“Time is a goon.”
I came across it recently in a book and it hit me hard. What does it mean? That Time creeps in unnoticed through the cracks of our doors and windows, and steals bits and pieces of our lives right from under our noses? That it devours people whole and whisks them away without even a word or a whisper? People we love, people we grew up with, people we see every so often – too many, too soon.
Time is a goon; it stole my uncle from us.
It was slow and quick at the same time, like an overdrawn magic trick that you thought would never come to fruition and then suddenly it does with a snap of a finger. He had been sick for a long time. We knew his condition was getting worse, but still he attended our family gatherings, managing to make little jokes about everything, even his failing health. It seemed like he’d make it, if not until old age, at least until five years more.
Then this morning I woke up at 5:17. I know it was 5:17 because I looked out the window and it was still dark so I checked my phone. I went back to sleep, but a few minutes later my mom came in quietly, sat at the foot of my bed and told me with disbelief written all over her face that my uncle had passed away in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I looked at the time, it was 5:28.
Before you die, they say that your whole life flashes before your eyes. In a way, the same happens when someone you’re close to passes away. Except it’s not just your life, but the moments, the memories you shared with that person. I remembered Uncle Nato from when I was a little girl – a big guy with a big voice and a jovial smile (in fact I thought he was sort of like Santa Claus). He laughed a lot and joked a lot and called me 8-ball because when I was a baby I was round and bald. He’d tell me about the time my Uncle Raffy carried me over his head and how I ended up peeing all over him. That was his favorite story to tell me. That and the story of how his dad, my lolo, would pace around the pool, hands behind his back, and I’d waddle behind him my pudgy arms in the same position.
…Or maybe that was my older sister. Ah, time muddles all things. Whoever that little girl was, the important thing is that it was my Uncle Nato who told it. And I appreciate it now because I have no memories of those times – I was but a baby, an 8-ball. Thanks to him I do.
When I die, I hope to be remembered by the life I lived, the love I’ve given, the kind words I’ve said – and that’s how I want to remember my uncle. He was kind, not always in the most obvious manner, but in the little gestures that can melt your heart. I remember his emails to me about my articles when I was just starting out; he told me to go after my dreams, to keep at it, never give up, and at the time those words meant the world to me. He was frank, too, and honest, concerned about the decisions made not only by his son and daughter but by his nieces and nephews.
One time, my uncle approached me and told me that he wanted to go with me on one of my travels. He’d like to climb a mountain someday, he said. And I nodded, yes we should do that. At the time, he had already started taking medication but he was still the big fellow I grew up knowing, still so far from the thinner and weakened version I saw in the hospital bed a few months ago. It hurts me to remember now because I knew at the time we would never be able to make the trip. We smiled at each other and I wanted it to be true but the painful fact was that time was already against us.
I hope my uncle is in a better place now. They say time heals all wounds, but that is ironic as time is known to inflict them as well. An example: we are here and he is not. The best we can do is pray and nurture the memories we have of him. I am devastated that I will not get to see him again, angry at myself that I did not even call him in the weeks leading to his death, heartbroken that I wasn’t in the last family gathering. But in the wake of this terrible and shocking loss, I will hold that image close to my heart – him smiling, eyes shining, telling me against all odds and against the dictates of time, let’s climb a mountain. And me saying yes.
Rest in peace, Uncle Nato.