Goodbye, Uncle Al. You attended all of my first six birthday parties, and we had a blast. I thought you’d never pass away until the end of things, some Jesus of the roast beef restaurant. But you left, and it hurt. Well, I swear I never loved you anyway–good riddance, you old damn reptile.

I used the water bottle you gave me all the way into middle school. It sweated mercilessly on hot days, one more awkward accoutrement to prevent me from feeling comfortable in gym class. There were the double-layered nylon shorts (I still don’t know if they ever did fit), the deodorant from Big Lots–Jovan White Musk for Men, and your stupid, oversized “Rax” water bottle.

“Rax,” Uncle Al? Really? What kind of a name is that for a restaurant? But I did love your roast beef sandwiches–better than Arby’s and whoever else’s. I’d coat them with ketchup like I also coated my fries.

And you did, like I said, liven up my first few birthday parties. I appreciate it. But then you left, like so many people have left. All I have now is a home-recorded VHS to prove you were there. It was filmed by a friend’s dad, whose fingernails were long & grimy enough that I wasn’t surprised when he left the family for a woman he’d met online. He wasn’t invited to his son’s wedding, much to everyone’s relief. The son teaches high school chemistry in Cleveland now, happily married, all grown up. But you, I thought you’d never go.

Well, Uncle Al, I’ve discovered that you’ve still got a Rax on Route 68, outside of Bellefontaine. So it’s not that you’re gone, you’ve just gone away. I suppose we all need to leave at some point–at least those of us who are different.

I hope you’ve found a place where you feel at ease just being your alligator self. I hope you’re somewhere you’re unafraid to feel happy in, Uncle Al. If you are, you’ll be happy to hear that I am, too. And that, while I still appreciate the times we shared, I’ve surrendered them to the past. No nostalgia can retrieve them now, I know. They’re gone, you’re gone, and I too have left the place we knew together. Goodbye, Uncle Al, you alligator mascot with your roast beef restaurants. And thanks for the memories.