The Art of Disappearing

Image courtesy of http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/

Uncle Jack was an unusual man. He was never quite the same after returning from duty in Vietnam. You would look into his eyes and feel the horror seething out, the undeniable regret, the pain, the dark secrets that he carried around with him on a daily basis.

He never much talked about Vietnam, but you knew that it was all he could think about. The experience raped him. He couldn’t have the life of an average citizen and had a hard time reintegrating into a society of people oblivious to the horrors of war. He used to say, “Ignorance is bliss”.

Before he disappeared I remember asking him “why didn’t you get married Uncle Jack? Didn’t you ever fall in love?”

He looked at me and sneered “Heh… me fall in love? Who the hell could love someone like me!”

It wasn’t his answer that was heartbreaking, but the fact that he actually believed it.

“Everyone deserves to be loved” I said naively.

“Look sweetie… Why don’t you go play with your Barbie’s. I’d like to say you’ll understand one day, but the truth is no one does.”

I was eighteen. Barbie’s were long over for me. I was into boys, smoking, and record players. What was he thinking?

The last time I saw him he was alone in my grandparent’s basement. He sat on the couch staring blankly at the television in a dimly lit room, chain smoking. It was my job to get him to come up and join the rest of the family for dinner. It was also when I took my last photograph of him.

“No thanks” he said “I don’t have the stomach for that. Get that damn camera out of my face too will ya.”

What did he mean? The stomach for us? For dinner? For having to communicate with his family?

I was angry. “It’s time you forgot Vietnam Uncle Jack… You’re sinking like a submarine. What kind of a life is this?”

I stormed upstairs and felt his stare cut into my spine.

Uncle Jack never came upstairs that evening. Never came up to say hello, to make small talk, or even to pretend that he wanted to be around us.

The next day my grandparents called in a panic. He was gone. His room cleared out, nothing but his dog tags left sitting on the dresser.

For the first few years we thought he just needed some breathing space… but when my grandparents died and he didn’t show up to either of their funerals, we feared the worst. The mystery became even more frustrating.

One afternoon I went to the vegetable market in Chinatown. I could have sworn I saw an older Uncle Jack. I waded through the crowds of people towards a man sitting on the steps of an electronics discount store. I got pushed and swayed around in the crowd, my vision occasionally blocked by people, hands, or signs.

When I got there he was gone.

Did I really see that? I didn’t know if I was imagining him, or if it in fact could have been him.

The mystery of Uncle Jack had tormented me for years. I felt like my comment pushed him over the edge. How stupid of me to think that somebody could just “forget” about war. I was one of those oblivious people he spoke so spitefully about. I was no different than the others.

In my late twenties I landed an installation with some old photographs I had been working on revamping. It was a series of photographs I had taken of Uncle Jack. Black & White images mostly. There were images of him staring off into another realm while blowing smoke from the corner of his mouth, others of him sitting in a solitary chair, or sitting on the edge of his bed…waiting, for relief from his mental anguish. His eyes told horrible truths.

The installation helped me get to a place of understanding. Going back and looking at the images allowed me to peer into his eyes one last time. For once I actually saw the truth.

He could have never led a normal life. It was unfair of anybody to expect that from him. Especially when they didn’t see the carnage, death, and tragedy that he lived for years.

His eyes were void of a soul. For once I felt happy for him, wherever he was. It was better than here. I knew that now.

 

Once Loved Judy

My next door neighbour used to plant artificial flowers in her garden and water them. I think she thought that none of us knew they were fake, but we all did. Her garden did look nice though, I’ll give her that, except… she probably should have removed them in the Fall and definitely through the winter.

She lived on her own and rarely had visitors or family over. She seemed so nice every time I saw her in the street. She’d always have something friendly to say. She just seemed like a quiet woman who kept to herself. The complete lack of people in her life didn’t really clue me in to anything, and it wasn’t until she got raging drunk one night that I began figuring her out.

My friends and I were out on the patio enjoying a nice merlot and some sweet cherry cigars, when we heard loud screaming “WooooooooHoooooo….. 40 years! 40 fuckin’ years!”. We all looked at each other and giggled as we thought “what the fuck was that”.

Not ten seconds later another “Yeeeehoooooo” emitted from her house, followed by LOUD celtic music and some hardcore foot stomping, which was sometimes accompanied with clapping. Her stomping, shouting, and clapping occasionally became louder when every so often she’d come outside in the yard and shout “40 YEARS”. We figured her tunes were on a record player because there was a pause a few times between songs.

We couldn’t figure out what she was celebrating. It was all very comedic. Couldn’t of been her age, because she was clearly in her 60s, possibly even 70. She couldn’t get away with 40 if every inch of her skin was botoxed to oblivion. She wasn’t married either, so it couldn’t have been an anniversary. She had no kids and no friends… It was all so very strange.

We all sat there in utter silence, now completely amused and fascinated by Judy, the whacky woman next year who was happy about something being 40 years, only we weren’t sure what.

At one point the music stopped and another neighbour shouted “THANK GOD”

But not two minutes later, Judy had the next track on and resumed her “Woooooohooooo… 40 Years” only to be met by a “SHUT THE FUCK UP” from another neighbour.

We all sat there sipping merlot laughing at the carnival of events happening in our usually quiet neighbourhood. Judy was getting a rise out of people. We wondered if the cops would be called.

About an hour into Judy’s celebration we began getting involved (it was hard not to). We would shout “Wooohoooo YEAH” back at her every so often or “CRANK IT UP”. We laughed as she responded willingly now shouting over the fence at us “Guys – 40 YEARS”.

We heard the creek of her gate open and saw her White hair pop up behind our fence. We were all frozen. She was completely naked, with the exception of a pair of heels and a string of pearls. “Oh poor Judy… What the fuck went wrong in your life” I thought as I stared at her in disbelief.

None of us wanted to let her into the yard, so I said “Well, we’re about to head to bed. But Judy, we have to ask you… What’s with the 40 years, what are you talking about?”

She cackled loudly and shouted “since he’s been gone”

“Since who’s been gone?” I asked curiously

“My husband” she said, no longer laughing.

There was an awkward silence that followed as we all looked around the table at each other. Judy headed back to her yard. I heard her open the gate.

“Good night Judy” I shouted. We all sat quiet for minute and then went in.