“To all those who don’t like the idea of me as president, I say, they will get used to it.”
— Bashir Gemayel, new president of the Republic of Lebanon, spoken moments before he was assassinated on September 14, 1982.
Today I stare at the faint outline of a rectangle in the grass where you were buried recently. Everything is patched up, tidy, so level and flat it would make a seamstress proud, so different from those fresh graves of my childhood in the Midwest, topped by large mounds of earth. Through the months they gradually settled, making me think the ground was getting used to the body, the body was getting used to the ground. But now the ground and your body have melded in an instant, as if nothing ever happened here, and I’m having a hard time getting used to it. I remember each August when Mother would deposit my sister and me at the College of Beauty in Sioux Falls to have our hair “fixed” for school. On the walls were pictures of glamorous women with hair tamed into smooth pageboys. It looked easy to become beautiful, but for us it was hours of unskilled hands fighting our fine hair onto permanent rollers, slathering on chemicals that choked like the smell of a henhouse in winter. When Mother came to pick us up and saw our faces haloed by the too-short, frizzed hair, she said: Oh well, in a little while you’ll get used to it. We got used to new teachers at school, being too tall, shoes and dresses that arrived in the mail from Montgomery Ward’s catalog a bit off in size and color, the gloomy blue paint on our bedroom walls that looked nothing like the sky blue on the paint chart, the winter cold. We had good examples in the cattle who stood in the barnyard in winter with ice crystals on their eyelashes, knee-deep in snowdrifts. They got used to being crowded into pens, weaned, and castrated. Or we could look at the boy in my high-school class who got used to going without lunch because he didn’t have the twenty-five cents, who in winter wore a red-plaid jacket, barely more than a shirt, saying he was used to the cold. When, at age twenty-six, he hung himself in his garage, I wondered if he had run up against something he couldn’t get used to. My uncle Bob, who worked at John Morrell & Co., said that after a while you get so used to the smell of death — warm guts and burned flesh — you can eat your baloney sandwich at lunch without noticing a thing.