I’m at my father’s bedside, his hand resting in mine. His skin feels thin, but his nails grow thick and long, creeping a half inch beyond the rounded flesh. They’re the only part of him that seems healthy. How can the nails keep growing like this when his heart pumps barely enough blood to keep him alive?
I was never able to answer my mother when she asked how her Holocaust experience had affected me. And she deserves my good-faith attempt, albeit these many years late.
I am waiting to turn left at an intersection. A driver cuts me off, we make eye contact, and I am caught in the endless loop of a memory I thought I had left behind eight years ago in Afghanistan. I begin to feel panicked.
I was twenty-six, working full time at the Bagelry in suburban Chicago, avoiding the future. The future did not seem like anything you could count on. Even in suburban Chicago, where Public Works employees smiled while scraping up roadkill, people were unhappy, desperate to convince themselves of something good. Desperate.
When my father died, he left two letters in separate envelopes, both marked “To be opened at my death.” One is addressed to my brother and me. The other is to his wife.
A Tribute To Brian Doyle
You believed that everything is a form of prayer, including laughter, including tears. Yes, you were a reverential man, but you weren’t stiff or boring or preachy or dour. Your essays were both concise — often just a page in length — and lush, your sentences as intricate and twisty as plants in a terrarium. You combined prose and poem (and prayer, you said) to bear witness to the miracles around us.
On Reading The Papers Of Richard M. Stites, Esq., At The Georgia Historical Society In Savannah
I spread out your charts, your ledgers, your bug-eaten accounts, the ones cataloged and filed in acid-free folders. The room where I sit, Mr. Stites, is not far from the room where you yourself must have sat, sweat-stained, surrounded by your law books, sleeves rolled up, face sopping wet, bent over your volumes. Adding, subtracting, calculating, measuring, devising. Not far from where your slaves stood in pens waiting to be sold.