Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Used To Have This Uncle...

...Julio Cesar.

He was Papi's nephew, but he and Grandma took him in and raised him as their own, so to me, that was my Tio Julio.

Julio was always in trouble; did lousy in school, repeatedly had his ass whooped like a slave by Papi. One such beating left nasty welts on Julio's back. Us kids cried and cried for him. I don't know what he did to deserve that beating, all I remember is crying, and my mom putting ointment on his back afterwards.

I hardly remember ever really interacting with Julio, but there's a photo of him carrying me as a baby. It's a sweet photo.

He married this girl, Nina, before he enlisted in the Army, this black girl from the neighborhood. She wasn't really welcomed in our home. Even as a kid I could sense the tension between her and Grandma. Not sure what went down between them, because as a kid in a Dominican household, you're not really privy to that kind of information, but they did not get along.

Then he came home after boot camp, in his uniform, looking all official. Still short, but official. He came to get Nina; he was shipping out, but I forget where... Hawaii, maybe? I don't remember. Last time I saw them, hmm, well I remember them at my 9th birthday party- last time all of us were together- and then later, after he and Nina had had a couple of daughters he brought them home to meet us. Beautiful little girls with Hawaiian names. YES, HAWAII! That's where he was.

Later he had a third girl, another Hawaiian name, and a letter postmarked from Oklahoma. A Dominican in Oklahoma. Have you ever heard of such craziness?

Then. Nothing.

No more letters. No pictures of the girls. He stopped writing or coming home. Grandma and Papi moved to New Jersey and then, shortly after, to Los Minas, where Grandma died.

My Titi Gloris tried to find Julio. Let him know what happened to Grandma. I tried to find Julio; wrote to the Army and everything. And nothing.

Got a letter from the Army stating that no such person by that name and SSI number has ever been in the U.S. Army. Excuse me? What?

In my mind I played out two scenarios.

ONE- he managed to pull off the biggest scam on us just to get out of the house and away from us.


TWO- his death is being covered up.

Conspiracy theories swim through my head like a motherfucker at least once a month.

Why am I writing this? I read an article in the NY Times about the rising death toll in Afghanistan. I recently reconnected with a friend from school who'll be going back out there next year. I also connected with another former classmate who just ended a tour out there. And I ran across this website, iCasualties, and it made me cry. Made me angry. Made me want to scream.

19-year-olds were on this casualty list. 19-year-olds. Some one's son. Daughter. Gone before they could even legally take a drink at the local pub or rent a stupid car from Hertz.

Is this what happened to my uncle? Where can I find his name?

And what about my other uncles, out in DR, in law enforcement, life on the line everyday. And Abuelo with his guards and chaperones and stash of weapons in the house. Or my aunt, prosecuting crazy drug dealers in DR, life on the line every day. Or my cousin in Lawrence, a State Trooper, wounded in the Army, life on the line every day.

"It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it." - Robert E. Lee

*smooches...feeling a little down and a little helpless in the face of all these wars*
see THIS is why I shy away from newspapers. now all I can think about is dead 19-year-olds, my uncle M.I.A., and my family in danger.