The 48 hours of this weekend have been a topsy-turvy ride...last night I celebrated as two of my favorite people promised to be each other's best friend, to shelter each other from the world, and to be there forever. It meant so much because their love story started over 20 years ago and is now starting again.
Tomorrow I will go to the church cemetery to lay my uncle to rest. Those words are heavy. Heavy with regret, joy, sorrow, finality...
He was my uncle by marriage, inherited when my aunt married him. He had two sons from a previous marriage, and they had none together...which made me as close to a daughter as anyone could be. I will tell no lies: I was spoiled rotten by the both of them, both in the things bought for me and the love I was given. Like all good stories, that came to an abrupt end.
When my aunt (of Wanda's Stripper Dip fame) passed away unexpectedly, we each responded in our own ways. Each of us, though, fought hard to stay away from each other. It was hard to hear that laughter that sounded like hers...hard to see faces that were mirror images. And, as humans do, we tried to tear each other apart because that was easier than facing the fact that she was gone. We inflicted pain with words and deeds to make sure everyone hurt. It kicked off a 20 year battle of wills that left no one the better.
As I drove to my in-laws house one day, I saw my uncle's garage door open. I said to God (we're tight like that...I think, anyway), "If that door's open when I drive back by, I'm stopping." God's funny because the door was open. Like, "So, what are you gonna do with that, big girl?" So....I stopped. That easy. I just stopped. We talked briefly, exchanged numbers, and had lunch not too long after. Just. Like. That.
We had several lunch dates in the following year or two. Initially there were stops and starts in the conversation, but eventually we developed our rhythm and our conversations were always wonderful. Don't get me wrong: He could be a stubborn, principled ass at times, but for that reason I loved him. It's easy to give in to the rest of the world, but it takes hard guts to stand your ground. He always paid for my lunch and hugged me goodbye. Every last goodbye was followed with "I love you." And he did. I loved him, too. I loved him because he was my uncle, because he was kind to me as a kid, because he was my last tie to the years of my youth when I didn't know people died and left you.
Yesterday at the grocery store, there was a family of four: mom, dad, son about 10 years old, and a toddler. They were walking down the aisle arguing about money. The dad was telling mom he needed pants for work because the only pair he owned without holes were the ones he had on. She was upset, telling him there was no money for that. The young boy was just walking with his hands stuffed in his pockets, defeated and sad. They weren't yelling, but it was loud enough for everyone close-by to hear in a quiet, Saturday morning grocery store where the 16 year-old kid forgot to push play on the shitty muzak.
I walked to the cash register and bought a gift card, and then I went to search for them in the store. They were in the frozen food section, still arguing. I walked up to them, and, while handing the card to the mom, said, "I remember not having money to pay bills, but I was lucky to have family to help me. My uncle recently passed away, so this is in his honor. Buy the pants you need, or just take your son for pizza and a movie. You're all each other has, so be kind. Just be kind to each other." The dad was shaking his head no, and the mom was teary, but I walked away before they could say no to me. No was not an option. It was important to me that they be kind to each other for the sake of not breaking apart as a family and missing years of time spent together.
Tomorrow I will cry because he is gone. I will forever hate that I didn't get that last lunch date. Despite those tears, I am so, so grateful that I stopped that day. I know that, against 20 years of hard silence, in the end I had an uncle who loved me. That is enough for today.
Sit down, pick up the phone, and ease back into those relationships you're missing...Before you can't.
Happy birthday, Wanda...