By Paula Younger
When I was ten, my cousin told me, “Did you know Grandma is really our step-grandma?” I am the youngest of four in a Catholic family of loving people who tend to omit important information or lie to avoid discomfort. But my cousin, who didn’t follow my immediate family’s rule, leaned in and said our mothers’ mother died from cancer when they were young. This seemed suspiciously like the time my older siblings convinced me to take a bite of a banana peel, but my cousin convinced me with a detail. She grabbed a strand of her hair and said, “She had blonde hair, like me.”
I pestered Mom with questions until she showed me pictures of the grandmother I never knew, but Mom still didn’t open up about our family secrets.
When I was twelve, the same cousin said our uncle Frank had AIDS. It was 1988, when our Catholic community saw AIDS as a punishment from God. I waited for Mom to tell me. I even wondered if my cousin had been wrong, but then Mom took my siblings and I to our uncle’s house in Houston. Uncle Frank had been our fun, young uncle, ready with gifts and adventures. But his bones were visible beneath his skin. Black bags hung beneath his hollowed eyes. Lesions mottled his pasty arms. My sisters were eighteen and seventeen, my brother fifteen. They helped our uncle and his partner when they could. They didn’t act bored even though we rarely left our uncle’s house. Their normal too-good-for-everything expressions had been dropped. They avoided eye contact with me. They knew and had known for a while.
I cornered Mom. “When were you going to tell me he has AIDS?” Continue Reading…