Thursday, July 18, 2013

enough influence to last a lifetime

Season 12 of Project Runway aired tonight. For the last 12 seasons (and 2 of PR All Stars), I have watched on the east coast while my fabulous uncle has watched on the west. Every weekend we would exchange a flurry of emails dishing on the designs-- and the designers. We'd make predictions on who would make it to the finals, who would get auf'ed, and who the judges would demoralize next. One of the hardest things for me to do would be to wait to read his emails if I had to wait 'til the weekend to watch the replay online.

My uncle played a huge role in my life, and I think I did the same for him. Uncle Bob was Fabulous, in every sense of the word. He was single, neat, and over 30... not that there's anything wrong with that. When I was a junior in high school, we spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents and him (he was living with them, providing support after my grandfather had yet another stroke). He and I would stay up late talking, and one night he showed me a movie. He loved movies, and classic Hollywood actresses... but this one wasn't a classic. It was about a young boy who figured out he was a homosexual. I didn't pick up on his reason for showing it to me immediately, which I'm hoping is because it really didn't matter to me, but more likely because I was a very black and white thinker as a teen. When I went to visit him as a new college graduate, he told me stories about the Vietnam War protests at UWisconsin-Madison in the late 60s, the early 70s in San Franscisco, and when the "gay man's cancer" hit in the early 80s-- he worked in the hospital credited with identifying AIDS during the outbreak. Largely because of AIDS, he moved to AZ to care for my grandparents-- consciously choosing to help them with their lives and probably saving his own. After they passed, he moved to Palm Springs and worked for the Barbara Sinatra's Children's Center and at the Desert AIDS Project, as a volunteer coordinator in both places. He made a career out of helping people in need, but was one of the most judgemental I have ever known. "Remember Darling-- you'll never get a chance to impress them with your brain if they don't like what they're looking at..." He taught me about growing up, and I helped keep him young.

He never married-- nor did he have any desire to. He couldn't understand why so many of his gay friends wanted to be in a legally binding long term relationship-- but completely supported their right to ruin their lives if that's what they so chose.  He came of age during the Stonewall Riots, and almost lived long enough to see DOMA struck down. He never had kids-- my Gawd, so messy!-- but I know my siblings and cousins filled that role in his life.

I got a perspective on life from him that my parents could not give me. He rounded out my thoughts-- starting with that movie in 1986-- and continuing throughout my adulthood. He took me clubbing after I'd graduated from college. My parents flew me out to stay with him, and he asked his straight friends where the hot clubs were. It took all of 15 minutes in this joint for him to lean over to me "You want to go someplace fun?" I danced like fool, and was in no risk of sending the wrong impression in my Victoria's Secret dress.

He had his first heart attack at 44. There's a family history of deadly cardio events-- my grandfather had his first stroke in his 40s (which he survived, but eventually is what got him), and my great and great-great grandfathers dropped dead in their 40s. Luckily for me, he had access to great medical care and survived it-- but he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure by 55, and was not supposed to see 60. He died this March of a massive heart attack. He had just sent me an email about his youngest brother who had died suddenly 2 weeks before, of a bleeding esophegal ulcer, and his cousin who was only a few years older than him who also died suddenly in her sleep. "Do you know The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I'm afraid to close my eyes!" He signed off with a Game of Thrones reference-- I'd told him to read the series after he started watching it on HBO. Hodor (Hodor Hodor Hodor) signed off that day, now carrying me around on his shoulders for the rest of my life, helping me get through whatever may come my way. When they went out to take care of his things, my mom and Uncle Jim found the signed and stamped birthday card, complete with the $5 bill he sent for our birthdays every year, ready to be mailed. In his final hours, he left me multiple sources of comfort to hold onto-- including the knowledge that his final acts were done knowing how deeply he was loved and how much he meant to me.

Back to Runway. Tonight as I watched the premiere with my family, I didn't get teary watching, which sort of surprised me. I think it's because I could almost see him here with me, straightening the remote controls to be perfectly parallel to each other, cigarette in his fingers, trying to figure out who should be in, and who would be out. He looks like he did when I went out in 92-- probably because he'd rather that's the image I see than how he looked this spring.

As I've told many of you, I bought a Chloe Dao dress for my cousin's wedding, in his honor. When I got the email from Chloe's sister explaining it was their mistake but it was only available in a size 0 I figured Fate had spoken. (Sorry, Uncle Bob, but my size 0 days are long gone.) I got a follow up email saying since  it listed on her website as being available for a sale purchase, they would make this one special for me, in whatever size I wanted, and honor the sale. Yes, indeed, Fate was speaking... and I know he was very proud of me in that dress. In fact, I know he was very proud of me, period. There is no greater gift than that.

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