Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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Lee Martin is the author of four novels, including The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. His third memoir, Such a Life, is due out this year. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and teaches in the creative-writing program at Ohio State, where he forces students to listen to his corny jokes and admire his collection of windup toys.
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
The Sumner Press, the weekly paper from my hometown in southeastern Illinois, continues to arrive in my mailbox in Ohio even though I’m not a subscriber. A few years ago, when my wife and I were the grand marshals for the Sumner fall-festival parade, the publisher gave us a complimentary one-year subscription. The subscription has run out, but the paper keeps coming, as if a higher power has decided I need it in my life.
Before Hippocrates and his Corpus — a collection of some sixty medical treatises that marked the birth of modern medicine — the ancient Greeks investigated illness by asking the question “Who causes this sickness?” The answer was often a capricious or malevolent deity. The Hippocratics dissolved this notion, professing instead the theory that the human body was comprised of four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.
My mother, my uncle tells me, has lost her wits. She lets a group of neighborhood kids into her house. They steal from her. Worse yet, she gives them money. Blank checks. She signs the checks, and these kids fill in whatever amounts they want. “They’re robbing her,” he says, “robbing her blind.”
One night when I was sixteen, my father got out of bed, went into the living room, and fell to the floor. He was a big man, and from my own bed I heard the noise and felt the house shake and heard my mother call out, “Roy! Roy! My word!”