My Uncle Chuck died. They’re burying him tomorrow. There’s no way I can make the funeral, and I don’t think I want to see Uncle Chuck after his battle with cancer. My sister said he weighed 91 pounds at his time of death. I’d rather imagine him the way he was when I last saw him.
Uncle Chuck was probably one of the best men I interacted with growing up. He liked fishing and archery, things I was into. (I’d always wanted a bow, but didn’t know where to start.) When he visited, which wasn’t nearly often enough, we would bond over such things. I used to send him and my aunt comics about Tuna, my cat, on their Christmas cards. They were big fans, and this egged me on to make comics to share with more people.
One year when Chuck came to visit, he brought me a present. My Aunt and Uncle were always generous with gifts, but I wasn’t expecting this! A 35 pound three-piece take-down recurve bow–the kind I always wanted–and a glove, an arm protector, a stack of books and magazines on archery, and a set of practice arrows. The bow was from his own collection. The accessories and books, I think he picked those out for me by hand.
It’s been a long time since we last. These photos are from November, 2006, almost five years ago. I haven’t seen him since.
I always wanted to see him again, and show him how I turned out. I think he’d have been proud. I wanted to give him a hug and say, “Thanks so much for the bow and all your encouragement.”
I didn’t realize how sick he was. Communication has always come filtered through many layers of family feuds since I moved out on my own. And now I can’t give him that hug anymore. It’s not the first time someone I love has died while my back was turned, before I could say goodbye or at least touch base.
Not to turn this into a topic about me, but I’m noticing a pattern. Most people I know now, they haven’t lost more than one or two friends. I have to count the number of people I know and care for who have died. Lee, Linda, Wanda, mother Web, and now Uncle Chuck. The list will only get longer the older I get. It’s part growing up rural, growing up poor, and growing up in an aging community. With the exception of Linda, who died from trauma sustained in a car accident, they all died of cancer. And in all cases, they died before I had the chance to say goodbye.
I used to hate rap music, thinking it was all about “bitches and hos” and drugs. But there are some songs I’ve started listening to more and more, like 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up,” and I feel like I can see parts of my life reflected in there. They detail the struggle of a person who has become successful, who has coming running through a collapsing tunnel, only to reach the end and see no one else made it out. The people you knew, fading away; the girls your grew up with being ground out under the weight of a system that does not care. And I’m in this place, surrounded by people who don’t know, who have a whole separate set of values and life experiences. And sometimes, it’s hard not to feel disconnected, like you don’t belong here, like you’re putting up a front, still running out of that tunnel and scared to look back.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into a whiny post about myself. My life isn’t entirely a sob story, and plenty of people I knew growing up are still alive and some got out, too.
What I’m getting at is, sometimes, we’re running so hard to just make our way out of that tunnel, we don’t get the chance to even see the faces of the people we love before it caves in on them. If you can, look back, reach back, and give your Uncle that hug he has coming to him.
Here’s to you, Uncle Chuck.