My Uncle Dave lived in Arkansas, and when I was young (starting in 4th or 5th grade, probably… maybe 6th, I don’t recall), we began visiting his family almost every weekend. By junior high, I would also spend a week or two at their house in the summer without my parents there. I spent a lot of time at their home, hiking through their woods, swimming in their pool, eating their food, playing video games with my cousin Neil, teasing and getting teased by my cousin Charelle, and just being a part of their family.
Uncle Dave was an alcoholic and a drug user. I’m pretty sure he was abusive towards Neil. At least, that would explain the anger issues that Neil had that prompted him to try and murder me most weekends when we visited.
I never experienced peer pressure from my schoolmates. Dave was the first to try and make me drink beer, and once when I continued to refuse he just poured his can over my head while cursing and yelling at me.
One summer, my cousin Neil and I accidentally lit a field on fire with some bottle rockets. It was state land, and we were terrified that we would be arrested and our lives were over. Dave called the fire department and covered for us. We didn’t get in trouble at all. Neil bought me a sports drink at the corner shop (which was actually a mile or two away at the end of a dirt road) and we were allies for a day.
After my parents got divorced (I was around 12 years old and in 6th or 7th grade), I never heard again from my dad’s side of the family. I haven’t seen Dave, his (now ex-)wife, or my cousins since before my parents got divorced. I did get Charelle’s phone number so I could invite her to our wedding in 2008 because she was always kind to me, but she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t be there, and that was the last we spoke.
I don’t entirely know how I feel about Dave dying. It was inevitable, really. My dad said he had a heart attack, but I know he was still abusing drugs so that likely shortened his life.
He wasn’t a bad uncle to me, all things considered. He taught me how to split firewood and how to skin a deer. How to dispose of the guts of deer and turkey. How to fish, how to clean them, and how to smoke salmon and trout. One of our main sources of meat, when I was growing up, was hunting on his land.
I can’t miss him because I haven’t had a relationship with him for almost 25 years at this point. But my inability to fully parse my feelings is what indicates that my feelings are complex. I have so few ties to my childhood and to my past, and one more is gone I suppose. But it has actually been gone for a long time. Really, I can’t be certain how much of a relationship was ever there.
For a few minutes, I considered attending the memorial. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how I would react to seeing my cousin Neil again who inflicted so much torment and pain on me that I nearly committed suicide the night before having to visit my uncle and his family for yet another weekend. At this point, I think I have enough distance and enough of the Holy Spirit that I can extend grace even if I’m still working on full forgiveness. As for my uncle, it’s not like the death of a stranger. I knew him, and he played a large role in my childhood. Not an altogether positive one, but there are worse stories than mine, and so I don’t feel like I can be too upset about it all.
He is gone. He wasn’t all bad. I hope that others will be better, and I know that I will be. Dave is one of my inspirations for fatherhood and for being a good husband because he modeled what one oughtn’t do. I do believe that he loved, but I also know that he was broken and drug-addled.
Goodbye, Uncle Dave.