When I was a teenager, I had this red shirt that said “Dysfunctional” in black script. Uncle Clark hated it, and Uncle Clark hated whenever anyone would call that side of the family–his and my dad’s–dysfunctional, no matter how true it was. I mean, the dysfunction goes back far. There’s rumors my great-grandmother dabbled in prostitution. She was also married three times and allegedly paid more attention to her husband than my young grandfather, who grew up to be a pathological liar and cheated on my grandmother more than once. He favored my Uncle Eric, for some reason, and squabbles between the three siblings–mostly Uncle Eric against my dad and Uncle Clark–went on all through my childhood, the most notable one having something to do with losing heat every single winter in the house we shared with my grandfather, which also had Uncle Eric’s name on the deed, even though he moved around with the military a lot. I always get the details messed up, but I think the problem was my mom could’ve had someone out to fix the furnace the night it went out but he was refusing because of a warranty with Sears, who couldn’t fix it that night and gave us tiny space heaters to heat a big-ass, three-story old house that I believe they then made us pay for. Uncle Eric said if my mom called anyone else out to fix it, he’d call a lawyer, so she told him he’d better be prepared to pay for any medical bills should any of us get sick in single-digit temperatures without heat.
At some point, he apologized and they mostly decided to put their differences aside, except for when we’d go to the house after we moved out when I was 13 and they moved in some time later and my parents would complain about them and the changes they made to what was basically a historic, well-known house in the area. I don’t think it’s as bad as my parents think it is, but ripping our original fireplaces and gold molding was probably not smart, especially since my aunt did it herself.
Now, enough time has passed that I can let past transgressions go, but the problem is that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my dad’s side of the family is full of raging assholes, and they’re like that–possibly even worse–now.
Uncle Clark has been struggling for some time both financially and emotionally. The story is he took a huge pay cut after 9/11 and has had somewhat frequent medical problems since, which either caused or contributed to depression. Now, although my dad believes depression in the chemical-imbalance sense is legitimate, he must not think his brother is actually suffering from that, even when all signs point to it, because when Uncle Clark calls upset, my dad is just a dick to him, if he even answers the phone at all.
Uncle Clark’s money troubles are to the point that we suspect something bigger is going on, most likely an alcohol problem. Even when someone helps him out, he doesn’t seem to pay his mortgage, which he claims is the biggest problem. Attempts to get answers haven’t gotten very far, but then again, I don’t think anyone is trying very hard. After all, not only does my dad rarely answer the phone, but Uncle Eric and my grandfather don’t, either, and those of us who have pity on him are suckers.
Uncle Clark is my godfather. He spoiled me when I was little and he could afford it. I rarely ask for advice, but he’s offered up gems, like when I started college: watch out for my female friends at parties, don’t leave an open drink unattended, “And when the time comes, young lady, use a condom!” And my dad and I may not get along, but when he deployed for Iraq, Uncle Clark came over from the other side of the state, sat Brandon and I down separately to talk to us, made sure we were okay, and made sure we knew we had him if we needed anything. Uncle Eric never said anything from the other side of the county. Uncle Clark is my Sirius Black.
I get defensive when the rest of the family complains about Uncle Clark–he’s been there and made an effort. They haven’t. And beyond that, it’s basic human decency. Something is obviously wrong, but rather than try to figure out what that is or try to help him, they complain about him, ignore him, and talk about him. At least they admit this: someone went so far as to say if not for him, they’d have nothing to talk about. That’s only half true because they’d still be able to bitch about how Obama is ruining the country and I’m liberal scum who voted for him, but that leads into a whole separate drinking game we made for when my dad is on the phone with Pap Pap. (My favorite rule ever: one drink if my dad says, “I didn’t vote for Obama,” two if he adds, “Janelle did,” finish the drink if I’m home and yell, “TWICE, AND I’D DO IT AGAIN, TOO!” Which happened before we made these rules.)
Meanwhile, Uncle Eric’s wife, my Aunt Vicky, is on Facebook. She goes through spurts where she’ll be silent, then she’ll go on commenting sprees where she has something to say about everything. Paul declared her the most annoying person on Facebook just after seeing one of her comments, and I declared her horrible after she commented on a status about one of my paternal grandfather’s funniest anecdotes and how I hope heaven is him telling that story on a loop. She said, “Really? That’s what you expect?”
All this to say I was not looking forward to a family get-together for Memorial Day/my grandfather’s birthday, and neither was the rest of my family. So we made a drinking game. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the full rules, but they were basically along the lines of drink when someone pisses you off, twice if it’s Aunt Vicky.
I’d made up my mind that when they inevitably started on Uncle Clark, I’d nicely tell them they’re all assholes and remind them that that’s my godfather they’re talking about, who’s done a hell of a lot me for me–and other people–than any of them ever had. Fortunately, it never got to that point, but enough was said that I was able to get in a few not-so-subtle digs about how they’d better all hope they never need to call me for help.
And as for the drinking game, I didn’t play because they only had beer, which I’m not a fan of, but I caught my mom and Brandon exchanging very meaningful glances and taking swigs.