Saturday, June 20, 2009

Petit tempete

A little tempest has blown in this morning. My father has one sibling, a younger brother. This brother as always been unstable, irresponsible, and undependable. When I was a kid, we went backpacking in Yosemite pretty regularly. It was always a core group, with peripheral characters that changed out frequently, depending on circumstances. The core group was my dad, his brother, my half brother, and me. Being the youngest and the only girl did not grant me any special treatment. My uncle was constantly doing things to annoy me. He has always thought I was a bitch because I didn’t think he was funny, charming, or particularly smart. He thinks the rest of the world sees him this way. He’s wrong.

When I was around eleven, we went on one trip that was one of the more memorable ones. This time we had a larger group than usual, because several people that didn’t normally go were joining us, and these folks were not seasoned backpackers. Our routine when we arrived at the trailhead was to evenly distribute the food weight among the people that could carry a pack. I was one of those. My uncle that time had brought along a glass gallon jug of white wine. He handed it to me, expecting me to carry it in my hands to the camp. I told him to pound sand. An argument ensued. I won. He was pissed at me the whole trip.

That was the tone of our relationship. He has a past littered with failed marriages, abandoned projects, grand schemes, alienated relatives, and broken promises. The last time our paths crossed, he did something so heinous that I refuse to see or speak to him again.

This morning I overheard my father talking to someone on the phone about his brother. I could tell from his voice that it was serious. I know my dad’s “crisis voice.” Apparently, his brother had just been discharged from the VA hospital, was talking to my dad on his cell, and telling him how bad his blood pressure was and how bad he felt. Then the call ended abruptly and my dad couldn’t call him back. He was searching through the numerous little pieces of paper on his desk with scribbled notes in his spectacularly bad handwriting, trying to find the one with his brother’s phone number on it.

My uncle can’t see very well anymore. He’s never taken care of himself and has been diabetic, like his father and his son, most of his life. Long ago he lost all of his teeth, he doesn’t take his meds regularly, he doesn’t eat right or do any of the other things that he needs to do, and consequently, time and kharma have caught up with him and now he is REALLY falling apart.
He’d recently gotten a new phone, and read the number incorrectly off of it to my dad. He hadn’t given anyone else, including his only son, the number. He lives hours from anyone (this includes my dad) who still gives a shit about him.

My dad was starting to panic because he couldn’t call his brother back. I interrupted him to show him that his cell phone had the number in it; he just needed to access his “recent calls” and hit “send”. This was a revelation to my dad, but by the time he called him back with the right number, his brother wasn’t answering. So, I helped my dad Google the San Jose Police department so he could ask someone to do a welfare check on my uncle. This was accomplished, and information was exchanged, and surprisingly fast, he got a call back from my uncle’s apartment manager saying the paramedics had taken him to the local hospital. We Googled that too, and got their number for Admitting.

Due to the state of the emergency room at that hospital (excuse me; Medical Center), he’s not yet “in the computer,” and so my dad hasn’t been able to find out yet how his brother is doing. But at least he isn’t still imagining him collapsed on the floor of his seedy by-the-week apartment, all alone.
Technology can help you or hinder you. But only people can make a difference.

Update: My uncle was taken to Palo Alto, not Santa Clara, and subsequently discharged (again). My cousin told my dad that the last time he talked to him, he was waiting for a taxi to take him back to San Jose. My uncle still hasn't called my dad.


  1. Ugh, what a rollercoaster! So sorry you all have to deal with your uncle's health problems. He sounds like he really hasn't earned such a nice family in his life, but you're all very kind to track him down and inquire after his welfare.

    Hugs to you all.

  2. There's one in every family, isn't there?

    I feel sorry for your dad. It's hard when you care about an asshole. Or so my wife tells me.


  3. Bev: thanks, sweetie.

    Cary: We seem to produce at least one per generation!

  4. Kudos to you all for caring so much! That's a frustrating situation. But I had to laugh at Cary's comment. Priceless!