Shipping Out

by | Oct 15, 2022 | Kuntz Day 1

My father never talked about any of his siblings. I’ know of three but I don’t know how many there were. He left my mother and me and my brothers when I was seven or eight. I don’t know for sure because my older brother has passed a dozen years ago and wouldn’t talk about him anyway. My father didn’t like me, and I gave up trying to win his approval.
I never met his brother who was a merchant marine nor his sister who also lived in San Francisco until I was in the Air Force and got sent to norther California and my aunt who corresponded with my older brother and me, offered me to stay with her until I had to report for duty. Every day she tried to get me to call or visit my father and I refused, I wanted to see my uncle who sent me and my brother stamps and coins from his foreign trips. He once sent us Japanese Jackets which were reversible silk on one side with a dragon on the back and bright blue velour on the other side with a map of Japan.
She kept refusing. Finally, I packed my duffle and and told her I had an appointment with the Merchant Marine office to help me find him. She caved and the next day she drove me to the Tenderloin district of San Fran and told me for the whole trip I was making a mistake. We walked into a gin mill and took our seats and she said he’d be coming in.
He finally showed. Not the dapper man of my thoughts and dreams but he was wearing a stained T shirt, needed a shave, and had a huge gut spilling over his belt. I got up and hugged him and kissed his cheek and he sat in the booth across from me and his sister. I watched her take some bills from her purse and pass them under the tabletop to her brother making sure I would see.
I told him how much his letters meant to me and how me and my brother wore the Japanese jackets he sent us until we just couldn’t squeeze into them anymore, but we wouldn’t let our mother give them away.
Finally, my aunt said we had to go, and my uncle asked us to wait while he got me something he’d been saving for me. I told him I’d go with him and my aunt said no and grabbed my arm. I pulled away and followed him into the fleabag hotel next door and got his room number and ran up the stairs. His door was open and there was a sink with a bottle of wine floating in it. He handed me a navigator’s book and told me to hurry back to my aunt because she had a temper. I told him I’d like to visit him the next week before I left, and he said he was shipping out.
I crossed the hallway to the elevator after telling him I loved him, and he’ll always be my hero and I opened the elevator door and went in and began crying and then punching and kicking the elevator. I hit the down button and looked straight ahead and saw my uncle watching me and me him through the window our heads disappearing to each other as the elevator descended.
My aunt was waiting in the car, and we drove in silence for a while. “He’s shipping out next week,” I said and she replied “he’s a bum and he’s not shipping anywhere. They’ll only let him clean the boats in harbor,”
The following week I got a letter from my aunt telling me that my uncle had killed himself by jumping off the hotel roof, and she knew I had something to do with it and I should send her $1000 to help pay for his funeral. I never responded or spoke to her again.
I did get a letter from my uncle a couple of weeks after and most of what he wrote was illegible except for “but what was I to do?” I don’t know what happened to the book he gave me or the letter. I feel responsible, even now, over fifty years later.

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