What I want to tell her is this: it’s fitting, perfectly, that you who so assiduously hid the past from me, your past and mine, now bars your entry, refusing you even the briefest glimpse. You want so to grab onto it to have it carry you to a place removed from here by time and distance, where it is warm and most of the time, cozy. It is also fitting that you call out his name, as though he was in the yard pruning a tree, delaying dinner, the same he you cursed glad to have him out of your life and out of your house, you wished him dead so that you might call yourself a widow and share condolences with the other black draped women. You never mentioned the six months of foster care or the little sister who came and went so quickly when he had the audacity to drop dead on you one morning. This is what I would say to her, this is the curse I would place upon her but she no longer recognizes me, I am no more than a well dressed orderly come to remove her lunch tray.
I have fond memories of a childhood I never lived. Those are the best childhoods from for they reflect life as you meant it to be lived. In this life my father is in his late nineties, still smiles when he sees me, not didn’t clutch his chest sixty-one years ago, didn’t fall to the floor, didn’t leave me half an orphan again, doesn’t live only in the periphery of my dreams.
Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan yesterday morning, when my father slipped away from his morphine dreams. Some would argue I cannot be an orphan at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved for children, but I am long past admitting my age, and my behavior gives no lie to my claim of childhood. I will continue to miss him, for his dementia stole him memory by memory over the years, and I was left to fill the void with stories of my childhood, remembered and imagined, to him there was no difference. I can now fully mourn my birth mother, gone for years before I found her, and my birth father, who I can now claim and at the same time assume dead, more a commentary on my advancing age than any reflection on him, save in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren. And now the two men who adopted me and the woman they really wanted, and I are no longer part of the same package.
I don’t know why my mother gave me up at birth or how many cousins walk the streets of Lisbon or where I lost my first tooth I don’t know what became of the nickel or why the tooth fairy was so tight or who will wash the blood from the streets of Basra I don’t know how my Walkman eats batteries like Hostess Twinkies or why fungus grows underground or why the Somali child stares through starving eyes I don’t know why my dough rises, only to fall mockingly, or why forced to eat matzoh, the Jews didn’t go back to Egypt or why I poke my sore knee to insure it hurts
I don’t know my birthright name.
First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 141, October 2004.
In this place there is a fatted, sacrificial silence. It is the large Jewish Cemetery nestling the road where Maryland and the District are loosely stitched together. It is a small plot goldenrod dirt outskirting Lisbon.
This ground is sacred not for the blessing of one who has taken the tallit of holiness. The sanctity of this ground leaches from the simple pine boxes that return with the body to the soil.
The stones, mostly simple with neatly incised Hebrew inscriptions are all blank to me, worn smooth by memory denied. I place my ear carefully to each, wanting to hear a voice, a fractured whisper that will resonate in the hollow spaces.
I pass by those with shared names for if he or she is here each must share the isolation they willed me. I look at the faces of passing mourners — none resemble the morning mirror.
I grow tired of the search, sit in the paltry shade of the ricinus plant knowing we both will be gone by sundown.
First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.