My Uncle Johnny’s face was badly burned when he was a child;
the aunties never stopped talking about it, with hushed voices and tsk-
tsking at every family gathering: it had been an alcohol fueled
accident for which his father (long gone) would never be forgiven.
The red and white, shiny hills of scars that caused strangers to stare
and than to quickly look away and that kept Johnny from ever dating or
finding a girl to marry did not bother us children at all. We had
grown up with his quiet and gentle presence simply a part of our lives.
Johnny worked at Peadman’s Meats, a steady job which meant he
brought bags of steaks and roasts and ribs to our family parties
and to the homes where something was gone – a job, the father, love or
health or the hope that something would be better soon.
When I was nine years old, and my uncle was fifty, he met the woman
he would love for all the rest of his life. She was a widow lady and
someone who lived quietly alone without complaint. She loved
her garden and her books, and I never did get clear on how they met.
Oh, but love so late in coming was to my surprise not dull or staid.
Their passion, the long-awaited gift, thought lost or out of reach kept
his head bent towards hers in conversation, eyes seeking one another out
across the room, hands reaching out to brush the other’s back or shoulder.
I remember watching them kiss – she held his face in her hands and they
leaned into each other and slowly rocked, his hands moving over her back,
lifting her hair to touch her neck and smiling into one another’s eyes
in a way that left me feeling I would know love when it came – someday – to me.
I remember asking my big sister how it could suddenly cease to matter,
the way his face looked – not only did our new auntie not seem to see
his scars, it was as though no one in town did any longer either. Strangers didn’t
stare, store clerks looked right at him, joking and talking as with any other man.
I remembering wondering – What am I seeing now that is not really there? What am I not seeing now, that is really, already here?