It’s a beautiful pre-summer’s day with the temperature going to the mid-eighties. A welcome relief after a harsh winter and a spring that was more like autumn. I can survey a portion of this summery scene from my living room window which overlooks the harbor and all that’s in it, and part of it all the way to the Verrazano Bridge and a smidgen of the Jersey Highlands, where the Atlantic Ocean begins. As I look at the scene in front of me, the details blur; and though I’m aware of what I am looking at, I slip back in time. Old people frequently do that. Time is like a second-story man, a thief. He puts his gun to your head and squeezes the trigger; your mind both explodes and implodes at the same instant. Memories shoot up like geysers, some are too confused to untangle and some come up fresh, as if the event happened yesterday or years before.
The faces are there, but not the names, though sometimes there’s a match between a face and a dead buddy. And all the things that happened during the war come crashing through the barriers between then and now.
The family dead are always there: Anita’s parents, her brothers, aunts, and uncles. My dead are fewer: my parents and my three sisters, sometimes Uncle Max, my father’s brother.
But this year, for some unknown reason, my dead son is there. I rarely think of him. I never saw him alive. He is not buried anywhere except in my memory and Anita’s. He never really lived. On Memorial Day weekend sixty years ago, he came out of Anita’s womb in bloody chunks that were quickly wrapped in newspapers and immediately incinerated. In her fifth month, Anita hemorrhaged. Whatever was done was done to save her life. My balled fist was her anesthesia; she bit down on it so hard she drew blood.
Both our sets of parents came to our apartment. Her father, already a dying man, was very quiet. Each of our mothers wept, and did their best to take care of Anita. My father, a taciturn man, sat mutely in a club chair until he suddenly said, “This is all because you started to shave when you were too young to do it.” His words stunned me, wounded me. Instantly I shot back with, “You’re fucking kidding.” The words were loosed before I could stop them, before I could think of their consequence. My father’s face turned a grayish white; he shook his head, left the chair he sat on, and walked out of the apartment. I followed him. We crossed Bedford Avenue, and he sat on the steps of Midwood High School. I put my arm around his shoulder and he buried his face in his hands and cried; I did too.
All of those experiences were right there in front of me, and I began to quietly weep. Later, I mentioned the memory to Anita. She nodded and in a whisper said, “I remembered too.”
There was nothing more I could say or wanted to say.