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What I Can Remember

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Sometimes, there is someone that has never been seen and only heard of, yet I felt like I knew them better than anyone. Sometimes, there are some people that I never met and yet I knew better than my own friends. Sometimes, those people, when I actually met them, disappointed my dreams of them.

I never really knew my uncle, only heard of him. My mother and her siblings would tell these little tales over the boiling water on the stove, whispering through the steam about how ridiculous and hilarious he was. How even when he was destroying some precious possession of theirs, he was creating a treasured life memory.

I grew up listening to the whispers. I would sit on the wooden chair, watching them and hearing them. A name was associated with this man: Danny. I constructed an image of him. He was an ancient Grecian hero, strong and charismatic. His hair was dark and his skin was tan and his face was permanently etched with a smile. And he was mine. He lived in my mind, and in my mind, he knew me and I knew him.

And one day, another word was added to the story. One day, my mother positioned my brother and me on the couch, as if readying us for a family portrait. But there were no smiles. “He has cancer.”

That word meant nothing to me. I could not understand it. I had no image concocted in my mind and so it meant nothing.

And one day, the man I had imagined and secretly worshipped was to finally come. My mother made sure my hair looked nice that day, braiding it tightly so that, “it will stay put but you won’t look like a rag-a-muffin,” my mother explained.

We went to my aunt’s and uncle’s home and waited in the same kitchen where I had heard the tales exchanged for so many days. “He’s coming,” someone shared. I patted my hair to make sure it was in place. I wanted to impress him as much as he had me.

An old man came through the door, bald and his shining pate obscured with a bandana. He leaned shakily on a cane. And my cousins and aunts and uncles and parents embraced him, laughed with him. I stood in the corner, shy and yet expectant. I wondered if this was his father. The old man came to me and hugged me. I hugged him tentatively and then resumed my patient guard, waiting at the door for Uncle Danny to arrive. “Come on in, Danny,” my aunt invited.

This was not him, my mind pleaded, tell me this is not him. He was worn and haggard; he relied on a cane for his strength. He seemed kind enough, but he was not the epic hero I had waited for. How could I know this man that was not a part of my memories, invented or real?

Yet he was the real man. He was not what I had been told of; this mythical uncle was just a suffering man.

So, now cancer had a name for me. Cancer was a tangible thing. It destroyed that Hercules-character into this bald man with a black bandana.

He died a few months later. My mother’s eyes were red with salt and water when she told me. I didn’t want to hug her, but I did. I didn’t want to remember what I had seen. I wanted to hold onto my imagination. But her tears would not let me. They made me force the reality that he was no longer strong and he could not overcome this cancer.

We went to his funeral. Everyone was crying during the service. My eyes were dry. I had seen him probably only three times in my whole life, and once was when he was no longer who I remembered and imagined. As they escorted his body out, the organ echoed the melody of “Danny Boy,” the massive pipes ushering his body out into the ground he was crafted from. And it was then I cried. Because the pipes had not called Danny home. They had called home a withered man, crippled yet lovable. I cried because I could only remember what he had become.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now! said...
Sept. 4, 2012 at 5:01 am this true? It's so powerfully written, you seriously have a gift! Good luck for the future :)
Jesusfollower said...
Sept. 9, 2010 at 12:59 pm
There is just something about the way you write that is so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing. It really was beautiful. Check out my work if you have the time.
pinksage33 said...
Jun. 30, 2009 at 7:49 pm
This is AMAZING!!!
Cheywanjasper said...
Jun. 8, 2009 at 6:27 am
i love this...
it makes me wanna cry
you have real talent for writing
peaceloveburton said...
Mar. 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm
I like this, it was not overdone, and I like the was you constructed the piece.
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