Uncle Genius Went to a Picnic

It has become a Sunday ritual for her, going through Uncle Genius’ apartment. She looks forward to it. She savors it. She makes sure to take her time completely so that every Sunday, there is something new for her to find. Some new mystery to unravel. She can’t believe how little she knew him, although it’s likely that she knew him better than anyone else in the world.

Now, when she goes to his apartment, she makes it a big deal. She buys her favorite comfort foods, she brings a six pack, and a joint.

She has taken to talking aloud to Uncle Genius when she’s wandering through his apartment and touching everything one more time before she decides what task she is going to complete today. She tells him how her week went, how the job hunt is going, how she keeps going on fruitless dates, and also she laughs at the pun she just used.

Today she finds a note book that is nearly empty. There are a few things taped in it. One is a small copy of a flyer for some music club from the 80’s. The other is a cocktail napkin with a phone number on it. He must have been no older than 19 when he taped those two things in there. She tries to imagine him as a rambunctious and frivolous teenager. He had told her some stories, but not a one of them made him appear as a young person. But she loved to hear about it anyway.

Then she sees a “poem” he had written. Besides the two taped things, and a few scribbles, the poem is really the only thing in the notebook. It’s a “poem” about his epilepsy.

“Sometimes it just happens. And electric shock. Lights flash. Bombs explode. My ears crackle. Not like an open flame, more like a flicker of fear. My arms let loose of their tether. I am no longer still. And I float and dangle. I am hopeless. I am aware. I am at war. I am crumbling.

“Sometimes people are afraid. Sometimes they think they are brave. But every time I lose a part of me. Every time my electricity loses some of its spark and the demons are one step closer.

“I know I breathe. I can hear it. I don’t know if I feel the air entering my lungs. And I try to get more.

“Then there are hands everywhere. Holding me up. And holding me down.

“How long did it last this time?

“And do I want water? Everyone always offers water. Like in the movies when someone’s in labor, someone always gets the boiling water. Though they never discuss what for.

“And I slip into a place that is warm and I still can’t entirely make words come out. I can hear the words but I can’t speak them.

“And always my eyes water.

“and then I look around to see who I should act embarrassed for. It comforts them if they think I have shame. It makes them feel less helpless. Less useless. ”

She remembers the first time she ever saw Uncle Genius have a seizure. She was so terrified and stupefied. Most people don’t get the chance to reconcile ugly demons with beauty. It was the first time she’d seen someone so strong seem so frail, and how precious that frailty was.

They were at a picnic that day. It was in a park by the river. It was a group of families that went. Her parents’ friends, her dad’s coworkers, their families and friends.  There seemed to just be hundreds of people there.

These picnics were some of her favorite events in her childhood. The adults would set up the tables with gobs of food. The dads would get out their grills and grill all sorts of meats and vegies. And the food was just constantly being replenished. But the best part of these picnics was the total freedom the kids had. They were given so much freedom because there were so many adults around, so they were being carefully watched all the time by someone. It was like the adults had a secret code and were passing the “keeping an eye on the kids” baton through some sort of secret adults-only eye contact.

This particular day there was a girl there. A girl that was two years older and the funniest person she’d ever met. She hadn’t known that you could be a girl like her, and still be funny, still laugh with her whole body, still use her body as a means of expression that wasn’t shameful, that was funny, and innocent, and good. She followed that girl everywhere that day. She was instantly enamored.

She wonders now what that girl’s name was. She knows the girl was one of her first true loves. But for the life of her she can’t remember the name of the girl that most certainly determined her preferences later in life. She loved funny, fierce, loud women-because that was her first introduction to love.

They ran all over the property that day. They swam in the river (even taking their clothes off to jump in at a spot up around the bend where the adults wouldn’t see them). They ate so much food, so many sweets. They hid under the huge porch and the girl told her dirty jokes.

She was running after the girl laughing so hard she couldn’t keep up, because she kept falling over with laughter. Something in her peripheral caught her eye. There was a crowd of adults by the river bank. They weren’t acting like a crowd of adults normally act. There was something wrong.

She walked towards them. They were crowded around someone. Uncle Genius’ face was what she saw first. Twisted. Blank. Empty. Agonizing. She didn’t understand.

Then she saw his body. Mangled.

Later in life, when she was a teenager, she saw an art film that was showing the body grotesque. When she saw that movie she immediately remembered that day at the river.

His body jerked and rolled.

She screamed and ran towards him. Her mom was with him, and stopped her from getting too close.

“It’s OK baby girl, it’s a seizure. He’ll be fine. We just have to let him do it, and keep him safe and time it. Stand back baby”.

She was disgusted. And embarrassed. She didn’t want that girl to see what a weird family she came from. She wanted her family to be normal and healthy like that girl’s family seemed to be. She wanted the world to stop staring at her, her mother, and her uncle.

First her face got hot. She knew it was turning red. That made her angry. And even more embarrassed. Then she felt the tears.

Everyone had always thought that her tears that day had been becuase she was upset about Uncle Genius. She never corrected them. But really her tears that day were from shame. She was embarrassed by her family in front of the first girl she’d ever loved.

“Uncle Genius,” she whispers. “I have a confession…”

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