In 1969, we had just started dating. Michael was in twelfth grade and I was in eleventh. We were standing in the halls of Miami Norland Senior High. Lockers were clanging and feet were shuffling. Holding out his hand, Michael offered his wrist.
“It’s from my uncle,” he beamed.
The face read Bulova, the band black, the dial stainless steel. At first glance it looked like any other watch.
Michael side-glanced like he was telling a secret. “It’s for my graduation.”
That watch followed him everywhere. He wore it at our wedding. To Michigan where we finished school. To the law office where he had his first job. But while we grew up and moved on, the rest of the world went backward. His parents divorced. The uncle and his wife divorced. When we bought a house and a car, the so-called grown-ups downsized. And when we started a family, they started smoking pot. How crazy it all seemed! My husband in his Brooks Brothers suit. My in-laws and the uncle with their new hippie lifestyles. Lava lamps and waterbeds. Nehru jackets. Bongs. On good days, we were amused. On bad days, we were mortified.
The uncle was the oddest of the oddballs. And it didn’t take long before drugs addled his brain. Birthdays were forgotten and bills were overlooked. Instead of furniture, his living room was filled with pillows. To have a conversation, you had to reach down to his level. Lay on the floor. Shout over the rock music. Pick at food on paper plates.
There was the time Michael’s first cousin got married in California. Little did the uncle know that pot on the West Coast packs a punch. An hour into the cousin’s wedding, someone called the rescue squad. They thought it was a heart attack, but the father of the groom was just stoned.
How Michael laughs at this story, like it happened to another family in another life. One glance at his watch and all is forgiven. One kindness erases a lifetime of hurt.
Years passed. My husband’s parents died. Then the uncle slid into dementia and he died, too. The uncle’s second wife is still around. She’s about our age, or she says. She’s a little bit like a stranger and getting stranger all the time. Though we invite her to Thanksgiving and Seder, she seldom makes an appearance. If she comes, she’s the last to arrive and the first to leave.
But all is forgiven. Each year we make an invitation. And each year she either ditches us or leaves. Like the hands of a watch, time circles in a loop. What’s the use of complaining? Memories fade. The heart heals. And after two or three shakes, that Bulova still ticks.
Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in publications such as The Massachusetts Review, PANK, Catapult, and The Baltimore Review. She is the winner of the 2015 Rick DeMarinis Short Fiction Award, the 2018 So To Speak Fiction Prize, and a nominee twice for both the Pushcart and the Best of the Net prizes.