Unchiu Tanu 

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This is my uncle Tanu:

He died a few hours ago. Pancreatic cancer, just diagnosed a few weeks ago.

Four weeks ago the doctors gave him two weeks. Last night my parents gave him a week.

The gangrene turned one leg black and then got to work on the other.

I went through my photos of the last time I saw him, when he was just familiar background. He appears in my photos only incidentally. For some reason, I figured he would always be there and I could take his portrait any time.

In his office he had the girly calendars that came complimentary with orders of soft drinks. He never paid much attention to them but I never knew him without a girlfriend, always one of the well-dressed middle-class ladies of Alba Iulia.

He never turned one of his girlfriends into his second wife.

"What happened to ---?" I'd ask.

"Oh, she turned out to be a drunk," my mother would say. Or, "Her daughter put her foot down and refused to let her mother continue on with your uncle."

The last girlfriend had her own ex-husband in the hospital, a cruel man who refused to die.

In the end my uncle argued with her about money. Or she argued with him about money. It doesn't matter because there is no more money. I will never meet this girlfriend; she'll be gone by the time I ever visit Romania again. I will never know her story.

What else to say about the uncle who was always so soft-spoken and sweet and treated me with utter respect and about whose vile ex-wife, instead, I remember the anecdotes?

In Alba Iulia, there is a suitcase. After my uncle mother and father died, I went through our ancestral home in the Transylvanian hills and took every single photograph, letter and paper scrap with writing, and put everything in a leather suitcase. I carried this suitcase from the childhood home of my mother and my uncle through the mud to a tractor. (We also dragged off Azorel, my grandmother's dog.) I took the suitcase and put it in a closet in an apartment overlooking the cathedral in which my parents married. Inside the suitcase are all the photos of my uncle that I never took.

In the last two months, I have found shoes lined up with the right shoe on the left and the left shoe on the right. An omen of death. My grandmother died after my sister placed her shoes this way. Ever since I am always careful to place my shoes in their correct position. But this summer, my shoes, on their own, switched positions. Three days ago I found some slippers under my bed in the death position. It perplexed me how my shoes did this by themselves on so many occasions.

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