Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bello Pasquale

The man I've called Uncle, who was so much more than that, left the Planet yesterday. This man was more of a dad to me than an uncle. He was the first to tell me to follow my path and never look back. When I was about to leave home, at the ripe young age of 18, I went to say goodbye. He was clearly as excited about my departure as I was. I was fresh out of high school with a one-way ticket to California. I was going as far as I could go, without leaving the continent. I wanted OUT of the life I was told I "must" live. I knew, as did he, that if I stayed there, it would kill me. I wasn't cut out for that life. I was meant for wide open spaces and freedom from the structure of the social conventions that were my family's rules.

I couldn't breathe.

So, on that day, when I drove up to see him, he took me outside and handed me a one hundred dollar bill. He said (these are his exact words. I have never forgotten this moment. It was 40 years ago, and still the words echo in my head.): "Follow your dreams, Camille. When you get to California, open a saving account with this. If you ever need help, you call me. And don't ever come back. This place will kill you."

I know it sounds dramatic, but it was true. He knew my spirit. He knew who I was, even more than I did at the time. He also knew that if I stayed, got married, and had a bunch of kids, it would kill me. Like I said. He knew me.

You see, my Uncle was an artist too. I didn't know this about him at the time, but I learned, many years later, about his dream killer. Turns out that Pasquale was tremendously talented.. So much so that when he entered a contest that Walt Disney had for aspiring artists (an internship to learn from Mr. Disney himself!), he was chosen to go to California to work for Disney. Sadly though, his father would not let him go. He told his son to stop dreaming and "get to work". He forbade him to even mention it again. Being the "good son" that he was, he let his father crush his dream.

Not a day passed that my uncle did not regret that choice. Yes, he loved his wife and his children. Yes, he was a good provider. Yes, he did his "duty". But he was broken. He was angry. He became very bitter over that whole, horrible thing. And, worst of all, he regretted it his whole life.

So when I learnt he had cancer, it was no surprise. Bitterness will do that to a body. As will regret. And anger. And all the things that contributed to his being denied his dream.

A sad and horrible tragedy.

But, despite all that, he was still a Lover of Life. He was FULL of life. He was passionate about music (Carlos Santana was his Numero Uno) and art and his children and his beautiful wife. Theirs was one of the most amazing relationships I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. After their kids had grown, the two of them were inseparable. They went everywhere together. Did everything together. They worked long hours in their deli, side by side, for many years. They moved here and there and all over the place, him looking for his dream, her going with her man. It's the stuff movies are made from. This man, so full of life, never quit.

And then he got sick. Watching him go through that was unbearable. I could hear the light leaving him. I could see it in his eyes. I knew he was tired, but I had no idea just how tired. Little by little, the conversations between us got more infrequent. And when we did speak, I could hear the pain in his voice. He was on his way out and I knew it.

I think there are some people in this world who would rather exit than "live" like that. I think they are so full of passion and love that to live any other way is not living at all. This was true for my Uncle. He just couldn't bear the loss of mobility. He couldn't bear watching his wife suffer for him. He just didn't want to live like that.

Can you blame him?

So, when I got the news yesterday, my first emotion was of relief. I knew how terribly he had been suffering. I was grateful that he chose not to suffer any longer. He was surrounded by his wife and 2 of his five children when he closed his eyes and drifted off. When my cousin alerted me of his passing he said, "...he's not in pain any more." I could hear the relief in his voice too. A big, sad sigh of relief.

The world has lost an amazing man. His absence will be felt by many. He was a loud, ranting, funny man with a heart the size of Texas and passion like few I've ever known.

And now....he can paint to his heart's content. He can blast Santana and eat all the pasta he wants. Today we celebrate this wonderful man. My life wouldn't be the same without him.

Ciao, Bello Pasquale. Soar with the eagles now. You are loved.

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