Have you ever remembered something one way all your life and then seen it again later and it was completely different?
I was looking up Eugene, my lone surviving maternal uncle, online today, as I sometimes do. He's hard to find. I'm Facebook friends with his wife of nearly three decades, but she never mentions him, her photos don't include him, and based on some posts from her family, they didn't spend Thanksgiving together. I wonder if they got divorced or maybe he died. Surely one of my cousins would have known and said something. Surely my regular Google searches for his name and the word "obituary" would have turned something up.
My uncle Eugene has lived in the same house for about three decades. My other uncle used to live there too until he died in 2009 just shy of age 60. They didn't live apart in my lifetime. Uncle Boyd would pay the mortgage and Uncle Gene would pay the utilities. Uncle Gene had always worked odd jobs that earned below the poverty line, selling used cars, playing in a band at a local nightclub, and working in collections at one point. Pooling their resources was the only way they could afford their beautiful and spacious house, my mother said, and there was plenty of room for everyone. I remember Uncle Boyd lived in a ground floor bedroom off the kitchen. Uncle Gene and his wife lived in one of the upstairs bedrooms. There was a stained glass window in the corner of the stairway, a gazebo off the front porch, and the sprawling backyard had fruit trees. It was the nicest house anyone in our family owned.
I looked up the only address I could find online for Uncle Gene, but the picture was of a tiny shack of a house. He must've moved.
But there was a gazebo in the same place. And the front stairs looked the same. And I realized my uncles had lived a tiny shack of a house all along. How is this possible? The lines of the roof and walls aren't even straight, and they're at odd angles. According to the internet, the bank foreclosed on the house in 2013. I guess they couldn't pay the mortgage without Uncle Boyd's contribution. He lost his job at the steel mill to a machine back in 2000 and he never found another one -- it was the only job he'd had since he was 16 years old -- but I guess he received something in unemployment or maybe disability since he was diagnosed bipolar around the same time. He should have had a pension too, though I don't know when that would have started paying out. Grandpa started collecting his pension from the same steel mill when he retired at 55. Anyway, Boyd died, the bank took the house, and my uncle Gene doesn't live there anymore. One of my cousins said she had wanted to reach out to him after Boyd died but she'd held back because he's mentally unstable. He was the most stable of all of them, I thought.
The bank auctioned off the house for $18,000 to something called BLT Homes Inc., which appears to fix up homes just enough to rent them out. Uncle Gene and his wife started renting the place two houses down after that, according to the internet. But I can't find anything about where Gene works, if anywhere, or what he does or how he is. Why does no one in my family blog?
Then I started looking for my mother. That way madness lies. I haven't found an updated address for her since the group home the hospital released her to after her last suicide attempt by self-poisoning (don't try it, folks -- Harvard School of Public Health did a study, and ODing by pills has a less than 2% success rate). And my dad said she left that place years ago when they told her she'd have to pay something to keep living there. I keep searching by her name and her past addresses and diagnoses and the churches she's attended, but I find nothing new. I don't want to reach out to her; I just want to watch her quietly while she is unaware.