Before you know what agony is growing up in England, you want to be an agony aunt. You grow up watching women like the late Denise Roberston on This Morning, listening to the great broadcaster Claire Rayner or reading The Sun’s Deidre Sanders advice column. But the latter involved being in a racy love triangle with someone from work, and much as I loved the grubbiest paper in Britain, I was too young to know what ‘racy’ or ‘work’ even meant. Step forward my Aunty Wendy. She signs herself off on my blog as “Your Loving Aunty Wendy” lest she was trying to go undercover, and she’s all that and so much more.
Let me take you back. She gave me my first cigarette – a slim stick that I’m positive hypnotized me – encased in metallic blue and white packaging. Actually, I stole it from her with my cousin David because I’m sure we thought it would be good for our mental health or that we would look cool or that anything Wendy did was aspirational (Rothman’s side effects still unknown). She gave me my first Magic Garden, a rectangular piece of green on to which you added water and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, in three hours your flora and fauna would start to blossom. In ten, it would be fully grown, giving the term ‘topiary’ a serious run for its money. She gave me my first joy ride through Tuscany, which trying to describe all the pleasures of that ridiculously picturesque region would take a lifetime, and even then, we’d just scratch the surface. I’m pretty convinced that’s why I went to study in Florence during my GCSE’s, why I took Italian at University, and why I have such an affinity with fields dotted with olive and cypress trees and houses stained ocher.
She gave me my first serious crystal, a giant piece of amethyst on my 21st birthday that travelled across the oceans to be with me here in New York. She told me about turquoise and adamite, hematite and ajoite, ethically sourced mines in Mexico, and took me to The Scratch Patch in Cape Town where we picked the smallest morsels of rocks to be beaded into anklets, amulets and rainbow-hued bracelets. She introduced me to the naturopath Roderick Lane, a man who’s had a profound effect on my life and work. She’s been a sounding board through adventures of love and exploration, a soothing-voiced ally, except this one wears skintight leather pants and heels as if they were Converse and jeans. She understands deep-seated psychological difficulties as well as plain amoral behavior, and by the look on her face, if she hasn’t done it herself, she’ll be doing it later on (after she’s eaten 12 rusks, that is).
She gave me literature (Sylvia Plath) that I loved so much I thought I was going crazy and once laid in bed for two days just to be sure (it was a weekend, mind). Everything she gave me made me feel less alone, and that’s why I think an aunt can be such a powerful creature. When I think of her, I am in awe of her intelligence, her language, her wit – her sheer gift of loving, and what must have been her drive, as its guardian, possessor, possessee, to realize it. I don’t have to share all her political views to find her an inspiration and an example mind, but nothing seems to shock her, not even our most recent delve into some pretty odd shenanigans. Unlike dreams or star signs, my life to her is endlessly fascinating.
Aunts, we’re lucky to grow up with one or two (shout out to Aunty Cherry, a relationship which I can’t wait to expound on) who help our mothers free us of mostly ‘labia-related’ worry: let us be grateful for small mercies. There are some things, after all, you wouldn’t want to Google. The best thing about my aunt Wendy though is that we laugh a lot, actually cry with laughter a lot. I hope we continue to do so for infinity, and if infinity ain’t really possible, then for all the years to come.