your Grandfathers funeral or paired up for the chicken dance at a mutual friend’s wedding. With family we always forgive, but often never forget.

While 500 words is perfectly adequate for the story of a new friend or a chance meeting with an interesting observation to be made, family and life long friendships are a novel. A novel that lands with a thud raising dust from the table. 

Before she was the legendary Aunty Suzie, she was G’s sister Susan. Our first meeting was a few weeks after G and I were engaged. In our very own version of meet the parents G and I made a weekend trip to Brisbane. As I stood in the kitchen with my very best attentive smile for my mother inlaw to be, I felt my soon to be sister Susan by my side. 15 years later, she’s never left. 

“My god you guys are going to have kids with the longest eyelashes!” she said with a cheeky smile and a welcoming giggle. Immediately making me feel like I was one of them, she talked as if I’d been around forever.

My first glimpse into Suzie’s inclination to include, or more-so her capacity to provide a moment in time its sentiment, was through a small but incredibly thoughtful gift. Over the weekend she handed me a present, a picture of a very young G, standing with the family dog in their expat days in the Philippines.

“I thought you might like this. He was so cute.” I agreed and then made a joke that G wasn’t too bad either. Our first laugh in solidarity at her brothers expense. I hadn’t thought much of G’s past until then, our whirlwind romance was full of us, our now, our future. In my brideness it was all about new beginnings and our life together. For Susie it was the first taste of life with a sister in law, a complete change to family as she knew it. She never once gave a hint of being anything but delighted.

A few years later when Suzie went to work for the most convenient Prime Minister of Australia (most convenient because through pure luck a few of his overseas commitments coincided with the location of the birth of our little travellers) we reveled in having Aunty Susie there for the occasion. At the hospital in Kuala Lumpur it was Aunty Suzie pouring the bubbles and cooing over baby Annabelle. In Canada she arrived at the house with momentos from an historic speech Australia’s then Prime Minister John Howard had given on the day our Henry Hotdog was born. Its content about relations between Canada and Australia. A speech I’d watched from my hospital room with a newly born Australian/Canadian in my arms.

But it wasn’t just the births. It was the multitude of thoughts, actions and “just because” events that Aunty Suzie offered. The book she’d seen as she passed through an airport that she was sure Lizzie would love. A Christmas ornament that felt particularly Australian that she just knew the children would appreciate. “I just saw this….” or “I just had to get this for…” Nothing outrageously expensive, everything had a meaning, a connection. This is classic Aunty Suzie, warmth, diplomacy, thoughtfulness. This is why she’s the godparent to many, the frequent dinner guest, everyone’s plus one. But for us she was our Aunty Suzie. The honey to my little traveling bees, they swarmed on her with every visit.

And that’s also how we all became so spoilt. We assumed. We took it for granted that she was all ours, we didn’t have to share. 

“We should see if Aunty Suzie wants to come?” we asked when considering a trip to Disneyland. “Maybe Suzie could meet us in Houston?” we wondered as Aunty Suzie took a well deserved holiday with a girlfriend. We just figured she was an extension of us, always there, always available.

We were about to get a shock.

Our first hint that things were changing was when Aunty Suzie ditched us on Skype for a more interesting call.

“I’ll call you back, my phones ringing” she said to G mid conversation.

Except she didn’t hang up properly. We were still there.

“Hellooooooo” she purred into the phone.

G turned to me with one eyebrow raised, it was an Aunty Suzie voice we’d never heard before.

“Who’s she speaking to?” G said as only a brother could.

I giggled “I don’t know but it’s definitely not a girlfriend, hang up!”

As the romance progressed we realized things were going to change.

Aunty Suzie was busier. Blissfully in love and giddy with both the look and the chatter that only new love can provide.

Meanwhile we were quietly pouting from afar.  

Neither of us had admitted it out loud or to each other, but we were a little put out. Our Aunty Suzie was just that, our Aunty Suzie. We’d never had to share.

We saved a seat on the couch for Aunty Suzie, the little travellers each taking a turn at sitting on or next to her. We’d snuck her away from the campaign trail for a quick dinner all of us squished in the car with the windows down and the music blaring. We’d gone for a walk on the beach with Aunty Suzie, built sandcastles and buried each other up to our necks. How was it all going to work now? And who was this guy that she was using this weird Aunty Suzie voice for?

I’m embarrassed to admit that our initial reaction wasn’t about what we had gained, it was what we had lost. And my only defense in our deplorable response was that we felt we had so much to lose.

I finally admitted it to G “I know it’s selfish and I know it’s wrong, and I won’t say it out loud again, but I’m a bit sad. It feels like the end of something.”

“I know what you mean – it’s different, she’s not all ours anymore.” he sighed.

When the wedding announcement was made we were happy for Aunty Suzie. This was exactly what we’d hoped for her all along. Wasn’t it? The words had come out of my mouth enough. “How great would it be if she was to fall in love”. And now she had. Why wasn’t I cheering in the streets? 

“What’s he like?” a girlfriend asked “Is he good enough for Aunty Suzie”.

And then it clicked. No-one was ever going to be good enough for Aunty Suzie. How could they?

“Yes. And she adores him, and they’re very happy together.” I meant it.

When wedding plans were made Aunty Suzie had one request, for her “11” to be there. Her parents, Uncle Andrew’s three, G’s six. My girls are bursting with bridesmaid excitement, our boys charged with the task of getting Grandma down the aisle. There are have been roughly 11 million emails and 56,000 texts in preparation. At a scale of 1 – 10 my girls sit firmly at a 99 when it comes to OMG OMG OMG we’re going to be bridesmaids.

This morning as our house bustled with wedding jitters and exuberance, I loaded the bridesmaid dresses into the suit-pack and triple checked I  had the belts, the shoes, the shirts and the pants for the boys. As I wandered by a picture of the seven of us, a picture that sits in prime position as we make our way up and down the stairs, with the Sydney Opera House sitting iconically in the background, I looked at Aunty Suzie sitting in the middle of us. It occurred to me that there was always someone missing from the shot. Suzie’s family that she was yet to find. 

Families are novels. Characters change, grow, and develop. Some of us keep up with the story as the pace develops and the plot changes. Some of us take some time to move on, preferring to sit in the comfort of the original volumes.

Tomorrow we gain an Uncle Malcolm, a new character, a new family member. 

And we couldn’t be more delighted to share our Aunty Suzie.

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