My Uncle’s Wild Ride

No one wants to know what happened behind those curtains.

I divorced my family last year. After 65 years of putting up with insanity I decided to strike out on my own and not tolerate the crap any more, not even for two days a year or not even on Christmas. My Mom died a couple of years ago and she was the last reason I had to not upset the apple cart. In her last years she was nice to me, was understanding and we supported each other against the rest of the family. When she died, I had no more reason to put up with the bullshit and my family connections didn’t last much longer. In a way, it’s sad that I can’t at least have a pleasant family dinner once a year with the people who remain, but I can’t even have a pleasant email conversation with them. I tried and it didn’t go well, it was like having a horrible dinner conversation that never ended. At the last I said some perfectly honest things that alienated everyone, waited for an apology and got none. So I let people know that if they show up here uninvited, there will be no intervention session; there will be no kidnapping of me for the sake of deprogramming; and I will call the police to have them escorted off the property. This may seem extreme, but I come from an extreme family. I may be the only person in it who is not a sociopath, and many times I do doubt myself, but at least I am aware of the problem.

One of my sisters questioned my extreme response to family things and I wrote to her with a long explanation that included, among many other things, why I don’t wish to correspond with my only living Uncle. My sister had informed him of our mother’s passing and he responded with a sorrowful note that included the decision he made to have no more contact with anyone on the mainland (he lives in Hawaii). My sister asked the rest of us to write to him because he sounded so sad. I responded that he has made his own decisions and he is doing what he wants. Later I had a chance to explain why I said that. It has to do with a very strange ride my Uncle took me on when I was just back from Vietnam. It started out innocently, I had been home for a couple of weeks and he came out to visit, asked if I wanted to go for a ride and I said, sure. People where I grew up went for rides just for the sake of going, even if you just traveled the same old highways again for no reason. So we hopped in his little VW van and off we went to tour the same old country for one more day.

I had no expectations of the trip, if we got hungry we would stop somewhere to eat, otherwise we would just drive around and look at the countryside. The Ozarks is a beautiful country at any season, and always different in some way. I never got over the thrill of seeing the same old places in brand new ways, in weather that was never the same twice. My Uncle had different reasons for taking me on that drive. My first hint of something strange was when he suddenly asked me, “Did you have to take a VD test when you processed out?”

This stunned me momentarily because it’s an odd thing to ask, but I was a big boy by then and I said, “Yeah, all of us did. We had to or we couldn’t come back to the States.” You walk up to a medical officer in a little booth and he says, “Take out your penis,” and you do this even though no one warned you what was going to happen. Then an enlisted man shoves a long cotton swab up your little john into regions you never knew you had, and afterwards you have to pee really badly. You tolerate this because you want to go home. Fortunately urinals are conveniently available just past the booth. That must have been a terrible job to have. Two of our group failed and had to stay an extra week for treatment. One fellow was very upset because he had to somehow explain this to his wife and we all kidded him about that.

My Uncle said he would never have passed that test because he can’t pee in public.

Momentary pause while my brain spun like tires in loose gravel, looking for good traction. Huh?

My Uncle went on to explain that he had never been able to pee in public, and when he was in Korea all the men in his unit had thought it was strange. I said, “Huh, oh yeah?” and hoped this was the end of it, but no, there was a lot more still to come. My uncle, who a very muscular guy and very fit and about twice my size, always covered with a sheen of nervous sweat, began telling me things I never wanted to know, beginning with his childhood bedroom and how cold it was.

My uncle’s bedroom in a tiny house in upstate Ohio was so cold that there was often snow on the inner windowsill in the mornings. His bed was so cold that he put bricks by the fire in the evenings, wrapped them up and put them by his feet in the bed to keep off the chill.

I said, “You had hot bricks?” because I often woke up to water frozen in the drinking glass beside the bed in the morning and there was often snow and ice on the inside sill in my room, but no one ever mentioned this idea of warm bricks. We could have done that but no one told us. I learned to sleep like the people in solitary in Alcatraz, you squat on your ankles and hug your knees. I said, “Damn! I wish we’d had hot bricks!”

My stalwart uncle got teary and said “NOOO! You don’t understand! There was snow on the windowsill in my rooooooom!” and it was so strange the way he said this while he stared into space and slammed his hands against the steering wheel repeatedly that I said, “Ok, Ok, there was snow on your windowsill!” while in my inner voice I noted that snow is the same no matter whose sill it is on.

“I felt so bad the day I had my first orgasm,” my uncle continued.

I looked sideways swiftly at my uncle and thought uhoh.

He went on to say that he had been playing with himself and then suddenly something happened! and his first thought (he was almost sobbing when he said this) was that he had hemorrhaged and his mother would have to work so very hard to pay the hospital bill! and then when he looked at himself, it wasn’t blood on his hands!

Tires spinning on the pavement in my brain again. How to respond! I said, “Well, huh. How about that?”

I learned lots of things about my Uncle that day as I quietly checked the lock on the passenger side door and calculated how much damage I might suffer if I opened it and bailed out at 55 mph on some benevolent stretch of roadside gravel. I heard how difficult it was for him when he lived in San Francisco, how it seemed that every man he passed on the street had an erection. I heard how he really hoped that when he joined the monastery in Texas he would find a place for life, but was urged to move on because of excessive masturbation. He told me about the great job he had for awhile artificially inseminating cows and pigs, traveling around Texas with coolers filled with very important sperm.

Tires spinning in brain! Spin spin spin! Must find something normal for traction!

Towards the end of the adventure, my uncle calmed down and smiled and said, “I really need you to look at my penis.”

No no no no no! my inner brain said, but I also knew that I was riding on a dangerous mountain highway at 60 mph with an insane person at the wheel. With great trepidation I looked over at my uncle, and yep, there it was, out there in plain sight.

“Isn’t it pretty?” he asked me.

“Yep. It’s nice,” I said.

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy to get anywhere as I was to get home that day, unmolested and not buried in a roadside grave. We all had supper as though nothing unusual had happened and thankfully, no one mentioned artificial insemination.

In later years my uncle graduated from inseminating cows and pigs to pastoring a church in Taiwan during a missionary stint, and married a very nice Chinese lady I really liked, and was very bad to her ever after that. Then he became a computer programmer for a power company and retired with lots of money and property and a very good pension and moved to Hawaii. Today he buys all his clothing at thrift shops and will buy shoes that are too small because he can cut the toes out and they will fit just fine that way. He is afraid to cross the street to check his mail even though the speed limit in his neighborhood is 25 mph. Someone would run him over if he crossed the street. He can’t drive because he won’t trust the driver behind him to stop if he puts on his brakes.

My uncle is very afraid to die, and apparently believes that God will kill him at the very next opportunity and send him straight to hell. For all I know, this might be justified. I imagine if I were some lone young male or female person hitchhiking through Texas in those old days, waiting at a dusty crossroads, and a little VW bus pulled up, driven by a strong looking fellow who was sweating just a little too much, and I accepted the ride. A few miles down the road, he looked over and smiled, and asked, “Would you like to see my penis?”

Probably are lots of those people buried on the roadsides down in Texas. I expect that God will sort it all out. I haven’t been able to have a conversation with my uncle since that happened. He’s on his own.

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