It has now been a little less than a month since I upped and left my Old Life, and re-joined the Fam. This is easily the longest I have spent with them since the Summer of Love & Detox, 2005, which was a recuperative stint post-rehab and probably doesn't count. In other words, this is the longest I have spent with my family without compulsion -or a padlock on my door- since I finished school in 2002. That was ten years ago, back when Facebook was still a gritty little chromosome in Satan's ballsack, cheering on Zuckerberg's synchronized swimmers from the stands.
I left home before my nephew and niece were born, and though we've always been in touch, we have never really spent more than a few hours together in the same room. Which is why I jumped at the chance to take responsibility for their conveyance from their home to that of my parents for their summer break. Summer-at- grandparents' is a family tradition, and plays motif to my favorite childhood memories. My cousins are all grown up and too busy now to spend an entire summer in front of TV or playing cricket under rubber trees like we used to, but growing up together -if every summer- helped create a bond that will only be nourished by age.
With my younger sibling soon expecting her first-born, I want to ensure these kids have something similar to look back on when they're fucked up and miserable in their late twenties. It helps. I diligently planned the twelve hour drive, penciling in educational, recreational, nutritional and excremental pit-stops. I loaded universal favorites on the MP3 player - surely, even Noughties kids would appreciate the possibly-racist but undeniably lovable durability of Sweet Home Alabama? This was going to be our Memory; this was how they would remember their coolest uncle after his promising writing career was stopped short by alcoholism and too much hour-long nookie. Or got run over by a scooter while crossing the road from his security job at the mall.
Over the Easter weekend, I came to realize that my sister had talked me up over the years into an almost magical figure of superhero-like abilities to entertain kids. My nephew and niece had endured several hours of toilet-training, teeth-pulling, math classes and violin lessons to please their walking fun-fest of an uncle, and were -surprise!- rewarded with bicycles and skateboards and doll houses. Though they were a little disappointed that I arrived and left while they were asleep every time, they were no less thankful- and expectant of more super-fun times.
Now I'm no expert but children are not terribly reasonable creatures. I was therefore prepared to hit a few rough patches on the way, confident that we would prevail with a little compromise and understanding. What I hadn't steeled myself for was the weight of their expectations. You've never really let someone down till you let down an 8-year old. They're not very adult about this either - they don't swear and punch walls like ex- girlfriends or parents. They just accept it, albeit with a little initial reluctance. When they finally come to grips with the fact that Uncle Cool is in fact quite boring and doesn't really have that many interesting stories to tell, they just go: "oh, well." They shrug it off. They have no time or patience for disappointment.
It drives me mad. I first noticed it around a quarter of the way in. I had just confirmed to my nephew -for the third time- that Uncle Cool could neither fly our Toyota nor grow a crazy beard and populate it with bees like the freak from that program on some channel. Call me petty but this speech was met with such utter disbelief both the previous times that I was almost beginning to believe that I probably could do one of those things if I set my mind to it. I mean how hard can it be to fly a car? I waited for their pleas to try, their chants of "liar, liar!" Nothing. So I look at them in the rearview, and that's when it happens. The elder one-my niece- shrugs. It works like a slow-motion electric current. I watch her indifference move steadily from the tilt of her shoulder to the tip of my nephew's fingers in one steady flow. And suddenly, it's over. They're both staring out the window, content to gaze at cars and people rushing by as I drive them home.
I'm incensed. Not by how easily they give up the ghost of my legend, but how callously they deal with it's passing. They have just found out the truth about a man who got them through measles and exams and a junior karate championship. They have just found out that he may well have had nowt to do with them, that they may have scaled those peaks on their own. Where's the epiphany, the drama? What kind of robotic beings refute the allure of crushing disappointment, and choose instead to be strong and carry on? Cowards!
We drive in silence. My musical sensibilities have long since been decreed intolerable. I decide to never have children, constituted as they are of such fickle moral fibre. The kids know too that something is wrong. The mood is tense. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see my nephew wipe a tear from his eye. It could have been a speck of dust, or those dastardly Doritos he's been munching on all day, but adults need their legends too and I'm sticking with mine. A tear it was. We gallop over a speedbump that escaped my attention, and he lets out a smelly, resounding fart. It's potent to the point of suffocation, and we lower the windows before we even laugh. The sounds and the sights and the wind and the sun all rush in, and we're all alright with the world again, extremely loud, and incredibly, indelibly close.
(My summer song. Here comes the sun, Abbey Road - The Beatles.)