Rupert had to live in my father’s shadow growing up. Dad played basketball and football and I don’t know if Rupe did either of those things but if he did I doubt he did them as well as my father. Though my father is a somewhat introverted sort, he’s never had difficulty making friends whereas I’ve always gotten the impression that Rupert did. Rupert also had some atrocious allergies that my father didn’t have. Chalk dust would make him sick. Nobody knew that until he was older and even then there wasn’t much that could be done because it was the age before the overhead and Whiteboard. My father married at 25 and had children at 29. Rupert never quite made it on that track.
My grandmother would periodically mention a hope that my Uncle Rupert would bring home a nice young lady and maybe provide her with a couple more grand-daughters (out of her eight grandchildren, only one was a girl). My father used to wonder out loud why exactly it was that his kid brother hadn’t married and settled down. Mom and I would glance at each other and wonder whether Dad realized it was as likely as not that he would bring home a nice young man than a nice young woman.
Homosexuality would have explained a lot. The relative absence of masculinity, which wouldn’t mean much except for the fact that when I was growing up he was in his late thirties and forties and had not only never been married but had never brought anyone to meet the family. It would explain why after college he would choose to move to the Gay Capital of the United States. There were, however, alternate rationales for all of this. He, like my father, generally take after my grandmother. He moved far away and repeatedly in search for a place where he and his allergies could make peace and the west coast was a natural fit and a place of enormous growth. Besides, both my father and aunt moved west when they graduated to, albeit to Los Angeles and San Diego.
I had no real opinion as to whether Rupert was gay or not as even then I didn’t have a problem with homosexuality, figuring that if Uncle Rupert was gay then being gay couldn’t be all that bad. The prospect that he wasn’t gay, though, horrified me.
So much so that Uncle Rupert was always a spectre hovering over me. In part because of my living uncles, he seemed like the one I was most like. That probably has something to do with the fact that he was my only living uncle. But even so, there always seemed to be an odd kindred spirit feeling I had whenever I was around him. I saw and admired in him many of the things that I admire in my father. Those areas that he differed from my father, he was more similar to me. He was seldomly understood by his family, as was the case with me. He grew up sickly in ways similar to the way that I would grow up. There were things he had over me, though. He was a marathon-runner and I couldn’t run down the block without panting. He was trim and I was not. He had a lot of things that I lacked. But there he was, thirty-six-seven-eight-nine and there was nobody in his life. My worries about him pre-dated puberty. Pre-dated the first time I asked a girl out. His ghost only grew in tangibility when one girl after another said “no” when I asked them out.
When I was young, I decided that one of my major goals in life would be to find a wife. Have kids (seven kids seems reasonable to a ten year old) or maybe just dogs but one way or another have a family. To somehow make sure that I did not in any way end up like Rupert. I never vocalized these thoughts with my parents. For one thing, targeting my uncle would have seemed rude. For another, there was the whole question of his sexual orientation and I didn’t like bringing any attention to that. If he was, then my fears were pointless (though maybe I’d worry that I was gay, too) and if he wasn’t, Dad would be relieved but Rupert’s Shadow would loom a bit larger.
I was in college when my father mentioned, in an offhand manner, that Rupert was dating someone. He seemed a little bit consternated when he said. Since he’d used the gender-neutral “someone”, I followed suit by asking “What do you know about them?” I meant to say “about’em” but the “th” came out and I knew that I was going to get a lecture on the inappropriateness of using “them” as a singular pronoun. I was right and got the lecture while I waited for him to get to the point.
It was a woman. The cause of the consternation was that she was apparently recently out of prison for insurance fraud. Wonders of Rupert’s now-evident heterosexuality faded and I began to wonder if he met her through some prison dating service. I asked what she was in for and he answered that she had committed some sort of insurance fraud. The thought then occurred to me that Rupert, an insurance investigator, may have been the one that put her away. That would definitely make a story for the grandchildren.
Rupert’s relationship with the convict didn’t last, much to everyone’s relief. As Dad described the conversation with my uncle he made it sound as it Rupert was pretty lonely. It seemed odd that loneliness would become an issue so late in the game. If he was heterosexual, as he apparently was, then why hadn’t he gotten lonely earlier? It was probably related to middle age, I reasoned. I hoped to myself that he would find someone to make him happy.
He did. A couple years after that he married a divorced mother of three and even walked one of his step-children down the aisle of her own wedding. He had managed to find an instant family to insert himself into and apparently it worked out well. It worked out with the rest of the extended family, too, because his new wife is very insistent on him maintaining closer ties with his family than he had been. It’s possible that her existence, and the feeling that he had finally synchronized his drumbeat with familial expectations, may have made it easier on him.
That would have been quite a relief to me some 15 years ago.