"Uncle Mark!" I ran up to him and he scooped me up, tossing me in the air. I giggled and hugged him close. "You came, you came, you came!"
"Of course I came! I'd never miss my favorite Nephew's seventh birthday." He smiled.
"I'm your only nephew." I laughed.
"Still my favorite." He winked, handing me a big box he'd propped against his leg.
"Go put that with your other presents darling, you can open it after dinner." My mom said, walking out of the kitchen as she dried her hands on a towel. "You really shouldn't spoil him with such big presents, Mark." My mother chided.
"Aww, Kids deserve big presents sometimes, Nancy." He smiled at her as I darted over to put the present with the ones from my parents. I'd already had my birthday party with my friends last weekend.
I was so happy my Uncle Mark had come. I'd heard my mom and dad talking the night before, saying he was sick, and I thought he wasn't going to come. It had made me really sad. Uncle Mark was always so much fun, and he gave me the best presents. He took me really cool places to, like near Area 51, and he could tell such cool stories about aliens and ghosts and the loch ness monster and big foot and, well, everything.
Just as I was about to go back to the foyer I heard my parents talking to Uncle Mark.
"You shouldn't be here, Mark. What if something happens? The doctors here, they won't be able to help you!" My dad said to his big brother.
"Look, Jerald, this may…this may be the last birthday I get to spend with Daren, and I'm not going to miss it. You know how much I love your kid. I just want to have a few more good memories with him, that's all."
The last birthday he could spend with me? Doctors? Something happening? What…what was going on? Was something wrong with Uncle Mark?
I didn't really want to know though, I hoped I'd just heard wrong. So I just turned on the TV and pretended I hadn't heard anything. After awhile Uncle Mark came in and grinned at me, holding out a smaller rectangular present,
"You can open this one now, just don't tell your mum." He winked. I grinned and took the present from him, tearing off the silver paper. Inside was a book on the history of alien encounters in the United States.
"Awesome! Thank you!" I jumped up and hugged him tight. He hugged back and told me to take the book upstairs and put it in my room so my mom wouldn't see it.
When I came back down I played cards with Uncle Mark until dinner time. I fidgeted in my seat through the whole meal and my mom kept telling me to be still. But I couldn't, I just had to know what was in that big present Uncle Mark got me.
Finally dinner ended and I scampered to the living room and the small pile of presents. My mom made me save Uncle Mark's for last. From my mom I got clothes, lots and lots of clothes. My dad had bought me books on repairing cars, something I'd been interested in last summer. I didn't say anything other than "Thank you" though as I set the presents aside.
At last I was able to open Uncle Marc's big present. It was wrapped in the same silver wrapping as the other present he'd given me had been. This time though I tore the paper away carefully, not wanting to harm whatever was inside. I couldn't hold back the squeal of excitement when I saw what it was; one of those remote controlled UFO's carved from a hunk of Styrofoam with a fan in it.
I ran over and hugged Uncle Mark tight, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I told him as I bounced up and down.
"No flying it in the house." My mom and dad said at the same time.
Three weeks later I found out that I Uncle Mark had been right when he said it would be the last birthday he spent with me. My parents came into my room and sat me down, solemn looks on their faces.
"Daren, we aren't sure how to tell you this so we're just going to come out and say it. Your Uncle Mark passed away last night. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, and he finally succumbed to it." My mother told me, only a little sadness in her voice.
I looked between my parents, desperately hoping they were playing some sick joke. But the crushed look on my father's face told me they weren't lying. That Uncle Mark was really gone.
"His funeral is this weekend. His body is being brought back here to be buried." My mother told me.
I broke down crying now. Uncle Mark couldn't be gone, he just couldn't be. He'd just been here, just given me really cool presents and told me awesome stories. I leaned forward into my mother and she held me, but I couldn't help but realize that it wasn't all that comforting.
I spent the next few days leading to the funeral laying in bed, my arms wrapped protectively around the book he'd given me and the remote control to the UFO.
The funeral came and I couldn't bring myself to look into his casket to say goodbye. As everyone dropped roses onto the casket once it was in the ground I snuck forward and dropped a small UFO key chain. Inside the little compartment I'd hidden a little message that said "I love you, Uncle Mark." The act resulted in a dirty look from my mother, but I didn't regret it.
My parents weren't the same, I'd realized. My dad was always drinking now, and it made mom sad. She yelled at me more now, made me do more chores and always said I wasn't doing them right. It was really hard, and it made me miss Uncle Mark so much more.
We still went to church every Sunday, and I prayed to God that my dad would stop drinking and my mom would be nice to me again. My prayers went unanswered though, and things just kept getting worse. Dad drank more, mom yelled more. I eventually just started spending as much time at friends houses as possible. This made my mom yell at me more, but it was easier to take it in quick heavy doses then in 24/7 little doses that I got if I stayed home.
My eighth birthday came with a party with my friends, but no presents from my parents. My ninth came with no party with friends or presents from my parents. So just before my tenth birthday I invited my friend Garret over. I was determined to plan myself a party, even if my parents wouldn't, and I knew Garret would help me. He was my best friend and we'd grown up together.
"Hey." I grinned, opening the gate for him.
"Hey." He grinned back and followed me into the grassless backyard. It had had grass at one point, but not anymore. "So, what's up?"
"I need your help to plan my birthday party this year, because I know my parents won't do it"
"Sounds awesome." He smiled at me.
We talked for hours, planning where we'd have the party, who we'd invite and what we'd do. Finally the street lamps flickered on which meant it was time for him to go. He stood and then looked down at me for a second, he looked like he was contemplating something. He chewed his lip a moment before he leaned down and lightly brushed his lips against mine, just barely.
"See you tomorrow, Daren." He smiled nervously.
I grinned after a minute, "Yeah, see you tomorrow." He relaxed at this and walked out of the yard, waving before he disappeared around the corner of the street.
I was smiling like a fool now, trying hard not to break out giggling. I'd just been kissed by Garret…and I'd liked it. I'd been kissed by a guy and liked it. Did that…did that mean I was gay? I had no problem with gay people, even though the bible said it was wrong. Uncle Mark had always said there was nothing wrong it, love was love.
But before I could think about it anymore someone snatched my arm and flung me around so hard I felt my wrist snap. I shrieked in pain and screamed for my dad. I was sure I was being attacked by some pedophile, rapist, murderer. But the scream caught in my throat when I saw who it was holding my arm. My father.
"Wh…" I started,
"Shut up!" He howled at me, dragging me inside by my broken wrist.
Tears sprung from my eyes and I screamed at him to stop. I saw my mother crying, her hand over her mouth. I screamed for her help, but she just stood there. My father dragged me down the stairs and tossed me into the empty storage room in the basement that only had an old mattress and a few boxes. He slammed the door behind me and I heard him lock it. I ran and kicked at the door, tried to open it with my good hand.
"Stop it!" My father screamed, slamming something against the door. I yelped and fell back, clutching my injured wrist to me. I was terrified that he would come in and break something else.
What had I done wrong? What did I do to make him so angry?
"Jerald, what…what are you doing?" I heard my mother say timidly.
"Didn't you see him? Didn't you see what that heathen child did?" My father seethed. Heathen?
"No…" She answered.
"He kissed that damn Garret kid! Our child is a faggot! He has sinned against God!" I could hear him pacing. He slammed his fist against the door every time he passed it.
That's what this was about? That…that Garret had kissed me?
"Jerald, are…are you sure?" My mother sounded terrified.
"Of course I'm sure Nancy! I know what I saw!"
"Then what do we do? He has to repent, we…we have to take him to the church!" My mother reasoned.
"No. We aren't going to that shitty little excuse for a church. They can't help us."
"Then what do we do?"
"I'm not sure."
I heard them walking up the stairs now. I sat in the dark, wishing I'd actually changed the light bulb in here when I'd been told to. After awhile I maneuvered the old mattress so that it was in one corner of the room and curled up to go to sleep. I didn't know what else to do, and I was so scared. Was it really that wrong to be gay?