My mother’s brother. He’s the one that would be missing at Thanksgiving some years, and the table would be a decibel quieter. For years, he’d bring a friend to gatherings—Stacey. We all loved Stacey as kids. She was loud, inappropriate, wrestled with us on her hands and knees. A perfect match for Uncle Rob. He was all those things—except he didn’t wrestle. He was aloof, sidetracked most of the time. We realized when we grew up that he usually didn’t know what to do around the youngers.
He and Stacey would cackle together and she would chide him like a wife of decades, but no, they weren’t together. My little brother asked her once, “Why don’t you live in Chicago with Uncle Rob?” She and Gramma hooted and Stacey bent down, put her hands on his shoulders, and said knowingly, “Would you want to live with your Uncle Rob?” Conrad’s nose squinched in his laughter, “Ohhh, no way!”
It was in our early teens when we were allowed to learn that Uncle Rob was gay, and everything made sense. His elbow-nudge jokes with my mom that made her sob with laughter, the solid way his gut hung over his belt, his vowels and elongated s’s and emphasized t’s…of course. We nodded solemnly to our parents as they told us to not to discuss it, Oh no, we would never. And at that point, we never would—it was a satiating, correct puzzle piece to our secret, starved wonders about our Uncle Rob. He had been a smoker for twenty or thirty years and spoke in raspier tones each Christmas. He celebrated his choice of Fiji water that one year at the ranch and never passed up a fart-joke opportunity. A conversation with my Uncle Rob was a kind of unholy privilege that you received secretly every two years. It made sense that all of this unholiness would culminate in such a fact in our Catholic minds—Uncle Rob was gay.
And we loved him. How could we not? In spurts he would tell us jokes or hug us and absentmindedly give us candy. There is a picture of us playing Monopoly that I keep in my journal. I am about 5 and Uncle Rob is thinner. The look on my face is crazily gleeful because Uncle Rob was there, playing with me. He was my special uncle. I remember finding this picture in a baby album a few years ago. It was right before my mother and I were supposed to fly up to Chicago to stay with him during college visits. I was nervous about the trip and about what kinds of things I would find at Rob’s apartment. So I picked up the picture and stuffed it in a book. Why I did this is still unclear to me. My attempt, maybe, at creating a history with Rob, a loving, endearing childhood friendship that never existed.
I know, I know, the last paragraph is weak. I wrote this today right before it was due and I had to scurry to print it off and get to campus on time. That is the worst way to work and unfortunately the way I do many things in my life. Maybe this semester will be a turning point on that field for me.