a required taste for the pretentious as all get out





uncle chuck
August 17, 2002, 10:35 pm

I couldn't tell my mother that her big brother had died this evening.

I was reading the reviews of my diary, and the phone rang. My aunt's voice came through tremulous and quiet, "Jessica, Uncle Chuck died."

I thought I had heard her wrong.

"Uncle Chuck died."

I knew before my mother; I think there's some breach of protocol involved when you find out that your uncle has died before your uncle's sibling.

My mother was outside, I said, should I get her, should I tell her, should I leave this horrible task to you?

My aunt, usually so calm, sounded disoriented. "Just tell her, no, that's okay. Just tell her. She can call me later."

We all knew it was coming; just not so soon. My uncle had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of June; they gave him six months, then two, then two weeks. It boggles my mind that doctors have the ability to say, "Um, we changed our minds; you're not going to live this long! Sorry!" It seems awfully cruel for someone who was only 58 years old.

My mother was outside at the neighborhood picnic; how could I tell her? How could I walk out amongst the steamed shrimp and corn on the cob and ask her to come in? Sorry, Mom, we've lost Uncle Chuck. I didn't mean to ruin the pasta salad.

I walked around for a bit: what should I do? Should I go out and ask her to come home? I teetered in the platforms I hastily threw on my feet and walked over to where everyone was.

The party was breaking up; my parents were on their way home. They were laughing and dragging home the cooler. How could I tell her now? She's so happy...

We walked home and I didn't say anything. "Did anyone call?" my mom asked.

"No," I squeaked. I do not lie to my mother.

We came inside. I put the pasta salad away. I thought over and over again how to tell her. How do you say to someone that someone they love dearly has died? How do you tell your mother that her big brother finally slipped away? How do you find the words to tell them you're sorry without sounding cliche?

I slipped outside to find my dad emptying the cooler and told him first. He would tell her, he said, how sad. My father has a gift with words; I waited in the kitchen while she found out that her life would be different forever because her brother Chuck was gone.

She called her sister; she sat down. I hugged her, broke down, and told her that I just couldn't tell her myself. She understood, she said, and thanked me.

Talking to Yaya today, I mentioned Gaga and Papou. Yaya said, "It's good to talk about them, Jessica, because that way, they never die."

My Mom, Dad, and I sat around talking about Uncle Chuck. My Uncle Chuck gave me my first full beer (Natural Light...I know, I know) at a racetrack in Daytona. My Uncle Chuck, on my 4th birthday, set a toy car on fire that was identical to one of mine to tease me...I never did let him forget it. My Uncle Chuck was quiet, hard-working, and modest; they don't quite make those men anymore.

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