My uncle was a full blown junkie. He was rail-thin, a mongrel with no bite. I liked hanging out with him. He had a sweetness and gentleness to him. He was a soft whisper whereas my father was a volcanic scream. The differences in their personalities matched their drugs of choice: my father, coke, my uncle, heroin. I preferred them high to not high, because when coked up my father was energetic and gregarious, and when smacked out my uncle existed in a state of dreamlike languor.
My uncle lived with his mother, my grandmother. She was and would remain his caretaker until he kicked (which happened in his early forties). My grandmother’s house was two blocks away from mine and I spent a lot of time there. I was always there on Sundays, as that was the day we had Sunday dinner together: me, my grandmother, uncle, mother, and my sister. It was a family tradition. Pasta, meatballs, sausages, salad, Italian bread, then cookies or cake for dessert.
I’d usually go over in the morning and my Uncle and I would watch Abbot and Costello, and play games. Usually Hangman or card games: Rummy 500, Go-Fish, Jacks or Better. My uncle frequently nodded off. Amazingly, he always woke up right before the cigarette that precariously dangled from lips fell from his mouth. Well, almost always. There was the time the cigarette fell from his lips, started a small fire, and burned half the couch, as he remained in la-la land. I wasn’t there, but I heard my grandmother telling my mother about it. They often shared stories about their respective men’s strife and mayhem. My uncle and my father were each running their own course to self-destruction. The women, along with me and my sister, were casualties by default.
My uncle and me would also go to the movies a lot. He’d nod off during the movie, his head either slumped forward or thrown back, mouth gaping, Adam’s apple protruding. If the movie had a sex scene, or a sexually suggestive interaction, I’d masturbate through my jeans. This was when I was 12 or 13, and had become a chronic masturbator. When my grandmother took me to the movies, I was a bit more brazen. Whether she nodded off or not I masturbated through my jeans, and tried to do so covertly. I’m pretty sure she never knew. If she did, she never let on. That was one of my grandmother’s specialties: sweeping things under the rug. She hated confrontation, or dealing with uncomfortable or emotionally complicated situations in a direct manner. She’d sweep everything under the rug. The rugs in her house were swollen humps suggesting a lot of hidden shit. My mother often did the same. It was the family way: keep the dark, diseased, and uncomfortable under rugs, in closets, anywhere except out for others to see. Both my grandmother’s house and my parents’ house were breeding grounds for shame. There are only so many things that can be buried under rugs.
Suicide attempts. Incest. Addiction. Abuse. Mental and psychic disorders.
None of it was ever “discussed.” All of it went under the rug.
I now sing the bones.