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The Blue Book
Uncle Shawn was an interesting character.
He came into our lives the same way his personality shone to us everyday, a whirlwind of excitement and energy. He was tall, bald, and narrowly built. His hands were always calloused and rough, typical of someone who worked construction. He always had the brightest smile on his face. Eleven years old, and I had a difficult time opening up to people, but he made it easy. He wasn’t really a relative, but Dad’s best friend. Moving back to Wisconsin, we finally met the person who, in large part, helped shape Dad’s childhood. Dad would tell me later all the crazy stories they had growing up; like the time they drove to Missouri in the middle of the night simply because they wanted to. Grandma and Papa weren’t too happy about that.
In the first year I had known him, he got along with us greatly. I think he had some sort of childlike innocence to him, where he could smile and laugh along with us, focus on the moment. He never objected when we wanted to play, never said no when we wanted to tell him about our days. He listened when I talked, instead of giving me typical adult courtesy of half his attention. He listened when I said I liked to read, and what I liked to read. I knew he listened, because he came with presents one day, and in his hands, a large dark blue book. The covered was intricately designed with leaves that ran up the seams, the edges of the paper bright gold. The cover read, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the smile on my face after receiving it reached all the way up to my eyes. Days past, then months, and Uncle Shawn became prominent in our lives. He asked about the book alot, and I would always tell him about the latest of the dark fables I read from it.
Then, it seemed, the further I got in the book, the less the sun shown everyday. Too engulfed into my elementary school life, I never noticed the increased tension in the house. I never noticed my parents dull mood, and I never noticed how rare their smiles became. When their arguments became fights, and their hushed whispers turned to shouting, it became hard not to notice how far from reality I had really been. Days past, then months, and I didn’t even notice that Uncle Shawn didn’t come around much anymore.
My parents fought until they were blue in the face and throats burned from the screaming. Late at night when I was suppose to sleep, I stared at the ceiling as their harsh words engulfed all my senses. Dad left the house, the door slamming behind him, and Mom cried more. So, in the middle of the night, when their voices rang in my ears and wouldn’t allow me to sleep, I pulled out the blue book with the gold pages, and I read. Their voices didn’t seem so loud in my ears anymore.
Days later, I was woken up by the loud screech of a car. Mom ran down the steps, as did I. Dad was outside, fast walking across the driveway, an angry look on his face. Uncle Shawn burst out of the passenger seat, yelling for Dad to calm down. I stared out the window as Dad and Mom fought. It was only ten in the morning. When Dad went to go back in the car, I made eye contact with Uncle Shawn in the window. His cheeks seemed more hollowed and his eyes bloodshot. He seemed tired and looked more serious than I had ever seen him. When they finally left, I struggled to console Mom, and I struggled to understand the whole situation. There was no way I could. But I coped the best way I knew how; I pulled out the blue book with the gold pages, and I read.
“We shall see the crumbs of bread...and they shall show us our way home again.”
Slowly, things started to get better. Mom didn’t look so sad all the time. While it was faint and sometimes forced, she smiled more. Dad did too. I got good grades in school, I had sleepovers with friends, and I learned to smile more myself. I wasn’t so afraid of people anymore, and it became easier to come home and talk about my days again. I was learning to adjust with separated parents, and I was learning to find my place in the world. I had my first big birthday party, and hosted a halloween party. I was apart of drama club; I even directed the whole play. I went to New York for the first time, something I had only dreamed about as a kid. The days seemed brighter.
I remember cleaning my room one day, and finding that blue book on the ground of my floor. The one with the leaves running up the seams and the gold pages. Looking at it, I only remembered sleepless nights and screaming downstairs. It became my comfort in a hard time, but I hadn’t seen Uncle Shawn in almost a year. I remember running my hand down the hard cover, and after a second of hesitation, I tossed it to the side. I didn’t feel like reading as much anymore.
“He who is too well off is always longing for something new.”
Not a month later though, I sat at the table, struggling to understand basic times tables, Mom becoming irritated at my increasing frustration and inability to focus. We startled at the sound of her phone ringing. She took one look at me, “Keeping trying, okay?” and walked into the kitchen. I didn’t keep trying. Instead, I watched as Mom answered the phone, speaking quietly to whomever was on the other line. I watched as her face changed from warm and inviting, to startled and timid. “What?” She whispered in a desperate plea, as if the one word would change whatever news she was delivered. At this, I pushed my chair away from the kitchen table, my feet softly patting across the floor, until I was stood directly next to her. I was always scolded for listening into phone conversations I was not apart of, but today Mom only stood with her mouth ajar and eyes glazed over, not acknowledging my presence. She hung up after a few more exchanged words.
“Who was it?” I asked, nervous. Mom struggled with her words, struggled to grasp her thoughts. Finally, she spoke. I don’t remember much about the moment after, but I remember the pounding in my skull, the weight that burrowed itself deep in my chest. It felt suffocating, restricting. I remember the single tear that leaked from my eye. When Mom pulled me into her chest, the weight of her arms squeezing me, becoming a comfortable anchor, the tears flowed freely. I remember falling apart in our kitchen.
Uncle Shawn wasn’t going to come around anymore.
“He met the fox, who gave him the good advice: but when he came to the two inns, his eldest brother was standing at the window where the merrymaking was, and called to him to come in; and he could not withstand the temptation, but went in, and forgot the golden bird and his country in the same manner.”
I remember Dad in the days thereafter. His heart was heavy, and the pain was even heavier. His eyes dulled, and his atmosphere was different than anything I had seen before. I was thirteen years old, nobody told me much. I never knew that Uncle Shawn wasn’t just simply too busy, but that he was struggling to stay on his feet. I didn’t notice that the smiles in the last couple months I saw him weren’t genuine, but tired and dull. I didn’t notice that while my family was slowly recovering, slowly being put back together, he was only breaking more. An overdose was what they said. Months of relapse and pain to stay away from his poison. I didn’t know that part of the reason we never saw him anymore, was because Mom didn’t want us around him. I didn’t know that the other one was because he was behind bars for awhile. I learned what addiction was for the first time, and that it presented itself in many ways.
He was only ever happy, only ever excited and energetic. He was never someone who seemed like the type of person to be pulled down by the weight of life and hardships. But maybe in the time that I was learning to grow up, I never noticed how different he had really become. I didn’t know that while I was in school one of those fateless days, Dad was visiting Shawn, staring as he sat across from him, glass separating them. He was in a bad place, both in his location and in his head. Everyone had been trying to get through to Shawn, but it was Dad who only had to speak, “You know the girls miss you, right?,” and it made him freeze. He took a breath, one tear became two, and he broke. Only he wouldn’t make good on his promise to get better, to come home. Sometimes the demons become too much for even the brightest of people to handle.
Though as much as any loss hurts, life demands to move on. So, we did. We moved away from Waukesha, into the suburbs of Franklin. I made new friends, had new sleepovers, and learned to smile a bit more again. I remember unpacking the boxes into my room, and on the bottom of one sat that dark blue book, leaves running along the seams, with gold edged pages. The gold lost a bit of it’s shine, but the folded page in the middle of the book where I left off still remained. There was a time when looking at that book reminded me of sleepless nights and screaming, but looking at it then, I was reminded of a happy man who always listened when I talked, and was always there to play. I was reminded of a man who shined with exuberance and generosity, a childlike innocence i wish he had never lost. I felt the welling of tears in my eyes and my vision blurred. As a single tear rolled down my cheek, I sat against the white walls of my new room, sitting on the mattress on the floor, and opened another page.
“Love is like death, it must come to us all, but to each his own unique way and time, sometimes it will be avoided, but never can it be cheated, and never will it be forgotten.”