Light dances before by little five-year-old eyes, making my eyes twinkle with delight. I smile and grab a sparkler for myself, but then shy away as I realize that its fire, and I could burn my little chubby hands. My eyes start to fill with tears as I am torn between the desire to have my own firework and the danger of getting hurt by the sparks. I turn to leave, but you grab my hand and grab a sparkler to light for me. Then you pick me up, sit down on the back porch steps and set me on your lap. You hold it out in front of me, sparks dancing in front of my enormous smile. My mom snaps a picture, and the memory is sealed forever.
Its years later, and I am on the same brick step, sitting on my dad’s lap. The sun is shining in all its brilliance and bouncing off the leaves on the trees that tower over the yard. My older brothers and little siblings find some chairs to sit down in. My mom stiffens as if to hide something. “Guys,” my dad begins in a solemn tone. “Uncle Tony died.”
That’s all my little mind needed to know before I burst into tears. I didn’t hear another word, but accepted the fact that he had died in a car accident or some other uncontrollable catastrophe. It didn’t really matter at that time, because all I knew was that my favorite uncle was gone. And he wasn’t coming back.
Years later, I found out how Uncle Tony died. He committed suicide.
I just want you to know that I love you. I looked up to you for the first years of my life as the kindest and funnest and safest person, not knowing the details of your life but accepting you as who you were to me. You had a mustache that only you could pull off, and a smile that was always ready when I was around. You always seemed to have time for your little Maria, and I always looked forward to spending time with my Uncle Tony. You were my favorite uncle, not because of what you did in life but because you loved me. And that was enough for me.
I wish you could be here. Oh, how I wish you could be here. I regret all the Fourth-of-July’s you missed because of something that was out of my control. I regret all the missed smiles and hugs and tickles and goodbyes that wouldn’t be the last goodbye. I just wish you knew before, before the pain and before the struggle, before the past, how much I loved you. I wish you knew how much you meant to me, and the man you were in my eyes. Because you were a man worth all the time in the world.
To me, you were a wonderful man. And I will forever remember you as the Uncle Tony who held my sparkler for me the very first time.