When I was ten, my nephew Jake was born. He never felt like a nephew to me. Two years prior, I moved from California to Connecticut to live with my brother and his new wife. When Jake was born, it felt like I was getting a little brother.
We settled on the term Bruncle in the house. The mash up of brother and uncle was often met with confused gazes, but with our weird family dynamic, that’s what I was. I was Bruncle.
Jake held a special place in my heart. Up until moving in with my much older brother, I lived the life of a single child. Suddenly, I had a “Nister”, the daughter of my brother’s wife from a previous marriage. We were the same age and she only stayed one night a week and on some weekends. We got close, but not nearly as close as Jake and I.
Not a day went by I didn’t hold, hug, or tell my nephew how much I loved him. As I entered my teenage years and the angsty emotional rollercoaster of middle school, no matter how bad it got at home, I had my little nephew I was close with.
When Jake was little, he really only ever said ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This landed him the nickname ‘Magic Jake Ball’.
It became a game of sorts to consult the Magic Jake Ball on things.
“Can I have money to go do this?”
“Ask the Magic Jake Ball.”
“Jakeaboo, can I have money to go do this?”
“NO.” The little boy would shout in delight.
I remember him saying ‘no’ more than he ever said ‘yes’, which is why I think my brother liked to turn over all questions to the Magic Jake Ball.
I have a lot of fond memories spending my teens as Bruncle to Jake. He was always a good kid. In the mornings, well after I had gotten out of school and was working nights, I could come home early in the morning to his smiling face. We would crawl into my bed and watch Tom and Jerry.
When my brother moved to Colorado with his wife and Jake, I really wasn’t sure when I would see them again. I believe the years of our awkward family dynamic had worn on everyone involved. But, I hugged my then eight-year-old nephew hard and told him I loved him and would always be there for him.
It was a tough time in my life. I began picking up self destructive habits. Going on benders. Dropping out of college. With everything I was doing and the relationship between my brother and I already strained, I became estranged from everyone. Including Jake.
I decided to memorialize the moments we had together before they were forgotten forever. A friend of mine had begun apprenticing at a local tattoo shop. At the time, I had three tattoos. One professional one, and two I got laying on some girl’s bedroom floor while high on drugs. This was different. As I stretched across the chair, raising my arm above my head, my friend asked me one more time if I was ready. The ribs is a painful place to get a tattoo, especially by someone just learning the trade. But, I wanted it to hurt. I wanted it to be emblazoned into me.
As she began to go to work, the sting forcing me to bite my lip hard to match the pain, I closed my eyes tight and thought of all the wonderful memories I had growing up with my nephew. The stuffed snake he wore around his neck like a boa. Bonding over Pokemon and video games. The Easter egg hunts and other holidays I cherished spending with him. For a good portion of the time living with my brother, it was painfully obvious I was always an outsider. I wasn’t one of their children. I was a plus one and not always welcome. Jake being a little boy was oblivious to that. To Jake, I was Bruncle.
As my friend finished the tattoo, the pain almost unbearable, I got out of the chair and went to the mirror. She wiped away the blood and there it was. An eight ball with a ‘J’ in the middle. A Magic Jake Ball for me to carry with me wherever I go.