08 June 2023

The Who and the What and the…

 My Uncle Rick was the first person I ever met who entertained aspirations of becoming a writer. My dad wrote poetry. He just didn’t write it for publication. It was personal, not necessarily private, but not intended for eyes other than family.

As my father put it, he was just playing around with words. Not so, my uncle Rick.

I remember the first time we talked about it, because of the manner in which I discovered that my uncle had dreams of writing professionally. 

This make and model.
I was nine years old, and had just gotten a Panasonic tape recorder for my birthday. The cassette kind.
Uncle Rick gave me a couple of his used cassettes and showed me how to tape over the perforated tops of the cassettes in order to be able to tape over what he had already recorded.

As we were testing my new cassette player out, I pushed play on one of his tapes rather than record + play. The following words boomed from my Panasonic’s modest speaker in my uncle’s voice:

“This is a story about a drunk in New York City…”

And that was it.

I looked to Rick and before I could ask, he explained, “Writing a story. Was recording my story notes. I started over on a different tape. Guess I forgot I’d started here.”

I think the above anecdote probably sums up my Uncle Rick just about as well as any other I can think of. The King of Great Starts, Best Intentions & Disappearing Acts Before the Finish, my Uncle Rick was a character.

Rick was the baby in the family. The youngest of five, he was nine years younger than his eldest sibling –my father – and 10 years older than his eldest nephew – me.

With us just ten years apart in age, I grew up with Rick a near constant presence in my life. At least for a while. As an adult Ricky was nearly constantly on the move.

And so of course our relationship pretty much followed the course I laid out above: Great beginning (my childhood, during which we formed a strong bond), best intentions (he was pretty great to me. The elder brother I never had), and disappearing acts before the finish.

This isn't to say that Ricky was a bad person. I'm convinced he wasn't.

But he was an addict.

Coke mostly. Then crank. And finally meth. 

My Uncle Rick shuffled off this mortal coil in a hospital ICU in the middle of this state last Sunday. As far as I know, he had no family around him when he went.

I hadn't seen him in years. Neither had my parents and my brother, uncles, aunts, cousins. The reasons are the ones you've no doubt heard before: lies, theft, more lies, more theft.

No matter how they portray it in fiction and in movies/TV, a drug habit is nearly always that cruelest of mistresses. The human toll of untreated addiction continues to crush us as a species on nearly every front: personal, social, economic, artistic, you name it. Addiction strips away a person's dignity, health, good sense, and hollows them out a piece at a time.

I flatter myself that I have few illusions when it comes to humanity and its many failings. And had I seen Rick in the days before he passed away, I would have had mixed feelings about actually seeing him. There at the end of our time spent in each other's lives his moves had become threadbare, his motives pretty naked. The next high. The next thing he wanted that someone else could put him closer to, should he be able to charm them enough.

I can't choose to look past those moments, the ones that are tough, even painful, to remember. Other people may have that in them, but I do not.

But I can choose to also recall the many good things about my uncle and my relationship with him. The time he, a teenager, invested in a little boy, and made him feel important, and heard, and seen. The time he filled in at the last minute for my dad and took me to my first pro football game (I was twelve). How proud he was of my own writing, and the time he took to read it and talk with me about it. The time he tried to teach me to drive a stick shift (Google it, Millennial- And thanks to my father, who actually did teach me to drive a stick).

There are other things, but I'm not sure the details matter all that much. Save the Who and the What and the Why for the police reports, and let's just leave it at this:

My uncle died. My wife never met him. My son never met him. 

And I will continue to miss him.


  1. Addiction is one of the worst things that can happen to family and friends - invisible, baffling, cunning, and powerful, it eats everything, including people. I understand all too well...

    1. Thanks Eve. And I suspect that to be human is to know this demon at least second-hand.

  2. Heartbreaking, authentic, and familiar. Thanks for writing this, Brian.

    1. Coming from you that means a lot, Liz. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn08 June, 2023 13:23

    I'm sorry for your loss.

  4. Wow, Brian. I'm sorry for your loss.

  5. Thank you Brian. Well said. Michele E.

  6. Thanks so much for this story, Brian! I lost a damn good friend from college who had destroyed his health with drugs about 35 years ago and I still miss him.


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