His Uncle

March 19, 2008
By Kathryn Mahan, Fredonia, KS

When his uncle Tio came to live with them after his house burned, Chris thought he was eccentric. When Tio had stayed for a week, Chris decided he was rather quirky.
When Tio went off his medication for three days, Chris decided he was crazy.

Tio was thirty-six, never been married or had children, so there wasn’t any reason in Chris’ mother, Anne’s, mind Tio couldn’t stay with them. Tio was his father Jason’s brother but everyone liked him, even if he was rather lacking in social skills. Tio could make his family laugh until their eyes watered, but when it came to a restaurant or speaking to someone he didn’t know well, Tio would become silent and his hands would shake.
Jason always said his younger brother was ‘a little different.’ Chris had always liked his uncle, though sometimes his insistence at synchronizing all his clocks three times a day and having all candles at the same height and having everything yellow in the room be at seventy-six degrees exactly from something white seemed excessive. Jason said Tio had been different when he came back from the war, but Anne said he had always been that way and not to point it out. Anne said he just got nervous around people.
Chris thought Tio just got nervous around life.

Tio liked music. He liked rock ‘n’ roll, classical, even the occasional country, bluegrass, or rap was okay by him. But nobody wanted to listen to music with Tio because he would set the same song a loop until he knew it all by heart. Once, one of Johnny Cash’s tunes had played for three straight days until the compact disc began to fall apart and Jason pulled the plug on the stereo. Tio had a fit.
Tio’s fits were not like he was consciously upset, but more like something inside snapped. His hands would start shaking, then he would start arguing.
He had demanded Jason start the song again. Jason had suggested a variety of other songs. Tio said no, he wanted that one, plug it in, plug it in!, but Jason wouldn’t do it.
Chris guessed Tio had skipped on his meds again.
Tio began to hyperventilate and pace. He began to shriek about how some yellow things were at seventy-five or seventy-seven and when he found a yellow pencil that had been tossed on a desk, he fell on his hands and knees and got sick on the carpet.
Jason took his brother to the linoleum in case he got sick again. Then Anne told Chris to take his uncle outside, but Tio wouldn’t go outside. He got nervous, he said.
Chris sat in a chair beside Tio with his feet up and asked him if he had taken his meds, but Tio wouldn’t answer.
That was one time.

Tio said the medication made him feel addicted, so sometimes he wouldn’t take it just to prove he was still his own person. Not Chris nor Jason nor Anne appreciated Tio’s displays of choice. Some days he got pretty bad even when was taking the medication.
Jason said he wished Tio would find a wife who would calm him down.
Chris didn’t think a wife would calm Tio at all. Besides, Chris had once said, Tio was probably gay.
Jason had shrugged and answered, maybe.
Once, Tio had arranged to bring one of his Jason’s friends, Henry, over for dinner. Tio skipped his medication that morning. When Jason and Anne had Henry sitting down at the table, Tio began to arrange all the flatware at forty-three degree angles, smiling in an embarrassed sort of way at the man’s bewildered expression.
After dinner, Tio asked Henry if he’d like to sit with him in the living room and have a drink. Henry agreed. Tio had forgotten to mention he would be playing Johnny Cash. As they sat and talked for nearly two hours, Henry began to get uncomfortable with the song and asked if they could change it.

Chris had been watching from the stairwell for most of the date, and he would have been in trouble if his parents hadn’t been sitting right behind him.

Tio’s hands started to shake and he had stuttered out, don’t you like it, and Henry said, yes, but I think this song has been playing for an hour-and-a-half now, wouldn’t you prefer another one, and Tio said, you can change it if you want, because he wanted his guest to like him, because, like Chris had always suspected, he was probably gay.

When Henry moved the CD to the next track, Tio shot up off the couch and began to pace. Henry had said, look, if it means that much to you, I’ll put it back, but Tio had replied that it didn’t, it had been a nice evening and Henry had better leave. Poor Henry did, bewildered, barely missing Tio’s collapse and subsequent regurgitation of his dinner.

Despite Tio’s issues, they never spoke about asking him to find another place. Not that he wouldn’t have been able to…but he had just got all his yellow things at the right angles. And Jason, Anne, and Chris had just finished hiding all their Johnny Cash CDs and leveling off the candles with butter knives.
Besides that, Tio was their relative, crazy or nervous or whatever he was, and they loved him.

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