Growing up, my father’s youngest brother, Uncle Todd, was my favorite. He was always playful and had a positive attitude. Despite this, even as a young child I could sense a distance between my Uncle Todd and the rest of my adult family. With this awkward rift, my uncle preferred hanging out at the kids’ table during Thanksgiving, and we welcomed him and his funny jokes.

In 1993 my Uncle Todd and his wife Holly were divorced. They had a 3-year-old son. At the time I obviously didn’t know the reason for their divorce, but many years later when my Uncle became very sick during my freshman year of college, my Dad told me that my Uncle was gay and had contracted AIDS in the early 90’s. This was the reason for his divorce, and he was going to die very soon.

Upon hearing this news, I was completely shocked. I was not by any means a sheltered child, at least not after my freshman year at Indiana University. I had friends who identified as gay, and I though my “gaydar” was in working order. Looing back now, I am not sure what part of this news was more shocking. I had known my uncle for my entire life. He had been married! To a women! How could he be Gay? He had a kid! How could I have missed all of this? How could he have AIDS and what did that mean? How was someone who had seemed perfectly healthy over Christmas break be ready to die just a few months later? I didn’t have a way to think about all of this, and no one on my father’s side of the family wanted to talk to me about it.

As the months went by, I tried to see my uncle as often as I could, but visiting became more and more difficult. He became thinner and thinner and it seemed that he aged 10 years with every visit. Often times he would spend weeks in a hospital when he became especially sick, but eventually, they sent him home for good to die. It was like his home turned into a hospital and his partner Doug, who I always thought was just his roommate, became his nurse. The last visits were the worst. Over the past few months, his body had vanished before me. Even with all of this, my father’s family still refused to talk about what was going on.

Looking back now, I see that my family’s decision to keep my uncle’s sexuality and HIV status a secret was because they were homophobic. This homophobia caused my uncle to feel shame about his disease and his sexuality. Now that he is gone, I know my grandmother regrets her decisions to treat my uncle in this way. It was this lack of recognitions from my family that made their relationship with my uncle so distant. He was forced to hide him self from me, as if me knowing he was a homosexual would someone convert or disturb my mind.

Thinking about my uncle now, I feel very proud of him. Trough all of his trials, he always kept a smile on his face. Unfortunately he had to deal with AIDS without the love, care, and support of his family. My only wish now is that I could have been there for him.

Jennifer Peper