Long ago, when my Uncle Jim was still alive, he shot and killed someone. He was a cop, my uncle was, and when the story first broke in the newspaper, they didn’t identify who the policeman was, and my first reaction was, Those damn racist cops.
Then I heard more of the story: The man who was shot had a history of mental illness and the police had been called to his house many times. The day of the shooting, he was acting erratically. He was, in fact, naked in a parking lot, incoherent. He jumped onto the police officer with something shiny in his hand. And that’s when the cop shot him and the man died.
Then I learned it was my uncle who was the policeman.
And even though nowadays I sometimes get lost in those Facebook videos they show, the ones where the police pull over black people for no discernable reason (the air freshener tree in the car was the most recent one), reasons no white person would get pulled over, and I get SO ANGRY at those videos, I still try to remember my uncle’s situation and keep in mind I often don’t always know the whole story.
Not that “I’m pulling you over because you have a tree on your mirror and, oh, do you have drugs?” situation. I don’t keep anything in mind re that one. That situation was some bullshit. Not once has a policeman asked me if I have drugs. Ironic! I’m littered with them! I’m weighed down with blue-speckled Dexies!
(In high school, the burnouts were forever taking blue-speckled Dexies and I had no idea what those were but always wished I had one. Like, a break-glass-in-case-of-needing-to-look-cool emergency one.)
My point is, there was a whole trial and everything my uncle had to go through, to prove he was defending his own life and doing what he was supposed to do in the line of duty. It was determined that, indeed, he was doing what he was supposed to do in the line of duty, and I found this out on my radio on the drive home from work that day. I called my uncle’s house and my cousin Jimmy answered in his teenage way.
“They all went to dinner,” he said, with the enthusiasm of a 17-year-old cat in the sun.
He told me where they went, which was a nice place sort of far out of town. I am ashamed to tell you I drove ALL THE WAY OUT THERE, in a LATHER, and STORMED into the restaurant where everyone was: my uncle, my Aunt Sue who the courts ended up blaming (you have to have been around here a long time to get that joke), my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bill, my mother and stepfather, even my Uncle John and Aunt MaryEllen from Detroit were there.
There was champagne on the table. We aren’t an “order a bottle of champagne” family, but we were this day.
My Uncle Jim looked so happy.
“I just wanted to THANK everyone for not inviting ME,” I said tearily, then stomped back to my car.
Where, by the way, I waited for someone to come get me and no one did and then I drove all the damn-ass way home, crying.
Even telling you this story 27 years later I burn with shame. My Uncle Jim wasn’t happy a lot. Most of the time he was sort of downcast, although in his later years (not that they were that late. He died at 55.) he was hilarious. He was the king of inappropriate jokes. But I’m telling you that seeing his face all happy that day was a rare thing to see. And I had to come in and make everything about me.
Many years later I called him from my house in LA and apologized to him. I can’t remember if we actually spoke or if I left a message on his machine, but I know I did apologize. But it doesn’t matter. I still feel like an asshole when I recall this story.
And that is why I’ve gathered you here today. What story sticks in your head where you still hate something you did? Have you done anything about it? Do you think you’ll ever forgive yourself?