My mother is crying so loud that at first I can’t make out what she’s saying, her voice made tinny and small in the phone. Finally I pick his name from the sine wave of her wailing, and I know my brother Lev is dead. My guts constrict, wrapping into a knot, and I feel the air rush out of me, and then I am no longer quite standing. I let her go on for a while as I struggle to control my breathing, eyes tilted skyward to stem the tears, back pressed to the cool cracked plastic of the refrigerator. When she’s out of breath I hear my father, his low baritone cracked with hurt, muttering, to me or my mother or both. After a while I start to hear his words, hear ‘shiva’, and my guts twist again, counterclockwise this time. He is talking to me.
They want me to come home.
I land just in time for the funeral, crossing the continent in a few bleary eyed hours, and I arrive at the cemetery still wearing the sweaty reek of the plane’s cabin on my clothes. The coffin is almost into the ground before I can fully grasp what it means. That this is my brother’s body, and that he is dead, and this is forever. I’m still mulling this over, spinning it in my head like a smooth stone, when we arrive at the home we grew up in. I place my bags onto a familiar bed that looks smaller than it should, and then I return to the ground floor where I shake hands, and nod politely to a swirling fog of strange and aged faces from my childhood.
I answer the same questions over and over again, my job, my life, the past 20 years. There’s a rhythm to the answers I soon nail, and then I no longer have to think about the responses. The faces drift away with the daylight, and when the house is dark and empty, everything sharpens and solidifies. Every where I twist my eyes, something triggers a tiny explosion of images and memories. A dented baseboard. Dull silver on a salt shaker. View full article »