The Christmas I was four my Uncle Bob wrapped up one of his microphones and gave it to me and I was in heaven. I was a rock star and he knew it, and I didn’t care when I caught my dad, with one eyebrow aloft, telling my mom that it was just some old piece of junk. Uncle Bob always brought me KISS 8 tracks, and magazines with KISS in them, because really, who can love all that is KISS like a 4-year-old can?
He was cool, and he knew I was cool, even if he didn’t always want to hang out with me a whole lot. It was enough for me to peek through my bedroom curtains to watch him peel out of the farmyard on his motorbike, to be on the receiving end of what even a 4-year-old can tell is small talk, to talk to his girlfriends until he got bored and told them it was time to go. None of that mattered.
And when I got a little older, and presumably a little more interesting and Uncle Bob and I would be sarcastic to each other with the mutual admiration that those who consider each other truly worthy opponents do, those same girlfriends and wives would buy me really nice stuff, best presents I would get all Christmas. Makeup, perfume, clothes, straight up cash. Maybe because they liked me. Or maybe because they saw how happy it made him to see me happy.
He hosted Christmas one year. His wife played sick and the whole thing was on him and it was awkward. Since the focus clearly wouldn’t be on food, and I’d bought his son (my cousin) all the wrong things, there wasn’t much else I could do except drink and smoke and wait it out. And he looked sorry and tired and I felt bad and so god damned glad I didn’t live anywhere near my family, anymore.
It was not long after a Christmas when I got the call about the accident. Before I knew what was happening, I started to form a plan, in case I would have to take his kids in, not knowing whether they were parentless or not, and it turned out they weren’t parentless, the two that remained. On the drive between the church and the graveyard, I found the Christmas card I’d been too fucking lazy to mail to him. I’d gotten the address wrong, anyway.
He loved wrapping presents so you’d never know what was inside, loved driving the recipients crazy. He’d pack them with towels, or macaroni, or in a dozen boxes, decreasing in size. I still do that, sometimes.