Uncle Jim

I ran crying to Uncle Jim, who stood by the barn door.
I didn’t want to leave him.
As I hugged him, I tried to hold the moment as long as I could, smelling the
rotting leaves in the nearby forest, the damp October air, and the mustiness of the inside of the barn.
The morning dew was uncomfortable, soaking my toes in my Hightops, but I wanted to hold onto him and his large belly. It was just 8 a.m., but he had a tie on, a clip with a bronze deer holding it in place against his white shirt. He said: “Oh, kid, you and me, kid … you and me.” He smelled sweet — of aftershave and pipe smoke. But the car was waiting, all packed.
My grandparents yelled one more time: “Donny, come on. Now!”
I got in the car and kept my eyes on Uncle Jim, alone by the barn, waving goodbye.
He always held his head to one side, a war injury.
It may have been what caused him to drink but it could also have been depression — living in a place so wild and dark, where the winters were cold, long … and snow was measured in feet.
So far from his family.
I cried for two hours through the Green Mountains, the valleys of orange and yellow trees and granite gravestones, where I imagined that men with stovepipe hats and ladies with hoop skirts lay underneath the green earth, side by side.
Little houses with steeply pitched roofs that kept off the snow in winter went by in a blur.
As we crossed the border into New York, I wondered if Uncle Jim, too, by now surely in his house watching snowy TV, was crying.
Grandma called to tell us Uncle Jim died. That night, I felt him standing beside my bed.
When I think of Uncle Jim, and how he held me, what he said to me in 1963, I still cry.
Even now.


Before The Light


There are too many times when my eyes open and it’s still dark.

It’s useless to think that I’ll go back to sleep, and it’s no good at all to lay in bed and watch the passing parade of worries that comes marching down the Main Street of my mind. When I do that, the entertainment seems to take on its own life. The parade grows longer, more spectacular, with the noise of marching bands, my thoughts, growing louder. Clowns scurry ahead of the band leader, throwing red balls in the air. There are too many balls to count.

No. The best thing I can do for myself is to get out of bed and take care of my mind and body. I can end the cold of the night with a hot shower, dress and then switch on my laptop. It’s my electronic vault, where I can deposit my thoughts, the stories of who I am and the world around me.

But there are days when it seems too much to bear being home before the rest of the world rises. There’s just too much emptiness in my small house. I leave, escaping to double Ds, where I sit and sip my coffee over a newspaper. Sometimes there are others sitting waiting for the light to come, too–like the woman who gives an animated “Hello” to everyone she meets, staring too long into our eyes. She takes out her cell phone to call a friend about the rashes on her legs. Something is biting her during the night. Raj and the other double D workers snicker, and I am drawn to–but at the same time repelled by–her morbid troubles.

Sometimes, in the winter, it seems as if the time I spend in the dark before the light comes is endless. I don’t think it’s normal for darkness to last so long; it’s probably one of the punishments for eating the apple in Eden.

I much prefer the early light of June, when the morning allows the gentle unfolding of life around me. Somehow, when the sun has chased the night away at 6:30 a.m., a passing gasoline truck rattling my windows does not sound so lonely. Nor do I mind the sun revealing the stains from rain on my windows … or the birds loudly announcing their presence in the trees. Their manic chirping awakens schoolchildren eagerly counting down the days til summer.

When the darkness is especially long, and I have already sought out the comfort of others who cannot sleep, I will sometimes return home and do what I am so reluctant to do — sit still. I take up my position in a special chair near a window that looks out onto the street. I close my eyes and listen to the heated rhythms that only my body can make. My breath … my ins and outs.

But I wonder; why is it so hard to be still? Especially in the dark before the light.