Friday, April 01, 2011


Evelyn was a dear aunt of ours even though we lived most of our life across the country from her. From the time I was very young I was always told "oh, you look just like Evelyn". Every time we watched the slides -"pictures on the wall"- I heard "Oh, you remind me so much of Evelyn!" And little did we know from that point on that we would turn out very much alike in many ways. Theatre is a big part of my life as well, and we've just had that connection throughout the time that I've been involved with that and I think that every time I step on stage I'll still remember that part of her.

We had had this disconnection for a long time because of the miles, but thank God for the Internet! She had been helping us make arrangements when our grandfather passed away, and over the past five years the connection remained. A couple times a month we'd email her, or she'd email us, and let us know what was going on and check up on us. It just so happened that last year when I was struggling to make some sense of my daughter's attention deficit disorder, I didn't know that she was making a living out of helping in that very same area. And so she was very much our advocate across the country, letting me know what my daughter's rights were, where her abilities were, and confirming what we knew, that our daughter was very intelligent and just needed somebody to let her know it. We had forged a bond through those electronic connections; although many people think it's impersonal- it was very much personal in our case.

I called her Ev because I had asked her special permission to dispense with the Aunt business; I've always had a problem with that kind of formality. We became friends at a difficult time in my life when I was feeling disconnected. She pulled me back in and gave me permission to be a bit of an oddball, not because she said it out loud, but because whatever I was was all right with her, and that must have been that it was all right. I knew she was involved with the theatre and I was interested in becoming more involved in it; so as I went out on auditions and had rehearsals and performances we would share these stories about those times, and when I found out about her death all I could think about was not having somebody to share those things with. I would mention to her often that it was always a bit of a dream of mine that I would be able to come out and see her, or she would be able to come out and see me; but even though we never got to see each other perform, there will always be a seat for her in any audience that I'm in front of.

As I was preparing to come out here from Columbus, Ohio where I live, I heard so many times from family members that it will be great to see you, but we're sorry about the circumstances. And my comment was always the same; the circumstances are bad, but I'm glad, regardless of the circumstances. And when I got on my plane in Columbus heading for St. Louis for my connecting flight, a woman I was sitting next to who I had never met before sighed and said, "You know, it's good to be going home." I sat for a minute, smiled and said, "Yeah, I feel the same way."

Our family is a family of traditions; they are also a family of strong opinions and strong personalities. And it's that part of her that will stay with me. Everything she taught me, about the theatre and about myself, was just by being real with me and letting me know that there was always a place for me; she pulled me back into that and I will always be grateful for that because even though she was a part of my life for 30-some-odd years, I really only felt like in the last year I got just a glimpse of what was there.

I've spent hours trying to think of something, trying to come up with the right combination of joke-story-quote, and finally at 11 o'clock this morning I thought, quite frankly, that I don't even want to be here. To be honest with you, I don't want to be here… because it's just not right. There's just something not right about this… there's so many things I'm never going to get to do. I received almost daily emails when my grandfather was sick and then later passed away, and in the past five years we went from the aunt/nephew relationship to a friend relationship. When my mother first called me and said Aunt Evelyn had two heart attacks and did you get an email about it? my first response was "wait a minute, let me hang up and go check my email" and then I realized "wait a minute, Evelyn always sent the emails." And every day since then I keep thinking "man, I've really got to write to Evelyn about this," because we wrote about so many things; but I can't. I've got to remind myself that's not possible now. The MacNair family is a family of tradition, and we fulfilled one of those traditions when 11 of us sat around the Chinese food table. And as I looked around that table I thought, there will always be an empty spot, right over… here…

… and my hand pointed at imaginary seats around an imaginary dining table until it pointed to my very real heart.

The death of my grandparents was somewhat expected; the death of Evelyn hit me hard. Knowing Evelyn was to encounter life. As I sat back on my bed on that day in 2001, having just heard the news that my beloved friend had suffered two heart attacks and was on life support, I didn't have an answer. I didn't have the lack of an answer. I had no complex theological explanation as to why my aunt was about to die. I had… nothing. A void. A total inability to comprehend life without life.

The paradox of death is that life stops, and life goes on. I could not explain to anyone how a piece of my heart was gone and yet I was expected to live. I could not explain to anyone how wrong it was that people were ordering hamburgers and doing 40 in a 25 zone and mall-hopping and arguing about college sports when they needed to STOP!!! Life was over, yet I was still here, and I still needed to live it. Like I said, how wrong that was.

On the 25th of September I was given a wonderful gift, my daughter, who was named Rebecca after an Ashley Cleveland song and Evelyn after… well, you know. My children never got to meet their great-aunt (and trust me, she was a great aunt), but they had one thing in common. In one of life's rich ironies, my Aunt Evelyn was a special education teacher, and my children Matthew and Rebecca are special education students, having been born autistic. She was taken from me at the point of my life when I most needed to draw from her strengths.

On April 4, 2001, she was gone.

10 years later I still don't understand. I will never understand. Believing that she's in heaven doesn't help. Well, it doesn't help much. I need her here.

From my brother, once more, with feeling:

(Her life) was like a song that you hear once on the radio and think that it's beautiful, but you never hear it again, you don't know the name of it, but the tune is still with you and you carry it with you. And she will always be carried with me.

And anyone else whose life heard the melody of her song.