I wrote this ahead of time. As you read this, I have arrived in Belgium, having flown all night and missing all the fireworks displays.
Breaking from my usual practice of celebrating life on birthdays, today I fill this space with memories of someone on the anniversary of her death. Amelia Mary “Emma” Aquilino – May – Armstrong – Cash, shuffled off this mortal coil on 5 July, 2010, right about 0600 EDT. I believe she was at peace, having brought her fight with cancer to an end on her own terms.
You can read all about that stuff on my previous blog, or in the book I wrote from it. Just because I can’t get those images out of my mind doesn’t mean that you have to experience them (but I do like the occasional guest book entry and royalty check).
I thought I’d spend a few words telling about the woman I knew and loved.
Emma was not a shy person, at least not on the exterior. She came across as brash, but there was a vulnerable little girl inside. She had not had a pleasant childhood, and made up for it by taking control of just about every situation.
Emma was widowed twice before meeting me. She was not certain about dating again, but her downstairs neighbor insisted she place an ad in the personals section of the paper. This was before the internet and all the dating services there are today. Neither of them were poets, but they had the formula right.
This was her ad, I now keep it with some of her things next to her ashes. Who could not be intrigued? I was looking for a date for the Nouveau party at Chaddsford Winery. I wasn’t really looking for a life partner, just someone to go to a wine tasting who actually enjoyed good wines. Emma was direct when we first spoke on the phone. “There are two things you need to know about me” she said, “I’m Sicilian and I smoke”. As the years passed, I could think of no better introduction for her.
I picked her up at her place and drove to the winery. There was a “secret” entrance in the back, and it never occurred to me that it might be a little scary to drive off into the woods twenty minutes after meeting for the first time. She told me later that she had her hand on the door handle the entire time in case she needed to jump out.
After the party we went back to my place, a tiny apartment in South Philly. She walked in, looked around, and said “No, this won’t do at all”. I had no idea what she was referring to. “You’ll have to move in with me, this is much too small” she said. Obviously I had already made a good impression. I moved into her apartment the next week. She allowed me into the kitchen a few months later. Emma was an incredible chef, and it took a few years for her to acknowledge my skills.
We were married on April Fools Day, and had our ups and downs for over eleven years. She was not the easiest person to live with, neither am I, but we both felt it was worth it. Her mood could flip in a second, and there was a particular level of alcohol that would push her over the edge. I never did figure out how to measure that, probably had something to do with the stars.
Emma was “quirky” (no surprise). Over the years I met her family, I’m not sure how to describe them. There were odd relationships, but the strength of the word “family” kept them together, sometimes beyond any understanding. Family gatherings usually ended in a fight, I heard that fistfights were not uncommon at funerals, maybe that was why she didn’t want one.
If there was ever a person who could really be psychic, it was Emma. Although she was wrong about a few things, she was right far more often. She could meet a stranger and know all their secrets, would know when someone was pregnant before they did along with the sex of the baby. Sometime though, she would have a dream and wake up angry over something that hadn’t happened, and it would be difficult to calm her down because she was right so often.
We joked about being each others third spouses, what would people think if I were to die. Cancer answered that question. She softened in many ways during her last year, things that would have set her off no longer would, and her “team leader” qualities came to the fore, she was everyone’s’ inspiration in radiation and chemo, always smiling and joking and never looking sick in public. In fact, she looked healthier than I, so folks often thought I was the patient. I guess that’s when it finally got to me that we weren’t doing as well as I thought, when a tech asked if I was her son. She never lost her humor, even the night before she died she was still touching the lives of the medical staff.
Lieve and I are listening to a book together about perception, how events and circumstances alter our memories and expectations. When I lost Emma I thought my life was over, and of course it wasn’t. Two years later I thought that I was past the worst part, and thought I was fully recovered. Today, despite all the wonderful things in my life, I can tell you I’m not there yet, and there’s no reason to believe I ever should be.