Today I’m not going to present you with one of my usual wacky, upbeat and off-the-wall posts. There are no pictures. No jokes. The cynicism is absent and all that is left are some words from a broken heart.
My uncle was an interesting dude. I mean that right down to calling him a dude. His long curly golden locks that fell down to the back of his neck and bronzed tan told the tale of a man of who loved to be outdoors. He loved it all. Fishing, hiking, biking, sailing. If it involved being outside, he was there. He was a man after my own heart because he would never go to a doctor unless it was extremely dire. Considering he kept himself in such great shape he never had a need to go. His philosophy was that doctors were like mechanics – they’ll find something wrong even if there’s nothing. Who needs that burden? Just live each day as if it were your last and enjoy yourself.
He was incredibly intelligent man. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at him but that man probably forgot more things than most people learn in their entire lives. He was a jack-of-all-trades when it came to knowledge – which made him a fierce conversationalist. He knew about every topic you could bring up. Not a know-it-all by any means but he knew just enough about everything to hold his own (and then some).
I don’t remember much my childhood but do I recall that he, my aunt and his daughter (from a previous marriage) would take me out to Montauk Point every so often to hang out at their cottage for a weekend or so. It was a blast for me. I was a city kid and getting to take the 2 hour drive out to the tip of Long Island was an adventure in my eyes. We would have barbeques, hang out on the beach and of course fish. That was my uncle’s thing right there. He had a little speed boat that he would take right out onto the Long Island Sound and fish right off the coast. That of course meant I had to go with him. I’ve never been a big fan of open water. That probably stems from an allergic reaction to not being able to swim. It’s like I tell Suzanne all the time “I swim well… underwater”.
He took me out for the first time in his boat despite my adamant protests against it. He guaranteed me I would have fun so I reluctantly went along. We went out far enough so that the hills along the coast looked like humps on the horizon – far beyond my comfort depth of knee-high water. He dropped anchor and we bobbed along like a drunken buoy. He pinned a worm to a hook and fastened it to a rod that he later handed to me. After an express course in the basics of fishing and how to use the rod we got on with the time-consuming process of waiting for a bite. As we sat out there I was amazed at how comfortable I was with the whole experience. Normally I’d be on edge dreading that the water splashing into the boat would sink us, but he calmly chatted away about anything and everything putting my mind at ease. My uncle never treated me like a kid. He always talked to me like an adult so even though I didn’t quite get some of his political or pop culture references I still appreciated the fact he conversed with me as an equal.
After an hour or so of no fish activity he spotted a bunch of gulls circling around closer to shore. We quickly packed up our rods and pulled up the anchor. To my shock he turns to me and says something that I’ll never forget…
“Okay. Swing us around to over there!”
I was stymied. I had never driven a car much less piloted a boat. He ripped away at the pull cord and got the motor buzzing. I was paralyzed with fear but eager to man the wheel. I hopped in the pilot’s seat and in a flash we were off. He instructed me how to cut through the waves as we made a bee line for the hot spot. I was in a zone. It was exhilarating to leave fear behind for a minute and just enjoy what I was doing. The water spraying on my face cooled the oppressive heat of the sun above and I was feeling on top of the world.
That was until he whispers to me, “You better slow down. There’s a reef somewhere around here. Can’t remember where exactly. Don’t want to hit that. It’ll rip us right open.”
I froze once again and quickly relinquished control of the boat to him. Thankfully we never got anywhere near the reef. Although we returned to shore later that day with no bounty I still had an awesome time. We all went out for ice cream and a movie later that night. Tucker: A Man and his Dream was playing. It was a terrible movie but I didn’t mind it because I was spending time with the family. My uncle, being the eclectic type of person he was, enjoyed it very much. It was yet another piece of ammunition for his vast arsenal of conversational topics.
Last Friday night, he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that put him in a coma. His neurologist declared him brain dead from the amount of trauma he endured and that he was in a vegetative state. On Sunday, June 12th 2011 at 8:52pm I lost a person who I thought was invincible. It really pains me to write this part. I’m always criticized for not showing any emotions when it comes to death and tragedy but that’s just how I am. I have my moments, away from prying eyes, where I grieve in my own way. I’m no use to anyone if I’m an emotional wreck so I always have an unshakable, serene appearance whenever faced with moments like this – or at least I try to. I regret not speaking with him much in recent years. I remember that last phone conversation I had with him revolved around troubleshooting some computer issues.
I didn’t know him as well as I should have and I blame myself for that. I do cherish the time that we did spend together. He was one of only a few men I put on that upper tier alongside my father.
Goodbye Uncle. I’m sorry I never got a chance to say that to you. You will be missed.
Rest in peace.