Ever since my older sister was born, she was always around. She was our first and only nanny. Merna was even there when my brother and I were born. Both my parents worked for most of my life. It wasn’t until recently that my parents took stock of their lives, and quit their jobs to spend more time with my sibling and me. Merna was there to take my brother to hockey practice, or me to gymnastics, or my sister to tutoring. Everyone loved Merna. I don’t know one person who disliked her. Her bubbly, but firm personality guided my siblings and me to the people we are today. She would take our favorite foods, such as rice, and add a Jamaican touch by throwing in some garlic, cinnamon, or bay leaf. I could still picture Merna’s squeamish face as she described how her brothers would scare her using live snakes. As a little learning about immigration seamed so foreign but hearing Merna tell the story of how she immigrated to America after meeting her husband, Trevor.
Merna and I did everything together. My little legs would dance to Shakira “Hips Don’t Lie” with her. Merna’s phone would blast “No One” by Alicia Keys every time she got a phone call. I think she is the reason I love music and dancing so much. She always encouraged me to pursue my desire to perform. She even took me to my first audition for a horror movie called “Mama” and said to me, “Gabby, when you are famous, buy me a house on the hills when I’m old.”
Merna only wore black and sometimes hot pink or blue. She wore dangling earrings that peeked out through her pixie cut hair. Every month she would have a new hair color. Brown, Red, Black, and back to brown again. When I was really little, she would wear towering high heels and I would always ask her if I could borrow them when I got older. Merna was beautiful.
I felt kind of lost. I had two siblings. Bella, who was two years older, and Finn, who was two years younger which means I’m the middle child. My sister did everything before I did, which made all my “firsts” routine and mundane. My brother was the first and only boy which made him a novelty too. He also is the baby of the family and constantly needed attention. This meant I was left alone. I was always independent and I still am. Merna always cloaked me in that attention. She would support me, ask me about my day, and gave all of her attention to me instead of my siblings. Before trick-or-treating on Halloween Merna always got a picture of me dressed in my poofy pink princess outfit or my gory vampire costume. She always asks me about new makeup or clothes. Every day after school when I would get home, the first thing she would do was give me a hug and a kiss on my cheek which would immediately brighten my day. That is what Merna did best, she gifted people with happiness.
Both my mom and dad would frequently travel for work, so Merna would stay over at our house sometimes and when we moved into our new apartment, we had a room for her to make sure she was comfortable. In the summer, I would stay over at her house in Queens when my parents were at work. Her house was cozy. It smelled like old wood and leather. The highlight of the sleepover was staying up past my bedtime watching TeenNick on Merna’s enormous TV that sat upon her creeky floor. She made me feel at home there. I would have eventful chats with her husband and we would catch up when I hadn’t seen him in a while.
Ever since I was little, my sibling and I would go to her religious events which she called “meetings.” She was a Jehovah witness which is a religion that is a “millenarian restorationist Christian denomination.” I was shocked at how they did not celebrate birthdays. My family and I would always try and buy her a cake and presents but she refused to accept them. At the meetings, they would select passages from their book and discuss them. My brother, Finn even contributed to the conversation sometimes, but I don’t even think he knew what he was talking about. After the meeting was over, everyone would greet each other. Many people that I have never met or have met in the past came up to me and said, “You must be Gabby. Merna has told us so much about you. You look so grown up now.” Hearing these words always made me feel loved. I kept going to Merna’s meetings twice a summer and every time I went it made me feel happy inside.
When Merna past away a few years ago due to a heart attack, I felt empty. I had lost my best friend and my best supporter. I felt lost again and did not know what to do with myself. The anguish in my heart made my body ache. I felt like I wasn’t home and I was lost in the colossal sized world. Her funeral was held at the same place her meetings were. I saw all the friendly and kind people again, but I could tell, they too were in agony. During the speeches, I could not contain myself. Salty tear climbed down my face over and over again. After the meeting all the pleasant, but sad, people started to greet me in a more joyful way. They were putting in an effort to be happy again and make the most of what they have and enjoy life.
I spent the next couple of months lamenting Merna’s death, but I tried to be happy, like Merna’s nice friends. I tried to make the most of every moment knowing some people might not have these moments tomorrow. I came to realize home isn’t your physical house, it is with people that make you feel comfortable and happy. It is where your friends are and where you share memories with your loved ones.