Your mom will never admit it, but I know she named you after me. And if you end up being anything like her, I understand why.
When she was fifteen and broke into her parent’s liquor cabinet with her cousin Kira, I was the one who held her hair while she threw up. I was the one that covered for her to her parents, backing up that bogus “food poisoning” story. And I was the one who sat her down, and told her that I couldn’t stop her from drinking (if there’s any one thing everyone in this family has in common, it is that they all do whatever the hell they please) but I could give her guidance. I taught her the rules of how to drink:
• Never drink on an empty stomach; always have some carbs first
• One glass of water for every drink ito keep from dehydrating
• Never mix–if you start with wine/beer/alcohol, stay with it
• And most importantly: never accept a drink from a stranger
When your mom bought boyfriends home, I was the one who threatened their lives. I made sure every male who ever came within ten feet of her knew that there was a man in her life willing to kill for her, die for her, go to jail for her. I knew I couldn’t keep her completely safe, but I made sure she knew someone cared enough to hurt anyone who hurt her.
I couldn’t keep your Mom from making mistakes, but I was always there to listen without judgment, to opine only if asked, and in the rare occasions she’d actually ask for advice, to be sage and succinct. When she couldn’t go to her parents–when my brother was harsh and quick-tempered–I made sure she knew she could come to me.
With all due respect to your Dad’s side of the family, if you’ve got any real gumption, you probably got it from your maternal great-grandmother. She’s tough as nails; born during Jim Crow, raised during the Great Depression, left home at sixteen and somehow landed a job as a research scientist at a time when America wasn’t hiring women or black people.
If you’ve got any musical talent, that’s from your maternal great-grandfather; he was a jazz musician, a pianist for Louis Armstrong. When he was alive, every Friday night from 8-10pm, he’d play piano with a bunch of other octogenarians at a Cajun club called The Louisiana, on Broadway just north of Houston. I made it a point to bring your Mom around her grandparents. I’d take your Mom with me to see them once a week; we’d grab some Coronas and a bucket of crawfish, and find your great-grandmother, who invariably would be sitting directly in front of the stage, blowing kisses at her husband of fifty some-odd years.
You’ll never get to meet your paternal great-grandfather; he died thirteen years before you were born. Today your maternal great-grandmother is 89. You may or may not grow up without her gentle strength. I’ll make sure you know both of them. I will tell you their stories. I’ll make sure you know from whence you came.
Your Mom was the first person in her family to go to college. You will only ever know her as a Senior Partner in her firm; I remember helping her buy textbooks her first year, checking to see if she had extra cash for food and gas; hell I’m the one who taught her to drive a stick and to shoot pool. She’ll never tell you I used to play her and her brother on different pool tables–with different hands–simultaneously, just to show them I could.
I’m the crazy one: the misfit, the outcast. I’m the uncle that you’ll call when you’re in a pinch.
Maybe she’ll tell you she was the only person I ever let drive my car. Maybe she’ll tell you she was the only person in the family I trusted with a set of my house keys, knowing some nights she was too tired and/or too drunk to make her way home.
Maybe your Dad will tell you he’s the only boyfriend she ever had who I didn’t threaten to visit with bodily harm. They threw your Mom’s bachelorette party at my house. Your mom is such a busybody know-it-all, in order to surprise her, I made up fake invites, and gave them to your paternal grandmother, knowing she’d leak the info. When your Mom showed up at my house and all of her girlfriends were there, it might have been the first time in her adult life she was ever really surprised.
(It took me weeks to clean all of the glitter penises out of my apartment.)
I was the Master of Ceremonies at your Mom’s wedding. Maybe someday you’ll hear the story about the absolute shit-fit your Mom pitched when the guests weren’t sitting in their assigned seats, and I had to ask people who were already eating, drinking, and socializing, to get up, and find their proper places. My brother–your paternal grandfather–wasn’t expecting anyone to speak after him; he definitely wasn’t expecting my speech to upstage his.
For three decades, I have been your Mother’s confidant. I have been ears when no one was listening, words when she needed comfort, a protector when she needed to feel safe, wheels when she needed a ride, and a wallet when she was short on cash.
Jackson, you’re six months old. I know you don’t understand my words yet. I know you’ve just spoken your first words (Da Da) and you’re still working out the whole language thing. That said, I know you’ll understand what I mean when I say:
Remember my voice. I’m the crazy one: the misfit, the outcast. I’m the uncle that you’ll call when you’re in a pinch. I’m the one that’ll show you how to talk to girls (or boys if that’s what you’re into) in a way that’s respectful and effortless. I’m the uncle you can talk to anytime you need to know something your parents won’t tell, or to tell something your parents don’t need to know. I’ll slip you cash when you’re broke, fund your spring break, buy your first box of condoms.
I don’t have skin in the game; I know you’re not my kid. This is the beauty and freedom of being an uncle: I was never personally responsible for your Mom; I just helped her to become someone who is personally responsible for herself.
I was that person for my niece. I’ll be that person for you.
Your Namesake, your Great Uncle Jackie.
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