I have a lot going on right now and a job list that grows longer every day but I’ve spent most of the day just sitting around, waiting for my uncle to die. He’s diabetic— a condition he could have prevented, and then a condition he could have managed— and that has led to congestive heart failure, strokes, seizures, and comas. Against the odds, he made it through the day, but I can’t see him making it through tomorrow.
My mom is the second of seventeen children and Edward is one of her ten younger brothers, number fourteen. In the same way that I don’t remember meeting my mom or dad, I don’t remember meeting Uncle Ed, he just always existed, and in that way, felt kind of eternal. He lived with us for a while in our first house on Dalton Street when I was really little, maybe three or four. I remember him baking bread and I remember him waking us up by tickling our feet, something I relish doing to just about anyone to this day. Yes, I know it’s annoying-to-creepy when I do it now, but when he did it, it was just sweet.
Edward is my godfather and he always reminded me of that— even the last time I saw him when I was 38— and made it clear that there was special bond between us, that he had a responsibility to me that ran even deeper than blood. Much as I rack my brain now, I can’t think of one time he ever yelled at me or was anything less than totally kind to me.
When she was four, Uncle Ed’s daughter Tashina came to live with us. A couple of years later, we adopted her and she became officially what she had already been for a long time, unofficially: my sister. I was just eight when she came to live with us, so I was curious: why wasn’t she living with her mom and dad? I think my mom explained it to me that Tashina’s mom drank too much to take good care of her and that Ed wasn’t able to take the best care of her either and that Ed wasn’t letting her come live with us because he didn’t love her, but because he did. I believed that and I believe that… but I also knew then that it was bullshit, that you couldn’t just make a kid and then pawn her off on someone else. Maybe that influenced my decision to not have children. But Ed still called and visited as often as he could, even after we moved to New Mexico and then New Hampshire, and we were all always delighted to see him. As I got older, though, it became clear not just that Ed couldn’t take care of his kids, but that he couldn’t really take care of himself. And yeah, I’ll admit that I started to find him a little pathetic.
I didn’t see much of my family after I left for school and my family split up when I was fifteen. I did get a birthday letter from Ed when I was probably 23, getting my MFA from Columbia. I had a rough time while I was there and not just because I was dirt poor and my drinking was out of control. I had naively thought that Columbia would be full of life-loving idiots like me from all walks of life. With few exceptions, they were wealthy blue-bloods, somehow both far smarter than I was and dull as dirt. As I hated them for their privilege, I hated my family for our plain roots. When that letter from Ed found me, I was living in a tent I had made in the living room of my Columbia housing (I was illegally renting out the bedroom to save money). I read it laying on a bloody sheet on a single mattress next to a cupboard I’d hauled in off the street that housed my Carlo Rossi and hand-me-down porno mags my friends had exhausted. Ed’s letter was difficult to read because his handwriting was so bad, and even harder to parse due to the poor grammar and spelling mistakes. But the message was clear: he was writing because he remembered it was my birthday and because he loved me and because we had a special bond because he was my godfather. I wept over that letter because I hated my family for being uneducated rednecks, and because I hated my fancy university for making me hate my family for being uneducated rednecks, and because I loved my family and I missed my uncle.
I still have that letter and I would give anything to read it now, but I have no idea where it is. I’ve been living out of a bag for almost two years, all my shit’s in storage in California, and I’m forty years old, crying in my girlfriend’s bed in Atlanta. I love her and I’m glad I’m here, but it’s her town, not mine, and her bed, not mine, because although I’m forty years old, I don’t have a town or a bed. It occurs to me now that I was right as a judgmental little kid— that it’s wrong to bring a child into this world if you can’t take care of them— and that I was wrong as a kid, that it’s a lot harder for a grown man to take care of himself than I thought. I need to be strong right now for my family and for my sister Tashina, who I love to death… and also, let’s be honest, for myself because I have a UK tour coming up and another one in the works and teaching at Yale and finishing the studio record and promoting the tour and promoting the live record and then promoting the studio record and Jesus fucking Christ constantly constantly constantly PROMOTING… but right now, I’d give anything to just be a kid again and let the grown-ups handle this shit.
Edward was a simple man. He loved his brothers and sisters, he loved his children, he loved his nephews and nieces, he loved all children, he loved his entire family. He adored his First Nation and Metis friends up north and had widely been accepted as one of them. He enjoyed baking bread and fishing and watching hockey and the chuck wagon races. He loved that big black cowboy hat. He was a simple man, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ed, as you loved me, I love you: purely, with all my heart.