I miss my Uncle Bob.
A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook from the Ellen Degeneres Show. I don't usually watch the random stuff that people post, but for some reason "Important Message" and Ellen Degeneres seemed just too odd a combination to ignore. So, I clicked on it.
I'm glad I did.
A clearly upset Ellen, voice cracking and tears floating in her eyes, pleads with the nation to do something about the crisis of teen bullying, especially against gay teens who seem, more and more often, to be taking their own lives to escape the torment.
I watched this video three times.
Once for myself.
Once for my Uncle Bob.
And once for his partner Greg.
I always knew my uncle was different. When he came to school one day when I was in grade one to pick me up for a surprise lunch date, the secretary called my class on the intercom and asked me to describe him before she would release me (gotta love 1980's school security!). I told her he was tall and skinny, his hair was always really neat, he wore fancy clothes and a long, fuzzy fur coat. He always had lots of gold rings on and he ALWAYS smelled really good.
The secretary took one look at my uncle and poof! Lunch date! (And one of my fondest memories of grade one.)
My uncle and his partner Greg lived in Toronto, right near the old Maple Leaf Gardens. We used to take the Go-Train to the city and Uncle Bob would pick us up at Union and we'd walk to his house, my tiny town eyes ever looking up and the enormous buildings towering above me. I remember my parents explaining to me that Uncle Bob and Greg were roommates, and it never really occurred to me that they only had one bed.
We used to love going to the city to visit them. Their lives seemed so glamorous. My uncle drove a Miata. He and Greg used to dress to the freaking nines! They went to the theatre, the museum and concerts. They did everything with a certain panache that only they could muster...just another thing I desperately miss today.
As an adult, I have become privy to the reality of my uncle's life.
My mum and her brother (Uncle Bob's twin) have told me about the dark side of his life. Fights where he would just curl up on the ground because he knew that fighting back would only make it worse. Fights where one of my other Uncles or my mother would have to step in and protect him. The fights where he was beaten within an inch of his life. They've told me about what high school was like for him, about life for a closeted gay man living in small town Ontario during the 1970's...it breaks my heart.
After watching the Ellen video, it made me think of my Uncle Bob and Greg, and all of the hardships they had to endure all because they didn't fit into what "normalized society" deemed normal. They were labelled as sexual deviants, perverts and treated as though they were criminals unworthy of basic human decency.
All of this happened during the 1980's. Apparently, it's still happening now. 30 years later, and the methods have changed (enter facebook, twitter, myspace and the blogosphere) but the results are the same. The bruises may not be visible, but they're still there.
It's no wonder gay teens are being driven to suicide.
I lost my Uncle Bob and Greg in 1993 to AIDS. We watched them suffer through the illness, one drained to nothing by experimental drugs, the other with nothing, vowing not to let the drugs kill him faster.
I always miss my Uncle Bob, but today, perhaps more than most. There are so many things I wish I could tell him - but perhaps the most important is how much I love him, and how grateful I am for the time we had.
I keep thinking about if my uncle and his partner had not made it through one of those dark times and how my life and the lives of every single person in my family would be different. It's devastating.
As I sit here reflecting on how lucky I was to have two such amazing people in my life, I am overcome with sadness that we live in a world where so many are senselessly persecuted because they live or love differently than others.
I really hope that this age of intolerance and hatred is quickly drawing to a close.
On a closing note, my Uncle Brian told me, just before heading up for our first dance on our wedding night:
"Watching my brother Bob dance was like watching poetry in motion. When you feel your dress sway or a gentle breath of air on your cheek, you'll know he's here with you."
I know he was there that night, guiding my clumsy feet.