“He's in Danbury?” My mother spoke into the phone. “What do you mean you want me to pick him up? It's ten o'clock! I can't drive at night. Danbury is far. He wants me to call him? I don't want to call him.” There was a long pause before her outrage continued, “Your the one who kept bailing him out.... I know you can't pick him up.” Another pause. “I know you don't have a car. You don't have a car because he took your car! Let him find his own ride back.”
Though it sounds like a conversation one might be having about their rebellious teenager who's always getting into trouble, it is not. It is a conversation between my mother and my grandmother about my uncle who is well over 60 years old.
As a child, my family went to New York City and Boston often. I remember seeing the homeless people for the first time and my father telling me not to stare. One had a violin. One had a sign. I remember my father handing me a dollar and telling me to give it to a woman in torn up jeans, "Thanks sweetie, I'll buy myself a coffee." Even then, I sensed she was a prostitute.
Often I witnessed the homeless sleeping in parks -and this was during the day. I was never too proud to think that I was immune from ending up like them. I knew with a few missteps or perhaps family tragedy it could happen to anyone. But I never thought that man sleeping on the park bench one day would actually be my uncle.
In his youth, he had more privileges then I've had in my entire lifetime. With two corvettes and a bottomless bank account, he was always the life of the party, well at least he thought he was. As he grew older he married and divorced. And married again and divorced. And married again. Those divorces were very expensive but my grandmother always helped him buy his way out of things.
His last divorce devastated him financially and emotionally. His image was always really important to him. Part of his image included the portrayal of some rich playboy that he thought he was but wasn't. And as far money went: he was obsessed with it. It was an important tool that helped him not only uphold this vision of himself but bring it forth to the public as a means to mingle with people who were actually affluent and accomplished; people he viewed as equals.
His last wife was exactly like him and the first to beat him at his own game. Before they divorced, she got him to cosign on a beach house. Within a month she served him papers and remarried a millionaire; a man who made his millions through lawsuits.This is around the time he started using drugs and dating women who were in their early twenties. I found it odd that women younger than me would have any interest in going out with a cracked out 60 year old man, but I was not naive; from the beginning, it was obvious what was going on.
Soon we started getting phone calls from relatives who'd moved far away yet kept up with the local news because his name began appearing frequently in the police blotter. Then he was thrown out of his house when it got sanctioned because his unkempt pool became a bio hazard. To make things worse the local paper did a huge story on the him and his former-home complete with photographs.
It became evident from conversations that his girlfriend wasn't just his girlfriend but a girl he pimped out for drugs. One day, I stopped at a grocery store after work. As I walked in I noticed a man wearing a long black coat, cabbie hat, black leather gloves, and sunglasses. He walked slowly with a long black cane. I remember my thought process exactly: That guy has all the characteristics of...a stereotypical pimp...hey wait a second is that my uncle?
It was the second time I ran into him since this began and neither time did he recognize me. I never shopped so fast in my life, throwing pineapples and loaves of bread into my cart as I sped down the aisles. I never liked my uncle, though I wouldn't wish this on anyone, I had no reason to talk to him. He had destroyed an entire family, pitted one half against the other, took everyone's money and then some, stole and pawned heirloom jewelery. Drove his sister to a mental breakdown, then when she was in the hospital sold all the stuff in her apartment. Stole cars from close relatives. Smashed them. Lent them out on drug rentals. Never got them back. And always put his hand out to ask for more.
He used to be an insurance agent back before this all happened. Even then he was troubled; a functional alcoholic. I will never forget my first altercation with him. I was one of the few that stood up to him and part of the reason he never came to our house asking for money. He was terrified of me, he knew I had his number. I was 19 and decided to move to Arizona. The night before my plane was to leave, he called the house. Thinking he might be calling to say something encouraging or nice to me, I picked up the phone and eaves-dropped on his conversation with my father. He called because he thought me moving across country was the perfect opportunity for my father to purchase life insurance- at an excellent rate I might add- for me! I soon blew my cover (silently listening in on the phone) when I reamed him a new one.
There were many times that people tried to help him. He had been in and out of rehab more times than I can remember. It was always court mandated and somehow he always got away with walking out voluntarily.
Afterwards there were many conversations involving him that I won't forget. The night he called sobbing because he didn't have money to get his dog out of the kennel. Or the time my mother, still in denial about his drug addiction, spoke to his crackhead friends over the phone, believing everything they said and then argued with me insisting I was wrong and that there was no way he was on drugs. Right.
Though those conversations were memorable. There is one that sticks out in my mind the most: the night I heard him begging my grandmother to let him sleep on her couch, "I don't want to sleep in the park again!" He protested. It is sad and disgusting at the same time. He is a mangy shell of a man. People might read this and think I'm a bitch: how could I deny a family member shelter? Well it's one of those me or them instances- and if you have never had a family member or someone close to you spiral into addiction you probably wouldn't understand. It hurts to deny him assistance but I know that if I let him in he would steal everything last thing in the house down to the last copper pipe (which is exactly what happened to another relative). Like a hit off a crack pipe; a piece of jewelery would be gone in seconds, the money spent before it even disappeared, and the next piece would be fixing to go missing for another chance to get high.
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