When I Met Uncle Ty

I grew up way too fast. I don't want to sound like a stereotype, but the street was more of a teacher to me than anyone in school. Better lessons, too. I picked math up quicker by collecting money than mindlessly repeating shit in a classroom. I guess when your ass gets beat for forgetting to "carry the five", you figure shit out quick.

My parents were exactly a lot of help. Dad was a good man, but "thick as a red brick", as he put it. I guess his parents didn't do him many favors, either. Mom… well, Dad had full custody, and since that never happens, you know she was a bad bitch. It took me a long time to forgive some of the shit she did. To me, to Dad, to the dog SHE gave me as an apology present… Hell, I guess it's still taking me a long time, I'm not going to lie.

Family wasn't a big thing for me. I didn't even know I had any uncles until Uncle Ty came around for dinner one night when I was about twelve. He got a new job, Dad wanted to congratulate him and I guess make sure he kept at it by rewarding his work ethic. I learned later that uncle Ty was kind of the black sheep in a family of black sheep. Not an easy task.

Uncle Ty showed up at the door in a suit and tie, and even if he was kind of rumpled, he could've passed for someone who just came out of a business meeting with semi-important people. What ruined it was the smell, like the man had stale onions and garlic warming in his armpits. Dad knew his brother wasn't faring well at the job, and at that young age, even I knew adults didn't go to work stinking like an Italian dumpster.

The smile on uncle Ty's face was, again, almost reassuring. He gave something to my Dad, something warm and wrapped in tin foil, then hung his suit jacket and stepped into the apartment.

For about an hour, uncle Ty took a load off on the couch. He and Dad laughed over old stories, girls they'd met, stuff like that. Things I really shouldn't have been listening to, but to be honest I'd already had sex. Seventeen year old girl moved in down the hall, and I guess I was the one who got the housewarming gift.

When it came time to eat, I was already starving. Spent my lunch money badly, and not on food. Uncle Ty said grace, but all I could think about was tearing into the food and passing out under the black light in my room.

My appetite was tested, though, when dinner started.

"What's this?" I asked, toying with the meat on my plate.

"Eat it." Dad snapped, putting a forkful into his square-toothed mouth.

I looked at uncle Ty, sideways, eyebrows arched in that 'you serious?' kind of way. He smiled at me and chuckled.

"It's cave rabbit." Uncle Ty explained.

Same look, this time at my dad.

"Cave rabbit." I repeated, looking down at the gravy-coated gristle. "Never heard that."

Uncle Ty shook his head. "Kids today, man. Shit. Think just because you ain't heard of something, means it don't exist. Exists well enough for me." He took a huge bite and laughed again. Dad joined him. "People die hunting cave rabbit. Get lost in the shadows. All turned around. Cave rabbit is smart, see, they know when you're after them."

Again, the message was made clear. "Eat it."

I knew the deal. Dad didn't me embarrassing uncle Ty. Or… didn't want me embarrassing him… I don't fucking know. Some shit about pride. Either uncle Ty would get offended that we didn't like his cooking, or he'd feel bad because he bought the single worst chicken from the back of the shadiest meat truck in the city. Either way, I chewed on that shit until my jaw got tired, then I swallowed it down, still whole.

By the time dinner was over, nothing was left. I'd like to say I did a good job making things disappear, but the truth is dad kept going on about how hungry he was, and wolfed it down like a boxer taking one brutal dive. The man looked half-dead by the end. Eyes bugging out, sick look on his face. Mouthing "Mm-MMM!" through greasy, tired lips.

Uncle Ty got a shower and shave before he left. Didn't think it was strange at the time, just something guys do. You can use someone's toilet, so why not the shower, right? Seems a lot less rude that sticking your bare ass on someone else's property and shitting into it. Maybe that's just me.

Didn't find out uncle Ty was a schizophrenic until a couple years later. Never saw him again after that dinner… well, unless you count the funeral. Someone found him on the sidewalk, under a blanket of newspapers. Mighty cold that time of year. November. Couldn't have an open casket, on account of the decay. Nobody checked on him right away. Figure he was lying there until one day when someone finally decided to get him up and clean where he was sleeping.

Sad thing is he could've come to dad for help. Turned out, uncle Ty didn't have a job. Went in the interviews, and eventually he must've gotten so tired of being rejected that he just made something up. Come to find out, he was real good at making up stories. Covering up shit. Mostly to hide what he was doing, but also to keep people from worrying about him.

Like "cave rabbits". I don't want to look at that like crazy talk. I want to think about it like fantasy stuff. You tell a kid the tooth fairy left them a dollar, instead of saying you're keeping pieces of their skeleton in a jar. Wherever uncle Ty bought that ugly, withered morsel, that didn't matter as long as he could convince me it was something really rare and magical. Dad and I were worth the best to him, so he pretended we got the best.

Even though I never knew him, he was still family, so I want to remember him like his stories. They way he wanted to be known. I like to think of uncle Ty living in a penthouse apartment, with two really bad bitches and his own bar and shit. When I picture of him, I see a powerful businessman sitting behind his desk in a corner office. (With a hot secretary he's banging, too.)

I do my best to forget everything I was told about some sad bum who spent his life underground. I mean, plenty of people live down in those old, rat-infested subway tunnels. Not uncle Ty, though. Never him.

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