February 1

Fourteen years ago, I was sitting in the dark living room with Ted, age 10, watching Batman: The Animated Series, when the phone rang.

Great-Aunt was in hysterics. "Oh San-san! Your Goong-goong's hung himself! I can't bring him down... What is your poor aunt to do?"

My Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle had doted on my brother and me as if we were their grandchildren. Their only daughter, Wendy, never had any children of her own.

The funeral was held in Chinatown, open casket, the hall decked with his favourite puffy chrysanthemums. It wasn't until years later when I found out that my dear Goong-goong had stomach cancer and couldn't live through another day of suffering.

Every year since, on February 1, we'd gather at my Great-Aunt's home for an elaborate dinner, to celebrate the life of her late husband. She'd cook something amazing, filling our bellies with Chinese and Peruvian dishes until we could no longer move. Every year after dinner, we'd hold her hand as she'd sob uncontrollably for Goong-goong, telling him how lonely she was without him.

Since his death, she has acquired a parrot and Lok-lok, an adorable, albeit pervy, little Shih-Tzu. She's taken in houseguests, sometimes strangers from her travels, sometimes distant distant cousins from her village in China. A few years ago, one of these houseguests made off with some of Goong-goong's favourite ties, as well as the pinking shears my Great-Aunt had used to cut him down from where he'd been found.

Two weeks ago, my Great-Aunt was diagnosed with cancer in the kidneys. This year's dinner for Goong-goong was, for the first time, a take-out spread. It felt strange to walk into their home and to not be greeted by smells of a home-cooked meal. I never thought the sight of styrofoam on the kitchen counter could bring a lump to my throat.

We all behaved as if it was just another year, chatting over this food that tasted nothing like Great-Aunt's cooking, shooing Lok-lok away each time he'd find a leg to hump. "These fucking beans are pretty damn good," declared my Great-Aunt and I giggled. Of course she didn't say this in English, but the translation from Cantonese is pretty close to true.

After dinner, she held Wendy, Ted and me tightly and wept, "I can't bear to leave you."


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