My cousin, Kelly, from my dad’s side, my dad’s oldest brother, called me last week.

She has a smoker’s voice and has always been the most open cousin from that side. When I was little her mom would watch me sometimes, my aunt(her mom) was rail thin, always holding a cigarette and staring off into space. I felt great unease being watched by her. My mom told me recently, I’m remembering things wrong. She told me she didn’t leave me with her.

A little scar on my chin tells me otherwise. My cousin once held up on a swing set and then as I dangled and cried for her to catch me, she laughed, and I fell on my chin. The stitches took far longer then they should, it was scary for me.

Same cousin also used to shut me in her laundry basket and sit on top of it. I used to scream in the dark to be let out.

I do not take elevators.

Kelly had to go live with my grandma and grandpa when her mom was really badly into drugs. I always thought Kelly was scary and weird for her to live there. The house was dark.

The house smelled like cigarettes, old lady perfume and secrets. Surrounded by a well manicured, landscape with pebbles and cactus. If you started to run and have fun, you were likely to run into on of those cacti. One time a cousin did and after a failed attempt at soaking out the needles, he had to go to the hospital to get them pulled out.

Kelly not only had to live with her own frail, addicted mother, but also her grandma. My grandfather was known to mow the lawn in sear sucker suits, where they used to live, before the moved to the SouthWest. He kept his car’s immaculate. Old Cadillacs. He’d look after with a vengeance. My dad used to tell me that he wanted to write his own memoir titled, “My Cars Are Great But My Kids Are a Mess.” It’s a great title.

Grandma died when Kelly was only 14.

My grandma died falling in the middle of the night. Kelly and her mom, looked in the room at one point and didn’t see her. Her body was found  48 hours later. She had hit her head and bled to death.

Lately I seem to trip more in the dark, I’m always sleeping in different rooms due to kids and a snoring husband, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t my own consumption of wine that is exacerbating my clumsiness.

At my grandmother’s funeral the 4 brother and two sisters were there. I was only 7 and my mom, brother and I didn’t fly back so I only have heard, second hand that one brother punched another and Kelly’s Aunt C. called her a horror as she was waiting to be picked up to get some time away from the dark interior of that house.

So, a few nights ago Kelly called me to let me know, our oldest uncle from that side is dying of lung cancer, Uncle Gary. I am not close with my dad’s side of the  family, thankfully my parents spent much more time with my maternal side. Uncle Gary is tall and he sells life insurance. I bought some 17 years ago. He stiffly calls me and tells me what a good job I’m doing. He only lives  a few hours away but I have never seen him since living out here. Kelly tells me he is dying on lung cancer and no one is supposed to know.

“Typical of our family,” her low smoker’s voice laughing. “This family doesn’t learn a damn thing.” I’m told I can not call him.

My Uncle Gary called me this Spring and left a voice message for 1 minute and 43 seconds, he speaks languidly, “Hi (Me) This is Uncle Gary I’m so proud of you, haven’t talked  to you for a long time but we do think of you and (my husband) and your family a lot. I imagine I would be surprised at how much they’ve grown, a share that we’re not able to get together, um hopefully sometime in the future we will be able to get you guys. And say hi to your family. I wanted to let you know that your life insurance is making good progress, with your monthly premiums $50 a month, little bit of money in there and everything is going along fine. Um, just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about your, will if you get this message give me a call if you get a chance please, I’d love to hear from you.”

Yesterday I Googled my grandma’s name, she was high society in our state we are from. You’d chuckle if I told you the state, but she was.

An old photo of her with Uncle Gary and the second oldest boy Uncle Ted sitting outside at her grandparents lake home.

She always looks sad to me in her photos. I always stare at her because people used to tell me how beautiful she was, as well as smart and funny. What I had never looked at the photo or her before with, was some empathy. Ending your life, falling in the night drunk, bleeding for days, unable to control your alcohol addiction.

So here, I am again, stuck in another pattern of having to hold the secret that my Uncle Gary is going to die of lung cancer in a few months and I’m not allowed to call him.

Yesterday, I went into our crawl space and picked up a bag filled with old VHS tapes, dusty now, given to me by my mom after she and my dad divorced.

The man behind the counter picked each tape up and read what they were titled, “Bahamas 1985, ohh, that sounds fun, I think I want a copy of that.” I chuckled, “Yeah, my dad was a wild guy.”

He held up one tape titled “Family Tape” it was empty.

I imagined during the divorce my dad ripping out the insides, destroying the memories.

The DVD’s will be available for pick up on Tuesday. The family I was brought up in just dissipated. For such a loud experience in my youth, finally when the boundaries were drawn it just caught quiet.