Friday, December 2, 2011


Last summer an idea popped into my head to send my uncle Jim the series of His Dark Materials that I recently finished. It was possible that he would have liked it, but since the subject matter could have offended him, I changed my mind. That, and I didn't feel like being so nice.

About three months later, Jim passed away. The death itself had me wondering whether having love and friendship in your life is the secret to good health. If no one loves you, do you simply expire? I felt like it was my fault. Like I killed him.

Of course it's ridiculous. We have to believe that people live their lives the way they want, and if they want to change it is well within their capability. I've convinced myself slowly that I didn't kill him. However, no one had a nice word for Jim. Family flew in from all over and we had a simple service and a lengthy drinking session, but no one said anything nice about him, including myself. My dad couldn't get over the fact that no one even had a nice memory of Jim, and he wondered what would people say about him when it was his turn. It was an incredibly weird and sad experience, and it was the first time I had ever seen my dad sing and and first time I saw him stagger from too much drink.

This death has affected me much more than I would have thought possible. Going into his home and having to deal with an endless mess of messes was unbelievably depressing and shocking and anger building. How could he have lived like that? Was it clearly depression? Couldn't he have reached out to someone?

And yet, he told his neighbors that all his family moved away. He hated us. Going through his paperwork we found that he stole my dad's inheritance by signing the deed to my grandparent's house over to himself. He kept all of their life insurance money to himself and claimed at the time that it was given to him, and not to split between the brothers. This was only a piece of the drama we had yet to uncover. There were other lovely horrifying things to be found in his place, and we had to do all the clean up.

The place was remodeled about ten or fifteen years ago, and seemingly never touched since. There were rolls of dust over nearly everything, especially on the light fixtures. The shades and blinds on the windows were once white but became torn and an eerie shade of brown. The kitchen cabinets emitted a smell of spoiled milk and had areas of obvious rot. A layer of thick grease covered everything in the kitchen, even the floor. The linoleum flooring in the basement had torn and was easily lifted right off. He had piles of paperwork dating back to the 70s and 80s stacked up in closets and on the floor nearly everywhere. This was left for us from a man that ran his finger over our refrigerator to point out the minuscule dust to my mom, and blame her for not keeping up with her home.

I flew back and forth twice to be there for the family and for a friend's wedding. It was the first time in a few years where I thought that Chicago was the place I should be. There was so much to do and if we waited it would have taken a year to fix the place. But the emotional turmoil of it was tremendous. I was grateful to be going back to Seattle in between rounds of organizing, cleaning, moving and fixing.

While in Seattle, my mom's brother came to visit. I call him "Uncle" in real life. He didn't plan this vacation but since he had the time off I suggested that he come out. I've never done anything nice for him really, but he is super nice to me despite his grating personality. He bought me my first bike when I was little, and my first ipod, and to this day he gives me a wad of cash for Chanukah. He loves me.

However, this uncle is also a disastrous pain in the ass. At least he is generally a nice person and is just a little dim-witted. Or, a lot actually. It's possible that Jim's death prompted him to visit me. It was nearing Uncle's 60th birthday and since Jim died at 61 he must have been considering his mortality. Maybe he wanted to get out of town and enjoy himself a little. He is a truck driver for Coca Cola with long hours and a horrific work load. He always takes overtime if they have it, and due to my grandmother's demands and lifestyle, he rarely has time to himself.

We did all the touristy stuff: whale watching tour, Boeing factory tour, WNBA game, Snoqualmie Falls, buying fruit at Pike's Place, and I tried to get him to eat sushi but it was a definite no. I even waited patiently and made suggestions while he tried on shoes. (something I have done for many men, you impatient ungrateful fuckers) It was nice to get at least a little time in beautiful nature after all the stress of the funeral, but Uncle caused me some stress as well.

This uncle is alone and awkward just like Jim was, but he has a job and a gym membership which automatically make him more social and healthy, and slightly easier to be around. Slightly. He is hugely high maintenance. He smacks your arm each time he says an sentence, he doesn't know how to order food off a menu, he doesn't know how to operate a laundry machine, he doesn't know how to book a hotel room, he doesn't know about etickets, he doesn't know how to politely ask for help; he simply makes demands, and he is an extreme chauvinist pig.

We got into an argument regarding Jim and his home. I was telling him of what a mess the place was and how shocked we were that he lived like that for years. His response was simple:

It's because he didn't have no voman.

Are you kidding? If he was married she would have been a slave.

I have dis theory that voman is supposed to do voman's work and a man do man's work.

But if you live alone, it's all your work.

Why he own a home then? Too much for one person.

That doesn't make sense. If he cared he would have taken care of it. Housework is every one's work anyway.

Housework is voman's domain. You can't go into a voman's kitchen and touch anything. Kitchen is for voman. Man is supposed to do jobs like paint the house.

But housework needs to be done every week, you don't paint the house every week! Besides anyone can paint a house, what's the difference!

Come on! Aviva you're not gonna get dirdy. (he laughs)

What are you talking about? I helped Dad paint their place and I'm going to help him with Jim's.

We'll see about dat. I paint something every year, house needs a lotta maintenance. You gotta fix something every year.

Well I agree, but Jim could have done several simple things all the time to avoid living in filth! It's not that hard to get rid of dust or sweep once in a while. Why couldn't a man do that?

He shoulda clean car on weekends. I clean da car. Cleaning car is man's responsibility.

Ok but it doesn't take all day to clean a car.

Oh I can take all day ona car! You should see how nice I fix da car!

With Uncle there always comes a point where a gunshot to the face would be more welcome than continuing a conversation with him. I endured many hours of "men are like this and women are like that" conversations with him over that week, which I can't comprehend. It made me think that people who live their lives without a companion miss out on too much. He either watches too much tv, or spends too much time with my grandma and his brain warped.

At some point he noticed that Seattle is very gay friendly. He argued with me about how two people of the same sex couldn't be proper parents because one person needs to be a mom and one needs to be a dad. This kind of shit makes me want to jump off a building. I tried to explain that I don't believe in many assigned gender roles and he totally didn't get it. I also pointed out that women raise kids alone without a man all the time, and he just thought that was wrong too. I guess you can't get into a head like this.

What you can do is avoid politics if at all possible and talk about weather and food and airplanes and basketball. I feel like I did the right thing overall. He is a lonely awkward guy and at least I took a week out of life to help him have a real vacation.

This was a good lesson for me too. The books I wanted to send Uncle Jim popped into my head for a reason. It was an opportunity to do something nice for someone, even if he might not have appreciated it. I feel like when you get a chance to do something nice you might as well do it, otherwise why did the thought cross your mind at all? It will make you feel better as a person and you never know where either of you will be in a few months anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment