At lunch today with my brother,
he brings up the mystery of Uncle Ray.
My dad’s brother, decades ago now,
just vanished without a word, it seems.
Later, his car was found at the bottom
of the Willamette river. Like other
dark family stories, his story was never
fully told or understood. He was the
black sheep. Unmarried and childless,
all we knew is that he was a drinker,
and that for the longest time he lived
with his mother and then he simply
drove away. How old was he? In his
forties, maybe, or younger, when
he made the decision to disappear,
to vanish into thin air or water.
The fact that his body was never
recovered, as far as any of us are
certain, leaves questions unanswered
and other possibilities to consider.
He faked his death, maybe, and
somehow, without his car, took
himself far away from everything
and everyone that he knew,
leaving his mother, his brothers,
his sisters, and all of those nieces
and nephews and aunts and uncles
without a clue, and never looked back.
Because a body always eventually
washes to shore, a dead man in a dirty
river doesn’t swim around down there
forever. Eventually he rises like bread.
My Uncle Ray never rose.
In the photo he’s on the right,
in a line with his brothers arranged
by age standing next to their dad.
His smile is more like a smirk. There’s
cynicism in it or derision, as if already
he’s distrustful, doubtful about this
family or this world or peeved by
the idea of being photographed,
or feeling somehow too far away,
three siblings away from his father
who would die just a few years
or a decade after this photo was taken.
It may be the only photograph
of Uncle Ray that we have, maybe
the only thing left behind by a man
who was close to no one, far away
from everything, and dying to become