“You had only two uncles, me and your father’s brother,” he said.
“Our father had a brother?” said the niece.
“Yes, a few years older. We only met him once, he was kind of estranged from your father and his father. He was funny, and personable, and seemed like a very nice guy. He was as big as your father, and had dark hair. We sat on the back porch playing cards, at your grandparents’ house in Queens.”
“How come we never heard of him?”
“You’d have to ask your parents. I have no idea. Maybe it was the fact that they were estranged, had virtually no contact once the brothers were adults. I don’t know. Maybe it has to do with his mental illness,” the sole uncle said.
“Mental illness?” said the nephew.
“Look, I know virtually nothing about the man, except for a pleasant afternoon we spent with him. And that he was taking some psycho-pharmaceutical and his psychiatrist apparently had told him to have nothing further to do with the family, that it would only aggravate his condition. And like I said, we only met him that one time, never heard about him after that.”
“Whoa, his ‘psychiatrist’?” said the niece.
“You know, in most families you have your pick of aunts, uncles, cousins. You will have the ones you feel closest to, a real kinship, and many others will leave you cool, or even cold. In our family, since the family tree was so ruthlessly pruned back in 1942, you get only one or two uncles — in your case one. Your other uncle probably died before you were born, another reason you never heard of him, I guess.”
“How did he die?” said the nephew.
“That’s just speculation, we really have no idea. He could still be alive, he’d be in his early seventies now”
“Jesus,” said the niece, glancing at her phone.
“I can tell you what happened two generations ago, on your mother’s side, when the German army ran across the area we’re from, on their way to invade the heart of the Soviet Union. Between the winter of 1941 and the winter of 1942 everyone in our family was murdered, except for the handful of people who arrived here between 1904 and 1923. The areas they came from were, as they say, cleansed of Jews by the SS and willing local anti-Semites. We know a few of their names, we know what happened to their towns, the muddy little hamlets they came from. Everyone was executed, end of story.”
“That would make you a little paranoid, I guess,” said the nephew.
“Claro que si, sobrino,” said the uncle.
“I can only say a little bit more, because to some people, well, this is ticklish to say… some people believe that anything that causes pain or anguish should be avoided. The passive voice and all that. You don’t touch a nerve that’s raw. If it’s bad, or makes you feel bad, especially if it evokes shame or anger, don’t talk about it. Talking about it is very dangerous,” he turned to his niece.
“You know, when you were a baby and first learned to sit on the potty to do your business, your mother asked you once why you have no hesitation to sit there and pee but the other thing, the shitting business, you weren’t ready to do that in the potty. She asked why. You said, with great seriousness and conviction, and you couldn’t have been more than two: it’s very dangerous!“
“Ha, I forgot about that,” the niece said.
“What I hear you saying between the lines, Uncle, is that you are very dangerous,” said the nephew.
“Yes, nephew, if you believe in making sure every source of shame and anger is completely repressed at all times, someone like me is very dangerous. I’m as dangerous as pooping in a potty, more dangerous, actually,” said the uncle.
“Some people believe it’s better to lie than to expose and talk about regrettable, shameful or terrible things. We have a president like that. Never made a mistake, never been wrong, never had any reason to reflect or do anything differently, nothing to apologize about, anything bad that ever happened in his life was somebody else’s fault. You know, a lot of people live that way. I try not to judge those motherfuckers, but I can’t live like that. If I know I hurt you, and I care about you, I’m going to try to make it right, starting with an apology. Unfortunately, not everybody does that.”
“This is getting a little awkward,” said the niece.
“I agree,” said the uncle, “where are we going for lunch?”