During a recent trip home to the United States, I flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit my uncle Jim.
Jim and I became close after my father — his youngest brother — died when I was in fourth grade. Something about his presence helped fill the gap that Dad’s absence left. We’d horseplay in my front yard, and Jim, built like a defense lineman, would sling me to the ground using techniques he learned during tai chi classes.
I hadn’t seen him since 2008, a couple of years before I moved to Beijing. The first few times I came home to Kentucky for my annual leave, we talked on the phone but I didn’t visit. I felt guilty, and so this year I decided to go West.
Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the United States (founded 1610), is beautiful. It’s surrounded by mountains, and the downtown features a bevy of art galleries, coffee shops and historic churches.
I regret not visiting sooner. Jim, 66, implied that he doesn’t expect to live much longer. He suffered congestive heart failure in 2007 and had a pacemaker placed in his chest to control his heartbeat. He walks with a cane, and in the mornings it takes him a couple of minutes to get out of bed.
The health issues haven’t affected Jim’s unique sense of humor (“I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body, but I’m also a lesbian”) or occasional bit of crotchetiness (unhappy with the barbecue sandwich he ordered for dinner, Jim told the waiter: “I’ve lived in Texas and know what real barbecue tastes like. This ain’t real barbecue.”)
The night before I left, Jim showed me the cocktail of medication that he takes every day. I counted at least a dozen pills. “Getting old sucks man,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t change anything. I had fun.”