Last Saturday night gave me my first real chance to speak with someone who knew my uncle, Stuart. I mean, Callie knew him, of course, but she knew him as a brother. This man, Jerry, knew him as an artist, a roommate, and a lover–a very different set of relationships.
Let me back up: earlier in the week, I’d run into my friend Amy on the street. She’d mentioned that Jerry–a New Orleans native living in New York for a couple of decades now–was paying her a visit. As she described him and his work in theatre, somehow we pieced together that he probably knew Stuart. She offered to bring him along on Saturday night to the Libra party, held in honor of my boyfriend and few others. She wanted us to meet. (Amy’s a real yenta’s yenta.) When they arrived at Lucky Cheng’s, though, I’d completely forgotten about him. I guess I assumed that even if Jerry did know my uncle, it’d be only tangentially.
I was very, very wrong.
Apparently, the two met when they were very young; each was the first boyfriend the other had had. Even with the painfully loud disco music thumping through the lounge, I could hear sincere affection in Jerry’s voice as he spoke of Stuart. There was a thoughtfulness to his descriptions–as if he were trying to relive a particular moment and wanted to get every detail right. It’s the same tone I hear in my voice when I try to describe childhood walks with my grandmother through the ludicrously idyllic woods of rural Mississippi. Sadness, happiness, nostaliga: all of it mixed together.
I don’t know why, but from the moment Jerry began speaking, I was on the verge of tears. I’m not the sort of person who gets weepy when he’s drinking–if anything, I head towards giddiness–so it was an unusual sensation to be feeling so maudlin with a glass of wine in my hand. If I hadn’t been in such a festive, public place, surrounded by friends new and old, though, I probably would have bawled my eyes out. This from the guy who began searching for his biological family with textbook Gen-X glibness.
As Jerry unraveled Stuart’s story, I drew parallels between my uncle and people in my own life: Mick, the artist and designer in a constant, manic state of destroying old work, building new; Michael, filled with creative drive and a laugh like a big, strong hug–each impossible to dislike. No, I didn’t know my uncle, but I knew people like him, fantastic people no longer here, people I’d give anything to see one more time, just to say a proper goodbye.
But enough about that.
As it turns out, Amy knew Stuart, too. His name rang a bell the first time I mentioned him to her, but it took her a while to remember: he was the nephew of a woman in her care on her first job in New Orleans. Amy is a counselor for the terminally ill, and this woman, Stephania, was one of her patients. Stuart visited her weekly during her last years of her life.
It’s a damn small world. Damn, damn, damn small world.