Growing up, I had 2 favorite uncles, one from my dad's side and one from my mom's. They were both witty and smart, sensitive and tough. They always made me think and made me laugh, pushed me to be a better person.
I remember sitting with my mother's younger brother, Uncle Billy, when I was in kindergarten, him teaching me to use my index finger to create a space between words in a sentence. One time, he pretended to call the cops on me when I helped myself to a lip gloss from the neighborhood Five & Dime. Uncle Billy walked me back to the store and looked on while I told the manager what I had done and returned the lipgloss. On the walk home, he told me he was proud of me for doing the right thing.
I inherited my love of books and film from my uncle Tom. My dad's oldest brother, he was always reading, always asking me what I was reading and what I thought about it. Every birthday and Christmas, I could count on a book from Uncle Tom. The Secret Garden, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Anna Karenina - the books were always just a little bit beyond me. But he encouraged me to read them and discuss them with him. Growing up, he was one of the few adults who listened to me when I spoke. Every summer, he would take me and The Little Sister to a fancy dinner and a show. Sometimes, it was the ballet (Swan Lake) or a production that was way over our heads (Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw). He would insist we all dress up and we would talk about the performance on the way home. It was often the highlight of my summer.
Uncle Billy and Uncle Tom were very different on the surface, but they had a lot in common. Not the least of which is that they were both a bit tortured by their own demons and weren't able to fully cope with life. My Uncle Billy hung himself the weekend of my Senior Prom. My Uncle Tom shot himself in a Las Vegas hotel room the fall after my college graduation.
When my Uncle Billy died, he left no note, no answers - only a family in shock, spilling over with questions. When Uncle Tom died, he left notes and some answers, but still we were in shock. Although we all knew why he did it, we still struggled to understand. To this day, I still wrestle with "Why?" Not "why did they do it?" but rather "Why couldn't they wait to see what the next day would bring? Why didn't they think things HAD to get better?"
The last time I saw each of them, they were at the beach. Uncle Billy was leaning against the boardwalk railing, basking in the early summer sun; teasing me for walking hand-in-hand with a boy. Uncle Tom hosted a graduation BBQ for me at his cottage by the beach, just like the ones we had every Sunday evening growing up. I remember him surrounded by family, looking happy and ornery at the same time. His trademark scowl betrayed by the twinkle in his eye.
When Uncle Tom died, he left me his DVD collection - the most depressing assortment of movies you have ever come across. Deliverance, Bad Lieutenant, Midnight Cowboy, The Deer Hunter. He had one musical in the bunch - West Side Story. The ONE musical, save for Sweeney Todd, where everyone dies.
I know now that they both must have been in so much pain, more pain than I hope to ever experience. And I've come to believe that they are in a much better place. A place where the sun keeps shining and the weather suits their clothes.
This one is for them...
Everybody's Talkin' by Harry Nilsson
I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Backing off of the North East wind
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone