Thursday, January 17, 2008


This is probably the only thing I will ever write about my Uncle Jimmy.

My Uncle Jimmy is my mother's youngest brother. My mother is thirteen years older than him. She helped raise him since my mother is one of the oldest children out of a brood of nine.

Jimmy is just Jimmy. It's not James. Not Jim or Jay. Just Jimmy.

My grandparents, as the new fashion was in the Philippines in those days, wanted to give my Uncle an "American-style" name, out of bourgeois aspiration. Until then, it was very common to give children Spanish names. In fact, all the older children had Spanish names: Juanito, MacĂ ria, Miguela. However, starting with my Aunt Elizabeth, the younger kids had English names.

But maybe out of naiveté or artlessness, instead of giving my Uncle the proper name of James, they settled on "Jimmy," probably because they liked the sound of it better, not knowing it was a nickname, a name for a little boy. This is the name that ended up on his birth certificate.

The idea of this sounds horrifying to me now, like if somebody's name was really Bob instead of Robert, or Dubya instead of George. But I never thought about it then. He was just my Uncle Jimmy, my favorite uncle.

In my mind, he will always be a boyish twenty year-old, eight years older than me, a sophomore in college, still living at home. He was slightly overweight, which exaggerated his boyishness and youth. He was quick to laugh and had a tendency to giggle.

I remember vividly how I used to spend a lot of time in his room, watching TV and reading magazines. It's usually a Saturday afternoon; my mother was very close to her younger siblings and would visit their home often, bringing us along.

I was twelve, maybe thirteen, and I thought that he was the coolest guy I knew. He was well-dressed and always had these great magazines to read: GQ, Esquire, People. I would often sit on his floor, leafing through them slowly, with the TV on, while he studied or lay in bed, reading a novel.

His room smelled musky, like lingering cologne or aftershave. Once, I went into his bathroom where I examined his collection of colognes, in deep-colored bottles with silver caps and amber liquid; dark gemstones, lined up against the wall on his counter.

I tried smelling each of them, wrinkling my nose at the stronger ones like Grey Flannel. But most of them smelled the same to me, just in different bottles. I dabbed some on a spot on the inside of my wrist, like they said to do in novels. It felt cool on my skin, and as the alcohol evaporated, a little sizzle. My uncle never seemed to mind, even though I came out smelling like a bordello.

I would just hang out in his room even when he wasn't around. He never seemed concerned about what I was doing, it seemed to me.

My Uncle is gay. This wasn't something I knew about him then, or myself.

I didn't know what that meant. I didn't even know what sex meant, even though we talked about it in sixth grade Biology. What does it mean 'to reproduce'? And what is a 'vagina'? And what? I'm going to grow hair where?

But it was there, our sexuality, in that room. It floated above us like mist or fog, swirling around like wraiths.

Later on, when I understood, when I learned to apply the word to myself, it was like a string of lights lit up. I'm gay. My uncle is gay, Merv Griffin is gay. And oh! Charles Nelson Reilly. And Ernie and Bert! It was quite amazing, this burst of knowledge. Suddenly, I knew what it must've been like for Adam, when he ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and found out that Eve was a lying bitch.

It was also inevitable that my Father found out that my Uncle Jimmy was gay.

I remember my father angrily arguing with my mother in the living room. By then, I had this automatic shut-off to the sound of my parents fighting; it was very painful to listen to. It made me afraid, the sound of their raised voices. I just kept watching TV in the next room.

My ears perked up when I heard my father screaming about Uncle Jimmy, telling my mother to keep me and my brothers away from him. My mom defended her little brother, denying he was gay. I remember hearing something something something about magazines my father saw in my uncle's room.

Then my father burst into the room, in his oversized boxer shorts and wifebeater--his preferred loungewear--and told me, "I don't want you to hang out with your Uncle Jimmy anymore. Bakla siya! He is gay!"

I nodded silently, not really comprehending what he was saying. But I dared not disobey.

I always thought that I grew apart from my Uncle Jimmy because I was afraid of my Dad. Or that I grew up, because I became interested in other things, you know, like Drama Club.

But in writing this, I realized that I distanced myself because I was ashamed of this thing that my father saw in my uncle. The thing that was in my uncle, the thing that was also in me. I didn't want to be like my uncle. I didn't want to be him.

I think my uncle saw what I was doing and let it be.

The last time I saw my Uncle Jimmy was a couple of years ago. He is nearing fifty now. His faced is lined, his waistline thicker, his eyes a little droopy. But the boyishness is still there, a little tired, but there.

Even though I am comfortable with my own sexuality, I still feel that distance between us. I even felt a vague sort of disapproval of him, as if I was still that boy thinking, "I don't want to be you, I don't want to be you..."

Uncle Jimmy, I'm so so sorry for staying away. I am like you.

I am you.

Note: I wrote the original draft of this at the Writing The Unthinkable workshop. We were all given the word "Relatives" and seven minutes to write about the images that came to mind. Most of the elements of this story was written then. See WordFlame! for a 'taste' of this technique.

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