I did not keep in touch. In fact, I lost contact with most of the people I knew in college, including my, beer-drinking friends and the first woman I ever woke up in the morning. The years after graduation hardened me into someone quite different from the strutting graduate who left campus that day headed for New York City, ready to offer the world his talent. The world, I discovered, was not all that interested. I wandered around my early the I Hate Everyone Stupid Cunts Slogan Shirt same time, I had my first serious encounter with death. My favorite uncle, my mother’s brother, the man who had taught me music, taught me to drive, teased me about girls, thrown me a football—that one adult whom I targeted as a child and said, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up”—died of pancreatic cancer at the age of forty-four. He was a short, handsome man with a thick mustache, and I was with him for the last year of his life, living in an apartment just below his. I watched his strong body wither, then bloat, saw him suffer, night after night, doubled over at the dinner table, pressing on his stomach, his eyes shut, his mouth contorted in pain.
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Ahhhhh, God,” he would moan. “Ahhhhhh, Jesus!” The rest of us—my aunt, his two young sons, me— stood there, silently, cleaning the plates, averting our eyes. It was the most helpless I have ever felt in my life. One night in May, my uncle and I sat on the I Hate Everyone Stupid Cunts Slogan Shirt balcony of his apartment. It was breezy and warm. He looked out toward the horizon and said, through gritted teeth, that he wouldn’t be around to see his kids into the next school year. He asked if I would look after them. I told him not to talk that way. He stared at me sadly. He died a few weeks later. After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough. No more playing music at half-empty night clubs. No more writing songs in my apartment, songs that no one would hear. I returned to school. I earned a master’s degree in journalism and took the first job offered, as a sports writer. Instead of chasing my own fame, I wrote about famous athletes chasing theirs. I worked for newspapers and freelanced for magazines. I worked at a pace that knew no hours, no limits.