I had a dream about my uncle – he was the type to ask if my shit smelled better because I became a vegetarian. At Thanksgiving in the early 00's, he confronted me in his plaid, a beer resting against his belly. His body was always hard, muscular, worked: he had a trade job in Duluth, was emotionally intelligent, doubting but incurious, circumspect. Big Jim liked routine and meat on the table.
He was the principal in the dream: we were in the living room, and he was freaking out. He had a beach towel with a Coca-Cola print on it and in lieu of a friendly campaign that said "Share a coke with ...", it said "Have at it Fags," or something equally off-brand. But he was upset by this: visibly crying, having a temper-tantrum that his beach towel laid him to bare. There was no refuting a corporate slogan. He held it up, tossed it to the ground and stormed off to his bedroom, where he lay in the dark on a twin bed.
"Can I speak to you?" I said, closing the door behind me, leaving it dark. He grunted. "I expect that was about me," I said. He grunted again. "I want you to know you can believe whatever you want. I don't care." He turned around toward me, and his eyes were damp from the tantrum. "I don't want to," he said, but sounded helpless. He was distraught, and I put my hand across his chest and hugged him. "You'll do what you need to do," I said. And he cried, and said, "It don't mean fuck all to me, I just want to win."
Big Jim has been in my thoughts. A towering presence, him contemplating with seriousness the odor of my shit, and how fancy it made me. I never gave him the benefit. I felt put in my place. He had those square, partially tinted lenses: blue at the bottom, where you might want to read up to a smokey black glass at the top. He wore them all the time.
Does he have glaucoma? I never thought to ask. He'd swagger in while his wife made kumps, Norwegian potato dumplings with a piece of ham in the middle. They sat like kettle balls in our stomachs. Some call them klubbs, I would expect because that's what it feels like you've been hit with when you're napping after having eaten two of them.
He was vulnerable in the dream, in a way I still cannot quite wrap my head around. Every time I saw him he dressed in the solid exterior of stubbornness, a weary knowledge of the world that wavered little. Plaid, beer, unblinking eyes. His heterosexuality was a model for me, an opposing force that clarified some aspect of my identity. Like my poles were reversed, his presence repelled me away. In retrospect, I would have liked to go ice fishing with him.
I know he looked at me with an arched brow, at the odd excitable gesture or swish exacerbated only by my total indifference to football. These big dudes would come into frame for a half-time interview, their muscular arms grasping a cooked Turkey in a basting pan while some bright-eyed enthusiast from ABC or FOX asked the player about what the holiday meant to them, or what he was thinking "out there". "I'll tell you what I'd say," Jim would interject, his annual zinger aimed at the north star and true to him as ever: "I don't give a fuck boys, let's win the damn thing." I still don't know what he meant to convey to us. That winning is everything in a man's game, and winning meant being indifferent to the general tide of opinion or something like that. He dismissed the jabberings erupting from the kitchen about naughty language and midwestern stoicism with a tight little smirk. The interviews were just useless opinions on television. He wanted to get on with the game.
We'd go to the table: drink our coke, eat our kumps. The stale taste of potato starch filled the room and condensed on the windows in off-white streaks. The kids table was off to the side, on the barrier between the yellow kitchen and the brown paneled living room with the TV on, spewing the game's commentary into an empty space with a negativity I was all too happy to project on to it. The men would come, stand at the barrier between the rooms, looking to the kids for validation and excitement from the narrative that played out to the empty room from the game. My cousins, Jim's daughters, would trace their fingers on the table.
"Mom," my cousin said, "let us know when desert is." They got up from the table and filed down the hallway to one of their bedrooms, taking my sister with them.
"You should play," Jim said, turning again to me from the edge of the kitchen, beer bottle clutched in his hand. And for a second, I saw him dismissing me, letting me follow his daughters down the hallway alongside my sister. "You're a big guy already. Big guys should play," Jim said. His voice pierced me. "It's potential, size is. This is a guy who should have an extra kump," he said, that same tight smile crawling across his face.
That phrase in the dream: I don't give a fuck, I just want to win. Is it just an indifference to opinion? Jim probably knows now that I am gay, Jim probably does not care. He was almost assuredly more amused by me, my pretension in those younger years, than anything else. Winning is more about getting what's yours, and his physically big deserving-of-an-extra-kump nephew didn't stand in his way. His path was set before I crawled (gayly) into the picture. I have never realized the potential of an-extra-kump-diet outside of reaching for highly perched saltines at the grocery store for those that ask me and hitting my head on every single god-damn opportunity that presents. You'd think you would learn how tall you are, but somehow the subway entrance doors catch me by surprise. Maybe because he shrunk me. Even as an adult, in the few times I've seen him, I slouch and shrink in his presence and I feel that model of masculinity bearing down on me whenever I am back home. It's in the atmosphere, pushing down from above like waves in the clouds.