I don’t know if it’s a consequence, but my memories only stretch so far down the path of my childhood. Most come from what I call the post-Sacramento period, when we moved up to Mokelumne Hill just in time for me to take 3rd grade.
Not that I don’t have sparkly seconds of illumination from earlier eras, but there are no complete moments, no long stretches of years, no totally vivid recreateable narratives.
What I remember of my Uncle David is a single image, of him standing in some river on a sunny summer’s day, with a square patch on his shoulder of skin that had been removed and replaced. Melanoma, you see. His wife and my mother were talking about putting sunscreen on it and then getting a tee shirt back on, because he couldn’t risk it being out in the sun, but it was one of those dry-hot, crystal clear days and he just wanted to feel the sun on his skin for a second.
He had shaggy curly hair, glasses, and a shy nature. He died Christmas Eve, many years ago, of the cancer, and I think it broke another piece of my mom’s heart. I never understood the sad and almost wistful feeling of longing my other memories of him are colored with, until now.
Last night she felt like talking, I suppose, or I asked the right questions at the right time. Some confluence of the stars and the memories and the two of us, being together on the phone, and me being old enough, perhaps? But it’s last night that I found out my Uncle David was bi, and that my Aunt Shannon, his young wife that gave him a totally Christian burial despite his last wishes (and his leanings towards atheism, my mother’s protests, his general contempt of the church), this woman who seemed to take my Uncle away, was my mother’s best friend. She introduced the two of them when my Uncle moved out here.
I found out that he’d moved out from Kansas to take care of my mom and me, worried that she would be alone after her divorce from my father. I found out that, instead of taking care of us, Mom took care of David, at least for a while. And he dated beautiful men, who simply lovely.
I don’t remember these things – the living with Uncle David, the men who were his boyfriends, the puppy he bought me that had to be put down because it had distemper. I’ve seen pictures – of David and our house and the puppy (but not of the boyfriends, I don’t think there’s pictoral evidence of them).
I found out that David discovered he got cancer and decided he was going to buy into the normal life, normal job, normal WIFE kind of lifestyle, and he and my Aunt Sharon got married. She thought she SAVED him, you see. And they rode their bikes and took trips, and closed my mother out of their friendship (excepting major holidays, which is what I remember).
And that’s where her sorrow comes from, you see? She didn’t gain a sister, she lost a brother and a best friend, and they were both trying so hard to make things work and to make things safe and to make things what they wanted for each other that maybe they didn’t think to remember anything else.
There’s more, about things Uncle David said before he died, about the dream my Mother had, where he asked her if God would accept him if he died on Christmas Eve, more about who she is and who David was, and how much she loved him.
It makes me sad and joyous all at once. I know why, now, you see. Why my memories are so sad. And I know more about a man who was a large part of the first few years of my life, one of my only Page-sided relatives to be close to normal (as far as I’m concerned), who got out of Kansas, who tried to live his life. But I’m sad that it’s taken me this many years to ask the question, and sadder still that I have to wonder if Mom feels like she’s reopened a wound that never really closed to talk about him. Because she holds things that close, and that raw, and that new. And sometimes it seems like when I ask, I’m making her relive everything all over again.
And perhaps the talking will actually help her to let go the pain and remember the good mixed into the bad memories. As for me, I know whose feeling it was now, mixed in with my own memories. And even though I know, won’t forget any of it.