NOT MY FATHER’S BROTHER
By: Gloria R. Buckley
I sat sipping my sweet girly drink at the Pelican Bend Tiki Bar staring out at the placid water under the mid-afternoon Florida sun. A warm feeling of comfort poured over me as I gazed down at the glossy bar and my mother’s smiling face was imbedded under shellac and shine in the bar top. There was a picture of my mother immortalized eternally under the Florida sunshine that she had so appropriately coined as “La La Land” long before the popularized movie. In quiet appreciation of my mother’s starlet smile I felt always at peace at the thought of her beautiful Elizabeth Taylor eyes. If I listened closely in my mind’s eye I could hear her high pitched voice and her one line zingers. This was my mother eternally Loretta Young in my father’s eyes. Always young in mine.
I sat gazing and my mind wandered aimlessly as questions about premature death rolled by. Images of my dead father at forty-one haunted me. Dark beautiful wavy hair. His body a surreal Dali like image so young in his coffin, still imprinted in my brain. Forty years had passed and I am still in awe of how he parted this world so young. And then there were the four deaths of cousins ranging from twenty-seven to sixty-three. What family would have two suicides by hanging? I felt sad that my mother lived to witness a quartet of brutal self-destruction. A niece and nephews that she once changed their diapers now literally hanging in the wake of their own emotional carnage. I stared down at the bar and whispered, “I love you Mommy” in almost a prayer-like mantra. Perhaps, her living longer than anyone else while she chain-smoked and cussed like a Maxine Hallmark card of billowing smoke and Chanel No. 5 perfume was my ticket to sanity.
My ticket to sanity was that I felt loved. Perhaps by few but at least by those who mattered. My mother and then my brother Patrick. I shared with my brother warm summer days patrolling parks, bridges, ponds in search of nature. I lagged always a few steps behind so as not to disturb his naturalist investigations of the earth. His wanderings always felt like a serious expedition that ultimately would turn up an interesting rock, frog or box turtle. While such finds would seem of little or no value to the outside world, to us, they were treasures. I treasure now more than anything the process of searching I shared with him. He is my true family. Even with all our sibling rivalry we never really abandoned one another; we stayed when it counted.
There wasn’t more that I wanted in my life except answers to the same question that ruminated in my head: why do people leave? This general question attached to the premature deaths in my life and just plain cutting off that occurs between people. Why is there that pride and ego to stand one’s ground? It is the stuff that wars are made of. I questioned it as I toyed with a pink paper umbrella in my drink and wondered if there were little people dancing on the head of my ice while I twirled the umbrella. It was obvious the drink was going to my head. People under the ice, relatives in ice, and not my father’s brother, an uncle who I believed hurt my father deeply not only in life but now in death. And I am my mother’s daughter determined and driven to protect her and my family always.
It was my communion, 1967 or thereabouts and my uncle had purchased a pearl ring for me. My effeminate devout Irish Catholic uncle, my father’s brother, who would later denounce my mother and disown my brother and me. And he adopted his next door neighbor only to leave his wonderful teacher’s dynasty to his adopted neighbor-daughter. Oh yes, and write his own obituary citing references to his narcissistic self-aggrandizement as teacher of the year and best dressed. He was once upon a time my idol now fallen as I mused various thoughts of his vain moments from fetish like obsessions for his clothes and trips.
At communion, I believed that I was marrying Raymond Brown. We both had the mumps and were as fate would have it tossed together as partners down the massive cathedral aisle. I wore a white faux fur shawl with fluffy pom poms that dangled. I wore a white veil that appeared like a shrunken version of a wedding veil or an Old Italian lady veil wailing with her rosary. I wore a stiff itchy white crinoline under a very lacy white dress and white patent leather Mary Janes. Despite the fact that I wished I was in worn corduroy pants, my brother’s polo shirt and red Buster Brown sneakers (my favorite ensemble); I accepted the discomfort of even the white gloves to hold Raymond Brown’s hand. We were marrying God and I thought each other that day. So how did I wind up gay? I suppose I will never have an answer to that question.
My “not my father’s brother” uncle snapped pictures from a square Kodak camera that looked more like a tiny piggy bank than a camera (obviously it wasn’t a piggy bank since the man deliberately left my brother and I out of his will!). Pride seemed to fill everyone because I married God. Pride filled me because Raymond Brown was stuck in a photo-op with me that would last a lifetime. I did look like a shrunken bride with bird legs and a crooked smile of pure delight. It was one of the few times I didn’t throw up while kneeling in church. This was a moment in my life where everyone was happy and my parents were together. My brother wasn’t teasing me with some devious trick or pinch. All was right in the world. Little did I know the photos were only window dressing to disaster and destruction in our family.
The point of all this reminiscing is that things aren’t always what they appear to be. Life disappoints, but somehow I remained happy with the photos of a smiling mother literally under my hands and immortal as I gazed out at the aqua clear sea. Seagulls graced and skimmed the surface in search of that one fish to slaughter, mangle, devour and destroy. In that moment my anger flared. My “not my father’s brother” uncle had repressed my father in life. Silenced his grief for his own father who died prematurely just like my father. He shut my mother’s flare for life in an instant, all because of a divorce. He who stood and judged and ridiculed so many that he came in contact with and then died well into his eighties having to leave a fat purse to a stranger. My mother was beautiful like a radiant diamond-brilliant and tough, my father had two beautiful children and perhaps we were condemned because of an uncle who appeared to be gay or at least a failure as a procreative male. All of these thoughts swirled as I snorted into my ice and whispered expletives that made the ice melt against my tongue.
I know the severance of my father’s death had created darkness in me that to the present day I haven’t been able to shake. I felt left, abandoned, unspoken emotions and I remain angry. All the head-shrinking, Back to the Future electrical helmets on my head can’t erase loss. However, with that said I always knew deep in my heart I could return home to my mother or my brother or even a partner or my dog and friends. I was loved, truly loved just as much as I have been hated. The duality of my mask in life has played itself out like a fan that flips from color to color in the breeze never quite sure until it actually stops and lands in one place. Sometimes we need to land in that gray area with possibilities.
That place, that knowing is that I am my mother’s daughter and my brother’s loving sister. I am filled with brains, once upon a time beauty, creativity, warmth, laughter. All of her attributes were handed down gracefully from a little blue-eyed lady chain-smoking her Benson and Hedges and saying to me “Forget it Honey!” “Just forget it all and sip your drink!”
Gloria R. Buckley has been published by Defiant Scribe, Academy of Heart and Mind, Chaleur Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, Red Hyacinth Journal, Sensations Magazine, Alcoholism Magazine, Chimera Magazine, Journal of English Language and Literature, Hermann Hesse Page Journal, Virginia Woolf Blog, Focus Magazine, Chimera Magazine and many other journals of poetry and prose. A self- published collection of seventy five poems is available on Amazon.com. She has a short story which shall be published in October 2019 with Me First Magazine. She is a practicing attorney for over thirty years. She holds a BA in English with honors and JD from Seton Hall. She has a Masters with Distinction in English Literature from Mercy College. She is enrolled in MA in writing program at Johns Hopkins University.