Aunt Vie was a mother to three, grandmother to seven and an aunt and friend to many. She had been married thrice, twice to the same man. Despite her age, she insisted that we all – children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – call her Vie, plain and simple. Vie was born into a middle class family as the only daughter. At the age of 17, she eloped with her high school sweetheart and ran off to Peru. What a cliché – she would always say. She married a simple man for she fell in love with his simple ideals. Vie believed and cherished simplicity, but when she turned 18, her curiosity and thirst for the world could not be contained within the cheerful pleasantries of her Peruvian farm. So, she left Joaquin and his simplicity to embark on an unknown journey.
Vie loved to write. She carried a notebook and a 3B pencil with her at all times. She used 3B pencils, as she wanted her words to stand out. What she wrote were not frivolous, over-abused words but the reality as she saw it. For this, she needed her words to be bold as they formed a regal statement. Vie’s writings portrayed the world in black and white – right and wrong. In her eyes there was no in between. Her strong convictions made what she wrote genuine. Her writings made one feel uncomfortable, for we as humans tend to seek solace in every shade and grayness in our own construed realities.
She travelled all over the world unwilling to make a home and settle down. She would say – the world is my home, I have built a house in my heart where I choose to sleep in a different room every night. She was 19 when she had her first sip of alcohol. She let the brandy trickle down her throat as she stared into her reflection in the mirror across the bar. After that day, she would always love to look at herself drink for she would see another her every single time. Vie travelled from Darjeeling to Alaska, writing what her eyes saw and drinking the wines and liquors from all around. When she was in Seoul, she picked up the habit of smoking. She wrote a piece, her one and only biographical, about how it felt to be a woman who welcomed all the vices of society with open arms. A woman that smokes profusely, drinks limitlessly, and writes inconsequently; shunned by society. Her piece was sarcastic and so true that it received mixed reviews. Her sentence that struck me the most was – I dine like an English Duchess, love like a Japanese concubine and drink like a Russian peasant; why is it that I am told not to bring these worlds together? Her strong economic, political and social convictions gave her a hate it or love it charm.
When she turned 23, she bore her first child. She married the father of her son as those times called upon her as a mother to give her child a father, a home and a society that would not outcast him. Timothy was a good father and a decent husband. He gave Vie the stability that she wanted for her children. She gave birth to two more in the years to come. Vie believed in having a strong and close family. She may not have loved the man she married, but she loved and adored her babies. For them she stayed at home and she never looked back on her decision. She gave up smoking for them, but drinking she would not. I mean who was she kidding, her brandy was her happy bottle. That was how she called it. But the 25 years that all her children lived with her she was never a drunk. That she had promised herself. After all her three children went off to college leaving her nest empty, she opened her drawer and took out her notebook and pencil.
At 48, she was a forgotten writer. She embraced this with delight as she had a fresh new start with a new outlook. She left her husband, sold her house in Canada and bought herself a ticket to Seoul so that she could once again smoke a cigarette under the same street lamp where she had had her first ever drag. Desires of an old fool, I would say.
Vie was not like those who believed in fate and the one. But, in our eyes it was so as she fell in love again with the same man she had left brokenhearted 40 years ago. Joaquin with shades of grey in his hair strode back again into her life. Vie loved as she never did before. She felt like she was 23 again with the world at her feet together with the man she loved. She wrote pieces all day and in bed, she read them aloud to Joaquin. They married on a cold winter day. That night they had only each other and brandy to keep themselves warm.
Vie would say that life has its own reset button. But you could never fast forward or rewind to where you would want to be or where you have already been. I loved listening to Aunt Vie. She once told me a story about how she stole a monkey from a restaurant in China, just because the monkey had managed to steal her bottle of brandy from her handbag. Oh, yes! She always carried a 375ml bottle of brandy with her. She did not carry it in a flask, as she liked seeing the golden brown color glisten in the bottle as she took her sips. She was an eccentric woman indeed.
She spent 20 fulfilling years with her Joaquin, notebook and her happy bottle. The four of them travelled the world indulging themselves in each other. Seoul was Vie’s happy place. She had fallen in love with the people there from their serene faces to their we move forward attitude. They bought a house there and settled down. To commemorate their 20 years of being together Vie and Joaquin took a trip to Fiji, where Joaquin died peacefully in his sleep on the beach while Vie was taking a midnight dip. Ironic, that’s life – said Vie. She did not shed a single tear but we believe she took comfort in her happy bottle. She denied she was an alcoholic, we said otherwise.
In the years to come, time was of no avail to Vie. She threw out all her clocks and watches saying that she needn’t know the exact time. Her time became the light as it passed through the horizon. I would mostly go over to Vie’s and wake her from her ever so often stupors. She would wake up to a mimosa with a dash of vodka. She laughed with all her heart, cried from within her soul and threw tantrums that would make any 3-year-old look like an angel. Her every emotion was an exaggeration. She lived in a reality exaggerated by the sublime effects of her intoxication. I told her once that she lived in a blur while talking with a slur. She erupted into a thunderous explosion and literally fell of her chair laughing. Then all of a sudden she stopped and the house became as silent as a deserted house on the prairies. I never knew if I had offended her or not. Vie was present in this world in a surreal way. She would be saying one thing then jump to talking about how she ended up buying vodka instead of her usual brandy. She told me that in her years of travelling one thing she learnt was that even in the most trying and harsh times people always managed to scrape some money together so that they could have a slug of their preferred liquor before calling it a night. To that, I told her – but Vie isn’t that then an unnecessary desperation, a need for borderline alcoholics. To this, she just said – indeed darling you are right, but you have to understand that this was a luxury we cannot give up as it is a cheap remedy to fall into a slumber where our worries are forgotten.
That night I went home realizing that my aunt was not an alcoholic. She chose to drink to ease her mind. Yes sometimes she drank a drop too much but she knew right from wrong. Although, sometimes the realization hit her a day later. I remember a time when I found her passed out on her porch. She explained to me how she had probably blacked out still hugging her happy bottle. She told me that a blackout was her escape from monotony. An escape from the usual. She would do things she would never remember. Sometimes she’d end up awake in a hotel room with an unknown man beside her ( that’s when shit hits the fan oh so many times) and sometimes she’d have managed to clean out her whole garage (that’s when you’re left in awe as Vie was not known to be the most tidiest person). She told me she’d awoken numerous times either in shame, regret, curiosity or simple happiness. To her, blackouts were for the weak and cowardly, who would want to escape just for some time, do something out of their good judgment and wake up with the excuse of having no recollection.
Vie had many philosophies, half of them were on alcohol. Even to a non-drinker like myself they made sense, but not always. Another one of her philosophies was about how an alcoholic would find any reason to drink, whereas for a true lover of the alcohol the reason would already be there in the letters imprinted on the bottle, on their own lips that could already taste the alcohol as it is being poured into their glass. I did not know what was worse being an alcoholic or a servitude to the happy bottle. Vie was the latter one, as the next time I went to visit her I found her in her bathtub – shut eyes, pulse stopped, candles ablaze and her precious happy bottle floating around her. Ironic-that’s life as Vie once said.