After the funeral, my uncle Jorge, whom apparently I had been named after, invited me to dinner at Estafano’s, the same spaghetti joint we’d gone to when I was a kid. I followed his Porsche into the city, texting Aunt Matty to meet us there. But I already knew she didn’t have data on her phone.
The waitress sat us in the patio and handed me a kid’s menu along with the regular one. My uncle asked if I’d gotten into the team. I had. He asked if I had a girlfriend. I hadn’t. What my plans were for college. The waitress brought over my scallop appetizers and I ordered tilapia. But suddenly I didn’t feel like eating.
“I’m just concentrating on the day-to-day stuff I got going on, you know. Not falling behind. Staying off drugs, outta gangs, that sort of thing. Takes up a lot of energy.”
“I’m not pressuring you, but I know kids just like you who’ve graduated from that same school who are making over two hundred ‘k’ per year. You just gotta get into the right schools. The right mentality.”
You mean the mentality where you ignore your nephew for years at a time and then try to make up for it with one meal? No birthdays, no Christmas, no nothing. Just be this figure on paper who shows up when his schedule allows him.
“Nah, I pass.”
“George, I’ve looked at your grades. You don’t have to settle. With the right connection, you can get into Princeton or Yale.”
I shook my head violently. “What do you think I wanna be? Some hot shot lawyer?”
My uncle bowed his head down but I didn’t pause. “Since I was twelve I’ve been fixing Tía Matty’s car. In fact I already have a job. That’s my future you’re asking me about. The stars already lined up for me. And you know what, I’m glad you weren’t around to help all these years, cause if you were, I might’ve never learned to do even that. I might be helpless relying on some letter of recommendation from some rich condescending sponsor I’ve only met once or twice. Not unlike yourself.”
I regretted the words darting out of my mouth but not in time to stop myself.
The waitress made her usual round. “Can I get you anything?”
“I WANT MORE LEMONADE!” I slammed my glass on the table not letting my eyes stray from my uncle’s.
He laughed. “I’m sorry, Miss. My nephew’s very passionate about lemonade.”
I turned to look at the waitress, all the blood rushing to my face.
“Oh man. I’m so- I’m so-” I hadn’t stuttered in ages.
“I’ll be right back.” The waitress turned around and left.
“Sorry!” The words finally made it out of my mouth. I stood there looking up at the sky, for what felt like forever, clenching my fists, wondering why the hell God didn’t just put me out of my misery.
Yes, I had made varsity. But now I wasn’t going to have time to work at the shop. I was never going to afford my own car, much less fucking college. My life would start eventually when I’d get a girl- Cindy- pregnant and her parents would force her to marry me. Then I’d be working 12 or 16 hour days, come home, yell at her “where’s my dinner,” have a couple beers and be too tired to have sex. She’d yell at me for never helping with the kids- we’d have five or six by then- and I’d turn the volume up on the soccer game on T.V. Pure bliss.
I sat back down and put my head into my arms. “At least I’ll be there. They’ll see me and know what I look like. They’ll ask me stupid questions like how come birds fly and what happens to light after you turn the switch off. I’ll make up the best answers any dad’s ever come up with. I’ll be a good dad. And when they go off to college I’ll take my wife to Europe and all that shit. And no stranger’s gonna come patronize them, cause they’ll be my kids, not yours or welfare’s or no one else’s.”
My uncle put his arm on my shoulder and didn’t say anything. I just sat there, head down, overcome by something utterly silent and much more powerful than me, not unlike tears.