THE HANNAROSE DIARIES

“In life we all have an unspeakable secret"

Ande Bliss

Ande Bliss
Location
Florida,
Birthday
November 04
Title
Writer
Bio
Essays, poetry, opinion and short stories. Free lance on line and in print. Favorite quote: "In life we all have an unspeakable secret, and irreversible regret, an unreachable dream, and an unforgettable love.” ― Diego Marchi Personal Website: AnneWrites.com

MY RECENT POSTS

Ande Bliss's Links

Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
JUNE 19, 2012 10:15AM

Who Or What Killed Aunt Julia

Rate: 35 Flag
images-1
 
JULIA/ A TRAGIC STORY

Aunt Julia was my mother’s best friend. One day in 1968, at the age of 57, in her penthouse apartment which was a block from downtown Montreal, she broke free from the life she loathed, drank vodka, took a handful of sleeping pills, fell into the bathtub and drowned.

We had known that she was on an irreversible slide toward self-destruction, however, we were helpless to intervene. We had neither legal standing nor a blood relationship. All we could do was watch, wait and weep.

Like many women of her era she had no marketable skills and was defined by her husband’s position and means. If she had wanted to leave there was no place to go.

My mother met her when they were young women during the 1930s. They married at the same time, and each had a son named Robert. Although, Julia was not a family member, we called her Aunt to indicate a level of intimacy and respect beyond friendship.

Our home was in a suburb of Boston. We had a few acres, a pond and an orchard. It was about as different from Montreal as it gets. I visited my Canadian family each Christmas, from my eleventh birthday until I went to College. Even after I was married, I returned with my husband and young son for occasional visits. It never ceased to amaze me that life in Montreal was so formal and genteel. It was also far more complicated than our simple life in the States. I enjoyed the differences and I loved my Aunt. She was my personal celebrity.

Julia was different from any other woman I had ever known. Unlike my mother who was known for her many artistic talents and home making, Julia was “famous” for her beauty and style. She was fragile, almost transparent, as she would glide from room to room before settling softly into a velvet settee. She was feline in her movements. Nervous in her demeanor. Strawberry blond hair was cut to shoulder length, and frequently tied back with a silk scarf. Her jewelry was understated and her clothing, the latest haute couture.

When she settled, there was sure to be a crystal ash tray near by, and in her hand, a slim silver lighter which she would casually flick open to light her cigarette. Wedgwood boxes held the cigarettes; tea was served in Royal Doulton cups and biscuits on a silver tray.

My mother lacked drama although her presence was undeniable. Julia, on the other hand, was theatrical and at the same time unassuming. It was her manner that fascinated me. She had élan. She was the epitome of elegance and grace. Her breakfast was carried upstairs on a tray. She wore lace negligees late into the morning. And a maid scurried after her, cleaning up dishes and ashtrays. 

I do not remember Julia leaving her house to go food shopping. Groceries and pharmaceuticals were ordered over the telephone and delivered. Everything was brought to her door. No money ever exchanged hands. This included catered meals, which were unheard of in my suburban American town.

However, there was a dark side to her life. It became more evident as the years passed.

She was completely dominated by her over-bearing husband. She did not own anything. She did not have license to do anything on her own. She was not permitted to make decisions. My ‘uncle’ was a man of impeccable taste and he wanted everything and everyone around him to be part of his aura of excellence.

Julia was supposed to be perfect and he made sure that she was. My aunt was examined and rated on her appearance and demeanor. She was chastised, even ridiculed in front of us if she did not behave according to his wishes. While we received his warmth, she was the object of his scrutiny.  It made us all uncomfortable, and yet no one interfered. We pretended not to hear.

When Julia poured her drinks it was from cut glass decanters. The ice would make a lovely noise as it clinked against the crystal goblet. She took her pills from a tiny silver box that was inlaid with ivory and amethyst. The elegant containers fooled us all. One could not even think of Julia as a drunk or an addict. She just drank cocktails and took something for an occasional headache. After all, we rationalized, there was a difference.

As the years passed, it was inevitable that Julia’s youthful glow would diminish. With her family grown and no occupation of her own, time weighed heavily upon her. She pursued painting and spent a lot of time with her books. But eventually she became a recluse, closeted in dark rooms with masseuses and maids. The door was closed to visitors. We rarely saw her dressed in her fine clothing and understated jewels.

Quietly and sadly she left our world and lived in the shadows.  Sometimes she would call us in the middle of the night. Her slurred speech made no sense. Sometimes she was crying. There was little that my mother could do but listen and weep back.

We were not surprised to hear of her death. It was expected. There was some relief. I don’t remember the ceremony. I do remember the cemetery. It was the first time I had been to a burial where little shovels of dirt were ceremoniously thrown on the closed coffin. The clunking sound made me shiver. The thought of throwing dirt on Julia seemed indecent. Maybe fairy dust or white sand, but not dirt. Not on Julia.

When we returned home after the funeral we tried to recall the wholesome strawberry blond of her youth. We remembered how free she was when she visited us and how formal and restrained she was at home in Montreal. We speculated as to the whys and wherefores. We wondered if there was more to her secret life than any of us knew. 

Did my uncle hold her fast because of the alcohol, or did he strangle her emotionally until she turned to drink for solace?

I supposed that the real cause of her death was aging. She had not been encouraged to grow old gracefully. And so, rather than ask him for permission, she decided to take matters into her own hands and end the whole wretched thing her way. 

©Ande Bliss 2012 

 

EPILOGUE: This is based on a true story. The first and last paragraphs are suppostion. We not know if her death was an accident or deliberate. Point is she was out of control and there were better choices for her.

As I said, her death was expected...not warranted. 

Suicide accomplishes nothing. The world will go on without you. Those you leave behind.... Live. And while you become but a sad memory... they live.

A friend of mine thought it would be a great idea to end her life. She figured her family would be very sad. But when it was explained to her that they would go on and all that she would be was a wretched memory... She re-thought the situation...got rough and tough with the world, re-married...and lives.

Suicide accomplishes nothing.

Choose life.  

 

 

 

 

 

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
Montreal is one of my favorite places. I have so many wonderful memories of my time there when I was a girl. As I sit and think about those days, I am reminded of all the characters that played on that stage. I can see them...they jump off of the page.
Thanks for telling this story. I too have always loved Montreal, although the city is now a quite different place from the Anglo-ruled town it was until the Quiet Revolution took hold. Although I still think in some places, that formal genteel sense remains.
Ande this could be the outline of a film treatment. I'm not joking.

r.
I'm with Mr. Wolfman -- film noir.

I know women like this. Sometimes their gilded cages are of their own making.

r
I see Jon's point, Ande. Better find an agent.
Seriously.

YOu wrote here: "It made us all uncomfortable, and yet no one interfered. We pretended not to hear." That's go t be as painful to recall as her passing.
How does one reconcile such losses? Back then, no suicide hotlines had been created. Nowadays, we know better, yet there are still people who try and end their lives by various means. It's an act of abject desperation, from whatever angle one views it.
Te struggle to create oneself anew is what it's bout, tho'. To be able to revivify in the midst of life, and to take hold of one's problems, these are the challenges which some find undoable.
It's tragic, but real.
Rated very highly
You ought to speak to anti-suicide groups, and use your aunt as an example. What a sad life. It's too bad she felt she had no other options in life. R.
I have known a few women like this, too. It is so sad, because they begin striving to be perfect in exchange for love. They seem to feel they have to live up to their spouse's high standards and become obsessed with outer beauty and the inner self withers. So sad. Very well done, Ande.
r./
This is indeed a tragic story. It also proves the theory that you can have loads of money but be completely miserable with your life. How sad./r
Stories like this are so sad. You hope that in more modern times women know that they have options and that they can actually see them.
Ande, this and your story of your father, to me is your excellence both in quality writing, delivering a heartbreaking message and making us all think and feel. I was engaged in reading your telling and I found myself in some sides.

"" If she had wanted to leave there was no place to go."". This I know...

Trully excellent work and I mean both my bravo and my rate!! Bravo.
Mary, I have been there recently. It is no longer in the Victorian age...which dominated well into the 60s. The Velvet curtains came down.
Jon...I think there have been many sagas of the same sort. Days of Wine and Roses comes to mind. But not quite the same. Will think on your idea.
V. corso...it would indeed be a dark film.
Poor Woman...it is true. She did get some help from AA..but he thwarted the effort by continuing to serve alcohol at meals.
Deborah...thank you. I would like to do that. Suicide makes no sense. No second chances.
Onislandtime..it is a struggle to grow old gracefully if you do not have the support of your mate. We will all experience this if we live long enough. This started as a series entitled: Graceful.
Christine..you are 100% on that. But even those without means be miserable in a marriage where the spouse expects perfection. It cannot ever be met.
jl...there are many more options today. Escape is possible.
Strathi Strathi...thank you so much for your compliments. I am delighted that visit my site.
I thought that was a photo of her. The woman on the left seems to be the person you write about, even though she isn't. Perfect photo for this great story. If her husband embarrassed her in front of your family, imagine what he did behind closed doors. Women should always have an option ready, in case they have to leave. Even if it's saving a few dollars from the grocery bill for 20 years. Leaving yourself at the mercy of others is not a good way to live.
There is the question of why she stayed with him. I have an aunt not unlike her now. She introduced the family to a sophistication we did not know, but like your aunt, she was and is her own best enemy. I just saw her and she says she wants to die, but I don't think she will take her own life. She's gotten to mean and ornery. Money isn't everything.
This is absolutely an ande original.
how well you write!
'Quietly and sadly she left our world and lived in the shadows. '
There was little choice open. Yet she did
revolt
in her own sad way.
I agree.
Suicide solves nothing.
My best buddy boy from high school went off his meds
and slit his own throat. Left three sons. And an estranged wife.

what a lovely line: "her death was expected...not warranted. "

i miss buddy boy. he was my conscience.
Thank you Scanner. I searched for many days to find a picture of someone who looked like her. I try never to use actual photos when I write about tragic events. Funny thing is I made up my mind to post today..., went to images, put in elegant women of the 1950s...and there she was. Just like Julia!

We all must plan an escape route and hope that is never necessary. Not all marriages are made in heaven. :(
BenSen. She wasn't her own person. She was his person. And that was the problem. In some respect he created her.

James, I am sorry. Your friends death was the worst kind. When we lose our best friends we lose part of ourselves. We chose them. And so we mourn them differently. Once again, thank you for your compliment and thanks for hanging around this old girl :)
you don't look that old.
lady, my sisters are 63 and 61.
they are still ''the girls'' as dad said.
age means..nothing.
life abounds, at any age. or it does not.
Thanks James....a happier me will a bound into the kitchen for a cookie. :)
U remind me of an analysis by Robert Bly and James Hillman (the Jungian theorist) In answer to the question: what do women want?
They answered: sovereingty.

And I think they meant that of women over themselves. The pity is when it is obstructed for one reason or other--everyone loses.
this story is so beautifully crafted. i "saw" everything...felt it all. excellent writing, and yes... a cautionary tale. life does go on even if a person chooses not to.
This is so well-written, Ande, and oh, so sad. Aunt Julia reminds me of Mrs. Robinson from "The Graduate."
Interesting story. I think that lives of rich women were always bordering on something like this back then. It was about appearances and sometimes the control of the husband. Too bad her life ended this way, but what was her life at that point? One cannot know or judge or advise others unless they have some knowledge and understanding.
Lorianne...thank you. I wanted you to see her..as I did. I forgot to include her generosity. I have a beautiful ring she gave me...and her drawers and wardrobe were always open to me for foraging. She is missed. Dearly missed.
Erika... I doubt that she would have seduced. She gave of herself ...in other ways. I have a ring and some porcelain. But her life was dark at the end.
Sheila, there is something to the old country club set and keeping up. Even if you never played a round of golf or a game of tennis...you showed up looking good. Hard to maintain that image for decades. Thanks for your comment.
Ande, I don't doubt that she was faithful to her husband, but there was a lot of darkness and sadness in Mrs. Robinson; maybe that's where the similarity lies.
Suicide is most often a act of despair or revenge... choosing to end your life depends on the circumstance and mental health of the individual. I've got little empathy for a person who attempts to manipulate the emotions of those around them by committing or worse, attempting suicide to draw attention to themselves... on the other hand I can understand why a person could choose to end their life to avoid inevitable, unrelenting and unnecessary suffering.
One of your best, Ande. Lovely.
This is a sad tale of her time, oft repeated, but rarely spoken out loud. Very sad.

I always thought (and this may sound heartless) that suicide -- unless there were sure torture, divulging dangerous information or no other way to prevent more harm to others -- was the coward's way out of life.

This in no way hardens my heart to those who think this must be the answer for them. I choose to sit out the situation and wait a few more minutes -- or act to free myself from whatever it is that causes me such misery. I don't think it's the coward's way out anymore, but I do think it's a poor choice.

After all, once the act is committed, there's no changing your mind. Just as you start to reach terminal velocity as you jump, you could be thinking, "Oh NO, I've changed my mind, this is a bad idea!" Yeah, but now it's too late. Just after you make the cut and see your lifeblood leaking out you might think, "Oh, I don't think I should have done this," but it's too late, you're already passing out from loss of blood.

I reserve the right to change my mind on anything at anytime and so suicide seems like an irrevocable choice that I should save for a truly dire situation where my life lost saves others or something.

Julia and others like her still live and die today. I can't say I understand it. I don't. I do know that it must really be a heavy load of sorrow and despair that drives anyone to that point.

--r--
You wrote this very well, Ande; I have to go with what scanner said. Excellent piece. R
Jmac...that is the whole mystery...was this intentional or an accident. I'd like to think that she simply lost the ability to rationalize, and just said, "to hell with it all". Many of us come that close....
Dunnitowl...there is difference between intentionally planning to kill one's self and getting so intoxicated that a person looses the ability to rationalize. In any event the result is the same. We will never know what Julia was thinking.
Thank you Keri. It took a while.
Thanks Thoth. You are sunshine on a rainy day. :)
Ande, you wrote your Aunt Julia's story so well. It's very poignant and I can see her almost as vividly as you remember in the settings you described. As Mary Stanik also commented, although Montreal is probably very different from the way it is in your memory, the formal genteelness remains in certain places. It is very undertoned. Congratulations on the EP!
R♥
A ghastly story. Thank god for feminism.
Thank you Kate. I do believe that she tried AA, but as I said, my uncle still brought alcohol to the table. There is a great deal that we did not know.

Fusun, I was in Montreal last summer. Some friends still have a char woman cleaning three times a week. The old neighborhood is very much 'gentrified' and enjoying a new life. Most things change, but some of the old ways remain. Let us hope they don't let them change the bagels....best in the world!
"A friend of mine thought it would be a great idea to end her life. She figured her family would be very sad. But when it was explained to her that they would go on and all that she would be was a wretched memory... She re-thought the situation...got rough and tough with the world, re-married...and lives."
This should be taught in high school...
I have never known a woman like this but I have seen them and could feel their sadness. How sad...
What a sad sad story.
Gripping story, Ande. Tragedy in the classic sense. Ultimately so sad. Your epilogue is perfect.
Myriad..it is a ghastly.
Lunch Lady...any curriculum that dictates moral choice would be challenged. I would gladly speak to this subject, but I do not have the credentials. I can write stories though.
I love life..you are the epitome of hope. Your name says it all.
Chicken Maaan.. Thank you for your comment. I was at your post..trying to catch up on the story.
[r] a tragic story compellingly told. especially from a younger "niece" who admired her so. leaks of things "not right" picked up by caring others are like the above the water tips of icebergs, actually part of massive submerged mountains of monumental pain. best, libby xxx
"The thought of throwing dirt on Julia seemed indecent. Maybe fairy dust or white sand, but not dirt. Not on Julia." I can see you recoiling.

This was gripping, sad and painful to read especially because Julia's reality was the reality of so many women of her time, albeit not on such a grand scale. Had she been born 20 or 30 years later, things probably would have been so different for her.

Of course we don't if she took her own life. But I take issue with some of the harsh opinions expressed here regarding suicide. Calling it cowardly or selfish is cruel and shows a fearful lack of understanding. Suicide is rarely an impulsive or unplanned act. For most people it's the end of the line, when all other options for finding some kind of peace or relief from pain are exhausted. It has nothing to do with seeking attention either. And instead of feeling like they may have made a mistake, most people feel a great sense of relief.

@jmac and dunniteowl: People make choices every day that impact them and those around them negatively. They may not be as dramatic as suicide but once they're made there's no going back and the effects can be just as devastating. Yes suicide's a terrible thing, for everyone involved. Families can spend lifetimes trying to come to terms with it. But sometimes there is nothing else for the one suffering. There's no other option. I've heard it said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and mostly I agree. But not always. Not every problem has a solution and for some, life isn't always worth living. Unless you can crawl inside someone else's head and experience what they're feeling then don't be so judgmental. As mental health and grief experts love to say, "No pain is greater than your own." Or something like that.
And there are so many ways to commit suicide slowly. Oh so slowly we all seem to do ourselves in but some do it with love and laughter. You painted such a fine detailed look at your Aunt. Thank you Thank you for this great writing. I hope she is at peace now.
Ande I am really pleased this is a Cover.
Libby..that is so true. Intervention may have be the way to go. However, as I said...this a complicated story. My uncle aided and abetted to some extent. I do not know if he sent her to AA or if it was her idea. In any event it didn't work. And He may have also been at the end of his rope.
Margaret, thank you for your comments. I do think my aunt was at the end of her rope. And most likely...my uncle, as well.
Zanelle. We all have a limit on our time. And we all waste some of it.
Choosing how we die is a subject that I should like to explore at a later date. We have no choice regarding our birth..and many of us are caged in life. A discussion of this magnitude would take volumes. Thank you for your comment.
How did your mom and Julie meet? They seem so different from each other.

This story was beautifully written. I was captivated by your descriptions of Julia's life. I agree with those who have said this could be a film.
Thank you Proud and Progressive...They met as girls. It was a family connection thing. I prefer to keep the rest of the story private in order to protect the anonymity of those who are portrayed. Please remember that there is supposition involved here. These are people I cared for.
Poor woman. Learning how to cope with life is something you have to work on continuously. It sounds like she was set in amber at a young age. That kind of situation distorts a person's view of what they are doing in their life. Instead of learning to deal with the world, to take care of herself, she spent her life pleasing one person. Naturally, he would not have been pleased that his decorative wife was aging. But there's more than that. She might have divorced and gone onto have a life of friends, art, travel, just being on her own. She probably had a bit of depressive illness, exacerbated by the pills and alcohol, that made it hard to visualize any other kind of life, to move toward something else. Like a chemical reaction, you need a surge of activation energy to create a change of state in your life, and depression robs you of that. Fascinating piece.
Poor woman. Learning how to cope with life is something you have to work on continuously. It sounds like she was set in amber at a young age. That kind of situation distorts a person's view of what they are doing in their life. Instead of learning to deal with the world, to take care of herself, she spent her life pleasing one person. Naturally, he would not have been pleased that his decorative wife was aging. But there's more than that. She might have divorced and gone onto have a life of friends, art, travel, just being on her own. She probably had a bit of depressive illness, exacerbated by the pills and alcohol, that made it hard to visualize any other kind of life, to move toward something else. Like a chemical reaction, you need a surge of activation energy to create a change of state in your life, and depression robs you of that. Fascinating piece.
"While we received his warmth, she was the object of his scrutiny. It made us all uncomfortable, and yet no one interfered. We pretended not to hear."

Very sad story. It's difficult be a perfect object or accessory for too long. It doesn't matter how many people pretend it's wonderful, eventually it's just not wonderful enough. People really don't make good objects, they tend to remain people inside and will find a way to break the object they have become if they can find no way out on their own. Drugs, alchohol, suicide, they will find a way out of their pain.

As you say, there's no way to know what was in her mind but I really appreciated Margaret Feike's comment. I was expected to be that perfect object and after so many years the pressure was too great, eventually I tried to kill myself when I was a young woman and couldn't be perfect. Maybe it was cowardly and selfish of me but my extended family was unable to be generous or courageous enough to do more than suggest I get over whatever I felt. They were benefiting from my parents so I suppose if I'd succeeded and they felt bad that would have been their problem to get over, just like my suffering was considered mine.

My parents only concern when "dealing with me" after was "what would people think." I got lucky, I survived and I had a friend kind enough to take me in for a few months and help me. She was an unusual person, her concern was honoring my feelings and it was a wonderful experience. If I had it to do over, I'd have given my family the bird decades ago and never looked back.

I'm very sorry for your aunt Julia and am grateful many have different options now.
THIS POST HAS RECEIVED A READERS' PICK AWARD!
you paint such a vivid picture of your aunt Julia and her life, I felt with you that "...fairy dust or white sand, but not dirt" should have fallen onto her coffin. Last paragraph really got me, and helped bring home your epilogue.
I can read no more.
I am crying.
Sirenta...it surely is a study...no one knows what lies between the lines, behind the doors, under the sheets. We can only suppose.
Thank you for your comments.

L'heure Bleu...Thank you. We all felt terrible for Julia..but we did not know our uncle. Why perfection and place were so important to him is another story. Perhaps he had something to prove within his own family.?

Thank you Maria...Diminishing is very hard. As we age, not only do we lose our beauty, our youth and our prowess...but we lose eyesight, hearing and the acute status of other senses. But the worst thing to lose is respect.
This is so sad; I'm sorry that there was nothing you could do.
Good post, certainly outside my experience, but even better epilogue. Suicide doesn't solve anything. In my synagogue, I recently saw a family ripped up by one - a young man in his twenties. All it does is cut short possibilities and make people hurt, I'd imagine way more than intended.

Suicide is usually both a vicious and irresponsible act. I've known people who attempted it. One was the bipolar mother of a few daughters, one of whom was also bipolar. As a parent, I can't imagine that I'd ever think it was OK that the closest a child of mine could ever get to me when he/she needed me - by MY choice - is the other side of six feet of dirt and a box lid. I understood that before that was the closest I could get to my son by no one's choice.