Wednesday, April 27, 2011

9/And Then

My Uncle Jim went to the emergency room for congestive heart failure.

Since Elizabeth Taylor had just died days earlier, I figured this was it.

It was also the very same week that my dad had been rejected from 3 jobs, one of which was with a recruiter for the company that laid him off over a year ago. Assholes. He managed to get a job as an election judge in the suburbs when he got the call that Jim needed to be taken to the hospital. He stayed in the hospital with Jim from 11pm to 7am the next day, which was when he was due at this job. Clearly it wasn't going to happen.

Uncle Jim goes to the free hospital for people that don't have health insurance, or are destitute, or in a bad situation, or just a mess. He is all of the above, and despite his staunch conservative stance on everything, he believes he is entitled to free health care. This particular hospital often runs out of beds or out of space altogether. After my dad got back and had a rest, he called there to find out about Jim, but was told he was still in emergency. Dad freaked out, drove all the way back to find Jim was really just resting in the hallway since there were no available rooms.

I was told that Uncle Jim remained in good spirits but would not divulge the true status of his health to my father, despite being listed as his emergency contact. He seemed to think the whole thing was no big deal. My dad asked nurses to explain what was going on but no one was allowed to give him info. He could speak to a doctor, but they were extremely difficult to pin down even for a moment. The nurses were prepping Jim for a bone marrow test which freaked Dad out even more. What was it for? No one would tell him anything.

I think Dad was in a state of shock about the whole thing. He said he couldn't even recognize his own brother. Jim looked like he was 80 years old, but is only 62. Jim could barely walk from one side of the room to the other. And the biggest shock was that Jim had let his teeth go so bad that he recently had the entire bottom set pulled, and had yet to get dentures.

Not one of us understands how Jim lives his life. He is an isolationist that hasn't worked in over 15 years and is a general mother fucker. He had a heart attack in his early forties, despite his rather lean physique. He smoked something like 2 packs a day until he supposedly quit. After the bypass surgeries he refused to return to work, claiming that he couldn't be expected to function normally. He has an addiction to whiskey and chocolate. He hates everyone except Irish Catholics and is therefore impossible to be around. And he has type 2 diabetes. Fun guy.

Uncle Jim is the person I consider the Chief Asshole of the family. He is rude beyond comprehension, racist to the core, and a woman hater on top of everything. He used to call my mother: "Dumb Dora," to her face and run his finger underneath light fixtures to point out the dust. When I was little he came over to my parent's apartment to watch porn since he was too cheap to by his own VCR. My parents caught him one night when he was still there at 3am and told him never to bring that shit over again. My mother only shared that with me years later because I went through a period where I felt terribly sorry for him, thought he must be quite lonely. That was until he let me drink whiskey at his place before turning 21, and asked for "help" with his resume. His computer was in the basement and the so called resume was in a folder filled with porn pics. I freaked and got the hell out of there, thinking oh my god he's drunk and laughing about this and I was just in his basement what the hell.

I never went to his place again, but he would frequent the Italian restaurant where I worked. I gave him freebies now and then until I got worried that the owners would get mad. I also wanted him to go away after a while because he became demanding and blatantly stared at my female co-workers. I could tell he was making a few of them uncomfortable and had no idea what to do. Eventually I told him that nothing off the menu was going to be free, hoping that would deter him. One night he stayed very late at the restaurant, had too many beers, and slammed his drink down with his voice shaking and choking and yelled at me that no one gave a damn about him. No one cared a bit about him and he was alone in this world. He seemed like he might get violent so I stood up to get him some water. My heart raced and I tried to pretend like I could handle it. When I got home I cried and had to call my parents. Dad went over to Jim's place that night and told him to never come near me again and if Jim harassed me in any way, he would kill him.

About a year later, my cousin Brian was killed in a gruesome car wreck and the person to let me know was Uncle Jim. He called my apartment sobbing and sobbing and I was in such shock I didn't believe it was Jim on the line at all. Was it a joke? Didn't he call my dad first? I must have asked if he was serious about a hundred times until he screamed why are you asking me that? I told him not to leave the house and especially not to get into the car, assuming he drank. Then I had to break the news to my parents. Unfortunately I got Mom on the phone first who just started screaming and then I had to tell Dad the whole thing all over again. The weirdest thing about that call was that I had to say: "You know Brian? Brian my cousin/your nephew?" since our family barely speaks at all.

After the funeral in Tuscon I rekindled that "I feel bad/guilty about Jim" feeling. He didn't have anyone to grieve with or fly over there with or have lunch with or share a pint with or anything. It's awful. I don't think he attends a church or has any social life whatsoever. Christmases go by, New Years Eve goes by, and his birthday goes by without even a phone call. Yes, he has another brother but he is Chief Asshole # 2 so I don't think they have much of a relationship either. I started sending Jim Christmas gifts since then. He hasn't ever thanked me but maybe that is because he no longer has my number. I'm ok with that.

I don't know how society makes men like him but I assume it has something to do with religion or general awkwardness socially, which was encouraged by family not fought against. I often thought that my grandmother must have poisoned him with ideas of her oldest son resembling John Wayne in The Quiet Man. My dad told me that Jim's best friend and basketball buddy in high school was Jewish, until my grandmother meddled telling him how awful the Jews are. When I was around 9 years old, I remember Jim asking me what I thought the blacks ever did for this country. I couldn't understand the question at all so I asked my mom why he said that. She explained that my grandmother had very serious prejudices against everyone, so that is how Jim learned to hate as well. She told me never to listen to that kind of garbage and I wasn't allowed around him unsupervised after that. I don't know how on earth a person with those kinds of beliefs gets to live long enough to be treated for congestive heart failure.

As for the awkwardness around women, who will ever know. I've encountered men that I'll never understand how on earth they came to think and behave the way they do. Did something go terribly wrong in their childhood? Did no one ever explain that women are equals? Or that it's ok to get rejected sometimes? I feel awful that Jim is so alone, and sometimes think it isn't all his fault that he is completely fucked up.

Then again, when my dad is sitting in the hospital with Jim who doesn't give a damn and carries expectations of assistance, I have other feelings. Whenever Dad said something very reasonable to Jim like: "You should probably give me a key to your place so that I can check in on you," Jim ignored him, pretending the sentence never happened. You've got to think, FUCK THAT GUY and I did. Instead of concerning myself with Jim's health I only was concerned with the stress of it all on my dad. I felt that if this is it, so be it. Let's let him go.

I imagined what it would have been like if he passed on. How would we deal with the family? Would we be in charge of everything? Does he even have a will? Dad didn't know. Would I go crazy and punch my uncle Tony in the face? Would I tell him what a piece of shit he is?

Jim ended up being released from the hospital a week later and I found myself filled with rage and fury. How dare he put my dad in this situation and not give a shit??? Who wants to take care of a mother fucker that allowed his health to deteriorate to that extent?? I DON'T. I told my mom that she better not go over to his apartment with food. It's his fucking problem. She agreed and said that he will have to get himself a maid or caretaker. (what a lucky person that will be) He is not our problem unless we get another hospital call.

I talked to my grandmother about my feelings and her advice was to call him. What? But he's so mean. I can't. She said something so beautiful I could barely stand it:

Vhen person is very very hard, zhen you be the softehr.

I told her I'd think about it.

But I haven't called and I doubt that I will. Sometimes the softer and nicer you are, the more you become a doormat. I don't know how many more times I can deal with his attitude. The last time I saw him was at my dad's 60th get together and he asked if I was getting fat, which is his standard greeting. My uncle on my mom's side didn't put up with that shit and asked if Jim was getting sickly thin. It didn't go over well.

It's weird when you decide you're ok with someone leaving this world. It will happen eventually and surely it will happen sooner with a person in this condition. Dad said that maybe Jim will outlive us all and I told him to bite his tongue. I also asked if he was certain that they are really brothers. Could one of them have been switched a birth? He laughed but it was obvious that he felt pain. He said that we'll end up finding out from the neighbors if Jim has passed on, and I could tell he has an extreme fear about it. There isn't anything we can do about the way he chooses to live his life.

I've read many articles about how forgiveness is key in these situations. I don't want to dwell or linger on the negatives. My dad always says that the hardest thing to do in this life is accept people the way they are. I just wish all of this was easier on him. TV and movies always have stories about forgiveness and compassion. You end up taking care of the person who has wronged you and become a better person for it. I don't think I could take care of Jim. He has made his choices. I wish him to have less discomfort and to find a way to like himself more. Surely the only reason people self destruct is because they hate themselves.

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