7:00 AM – I haven’t seen a morning since the summer. It’s weird to watch the sky change. ——-
Last night my mother called me. Her voice was quite, shaken,
weak. She was unsure of what to say. She was hesitant.
“I didn’t know whether I should call,” she said.
“Well, it’s too late now,” I said.
“Just tell me,” I said.
I knew what it was. My uncle, he’s been sick for about three
months now, dying of cancer. I guess he wasn’t really dying, because
everybody was just finding out about it. I mean everybody is always
dying, but I mean, I guess you don’t start dying until there’s no hope
So that was why my mother called. For three months, my uncle
has been in limbo, going back and forth to the Mayo Clinic, getting
tests, surgery, more tests. He had a bunch of cancer. They got rid of
it. It grew back. That’s what my mother needed to tell me. That Uncle
Mike wasn’t really in limbo anymore. That he was going to die. Soon.
God. I look at the paragraph, and I mean, what does it mean?
He’s going to die. Soon. He’s going to die. Soon. I don’t know what
that means. Nineteen years old, a morbid beat who diddles in Kerouac
and grows out his beard, the great white hope, the brilliant
playwright, at least among Boyettes, the Ivy League son of
sharecroppers and salesmen, and oh, how I loved to dance with Death,
oh, how I relished in tragedy, yearned for catharsis, and I look at
that paragraph, and I don’t know what it means.
He’s going to die. Soon.
He has four children. The oldest, my cousin Sam, who was really
my first brother, will be fifteen. The youngest – Jenny – my last
sister, in a way, well, she’s what, three now? Two? I think she’s
three. Three makes sense.
In the middle, Rebecca and Jacob.
Rebecca must be what, twelve now? Pushing it anyway. Becky –
God, when she was little, she used to love me. They all did. Now I
don’t even know what she wants to be called.
Jacob, Jacob, Jacob. Seven. He is seven. But he’s a young
seven, maybe, and Jacob was always so full of anger, so teeming with
darkness. I loved Jacob. He was the first baby to be born after I had
gained a little bit of maturity and perspective on the world. Not a lot
of maturity of perspective. But enough.
I remember baby-sitting all of them once, and it was after
Jenny was born, and she only loved her mother, like I once only loved
my mother, and I was watching her, and Sam, like any big brother, I
don’t know, I guess he was picking on Jake, like I pick on my little
brother, and I don’t know, I don’t remember the circumstances not
really, but I do remember Jake walking into the living room, holding a
knife, and saying he was going to kill himself.
I took the knife away from him. Did I tell Aunt Karen and Uncle
Mike? I think I did. I must have. It seems like that should have been a
bigger deal, Jacob, who was probably four, holding a knife, and saying
he was going to kill himself. Right? Isn’t that a bigger deal?
Shouldn’t that be a bigger deal?
I told my mother. I told Aunt Karen and Uncle Mike. And I tried
not to babysit for them as much. I didn’t want to deal with it.
Jacob and I don’t really look the same, but there was something
about us, something about staring at my baby pictures and then staring
at him – it was haunting. I always sort of felt it meant something,
that he looked like me, that we were the blond babies with the curly
hair. My hair is no longer blond, and it’s only sometimes curly, so I
don’t know, looking at Jacob, it was like looking in a mirror of time.
Jacob was a moving baby picture. A moving baby picture of myself.
But I never held a knife up to my throat, did I, Mom? I never
said I wanted to die, did I? I don’t want to die. It’s still my biggest
fear. That scares me sometimes – because I don’t want to live because I
want to live. I want to live because I don’t want to die.
Uncle Mike is going to die. Soon.
In my crazy psycho-shattered dreamlife, I think its all
connected, that the world is revolving around this moment, this state
of grace, and I’m standing there, right on the outside watching it.
I was eating dinner with my family, throwing out pseudo-babble
and philosophy, really getting off on my own intelligence, just
throwing some crazy shit out there, really excited about the new year
starting and all, and really feeling like I was in some sort of Zen
state, this electric feeling like I was ready to be enlightened.
And like some callous asshole who’s got it all figured out, I
told my family the meaning of life. I told them that I wasn’t really
scared of death anymore, that I thought that maybe the mind never
really died, that the mind couldn’t handle death, so that really, you
just spend that last final moment in an eternity of your memories.
It was half-assed bullshit existential nonsense, cribbed from
comics, movies, and maybe one or two great works of literature. I was
damn pleased with myself, let me tell you that. “If life were deeper
and not wider, we would never die” I said. I told my parents I was
going to go start my own religion with that shit. This is a running
joke between me and my parents, a sort of low-brow self-ironic
And then, the moment passed, I was no longer the star, and
dinner conversation turned to my uncle.
I don’t really understand why I had never heard about it. He
hadn’t been feeling well all summer, I had seen him at the beginning, I
had thought he had seemed fine, but I don’t know, after he went back to
San Diego, he had gone in for tests to see what was wrong.
The doctors said it was nothing, like the doctors always do.
Second opinion. (What’s with opinions anyway? Is that really
what a diagnosis is? An opinion?) Dinner Table. My mother tells me that
Uncle Mike is going to get the test results soon.
The test results of what?
You didn’t know? Uncle Mike has been sick all summer.
What? How come I didn’t hear about this? And I had no idea
then. But you know, I really wasn’t around that much this summer, I
really wasn’t interested, I was just going out, getting high, not
really thinking about much of anything really. I guess it wasn’t so
ridiculous that something like that would slip through the cracks of my
summer. I’m nineteen.
“If I had a girlfriend, I’d be living the life of a rock star.”
That was my clever summer summary, a slightly depressing, but then
again, refreshing look at a summer full of both malaise and music, a
drug dream full of sound and fury that really, when you got right down
to it, signified nothing.
Dinner table. Sorry. DIGRESSION. When I was in Israel for my
junior year of high school, me and Elly we used to sit downstairs,
studying for tests, working on her papers, and just talking, just
talking, and I guess it was mostly me that was talking, but hell, she
was doing a whole lot of listening, and we were always getting off on
these rants, and we both loved Catcher in the Rye, and do you remember
that part about the kid in oratory class or whatever, and he’s trying
to tell this story, and he keeps on digressing, and they keep on
yelling at him, and he keeps on digressing –
The week before I went to school I had lunch with Elly. She
wore a low-cut shirt, and I wondered what it meant. But I had decided
long ago that I was done with Elly Green, for a single slight that was
my doing not hers, and who knows what could have happened if I’d played
my cards right, and maybe she was sending me these signals, and O, what
have I lost? What have I forsaken? It’s a digression. It’s a digression.
The whole thing was a digression. But the point is that, those
digressions, falling in love with Elly, falling in love with being
listened to, that was what I loved about Israel. And nothing happened
with Elly. She loved someone else back then, and I wouldn’t fight for
her, I didn’t think she wanted me to, and maybe she did and maybe she
didn’t, but I should have tried, if it mattered to me, if she mattered
to me, I should have tried, and maybe she didn’t matter to me, but I
don’t think that’s true. I think I loved her. I think my heart beat
faster when I saw her.
Love turns to lust. Through the marriage bed runs a river deep
and profound. Romulus Linney said that. Dante to Romulus, to Danny’s Uncle Remus,
and a dream is just a rebus, from the inside staring out.
I don’t think I love her anymore. My mother says love is a
choice, and its really not that hard to fall out of love. I think I
believe her. I think that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. Falling
into love when I thought I should, falling out when I thought I had to.
And now a nineteen old virgin, and all my loves are unrequited, and
sometimes I wonder if I’m good, if I’m worth loving. Sometimes I wonder
what I want.
DINNER TABLE DIGRESSION and we’re back there, at the White Dog
Café, sitting around a table, in a dark booth, where I ordered a steak
without the vegetables, just the way I like it. My sister was leaving
for Israel in a couple days. It was Friday, September 7th. Her summer
romance, Mitch, one of my roommates, was there also. I was trying not
to rag on him, but it was tough, man, a guy my age, dating my little
And the conversation turns to Uncle Mike and I learn that he is
sick, that he is going in for testing again. This is the first I’ve
heard about it. My mother apologizes, but no one is really sure how it
happened, how I somehow missed the memo.
And everything I’ve said before, my entire philosophy, it just
goes out the window. But I try not to think about that. Nothing is
definite, nothing is true, and Uncle Mike is still healthy, and he’s
just going in for tests.
Was it that night? I don’t know.
Maybe it was the next night. We walked around, we went to a
bunch of frat parties, I was chilling with girls, something I never do,
and they were cute too. God. If I had played my cards right, I probably
could have hooked up that night. Of course I don’t know poker from gin,
and I’m not really a good card player even when I know the rules, so
the chances were slim.
The first frat party got busted. We hopped a fence and snuck
out through the next door neighbor’s house. That was really nice of
2:45 PM: And I’m back, hours later, woken up from a morning sleep, and I guess I’ll get on with the story without too much more digression. —–
The first frat party got busted. We hopped a fence and snuck out through the next door neighbor’s house. It was weird. That girl, the one who’s house it was, she was probably the first person I met not in my hall, last year. We never became friends, I never really ran into her again, but there I was, walking slowly through her living room while the Campus Police was checking IDs and breath right next door.
We walked around a little bit, until the ruckus died down, and then we were standing on a street corner, in between parties, waiting to see where we would go next, when Mitch checked his cell phone.
“Your sister called me. Should I call her back?” he asked.
Why did he ask me? That one is really up to him.
“I guess so,” I said.
He called her back. They talked. And that’s how I found out.
“Man, your uncle is sick. I’m sorry.”
And that was that. That’s how I found out. Like that, the world started to close in on me, to smother me, and thoughts long buried threatened to bubble forth, and all my fears and all my worries, they were starting to boil over, and I was in the middle of Beige Block, between frat parties, staring at girls I wouldn’t hook up with, and now my Uncle has cancer? Two days ago, the world was perfect, and now my uncle has cancer?
The horrible part about it was that I was distant enough from Uncle Mike that I could stay detached. Oh, I love him, I really do, I probably have a closer connection with Uncle Mike than with my blood uncles, I mean our two families, we lived around the block from each other, but they had moved away, and I had gone to college, and you know graduating is like dying anyway, so I really felt like I wasn’t going to see them that much anyway.
Now he was dying.
I went to class Monday, my first screenwriting class, where I was told I had to write an eight to twelve page screenplay, I had to make it vivid, I had to make it interesting.
Walking back from class, I threw out idea after idea, but it all kept coming back to Uncle Mike. But it’s not exploitation, it’s a memorial, it’s an honorarium. All I could come up with was the story of a man who was asked to die before his time.
I decided I would make him a hero, a man who had faced down disease and emerged on the other side, a man who knew how much time he had left, and then was asked to put that time on the line, to sacrifice it all for some noble goals of heroism and truth.
Fuck that shit.
Uncle Mike wasn’t behaving like a hero. He was dying. He was himself. He was ornery. He was stubborn. That’s what I hear. He goes to work. I can’t imagine it. The world goes on. But that’s a digression. It’s still Monday, the night of my first screenwriting class, and no one knows, no one knows but Mitch, and I go to bed thinking that the world is so happy and I am so sad.
I wake up the next morning. I have a directing class at 10:30, so I’m up at 9:00. I take a shower. I take my time. I’m probably out by 9:15. I go over to my computer, check the weather, check my email. Jaimie sent me an instant message, and it just stared at me, a little window of little importance.
“If you haven’t heard about the planes, turn on the TV.”
I figured something had happened. A plane crash, or something.
Closer to something.
I turned on the TV. The Pentagon was under attack. The Twin Towers were burning. I remember staring at the smoking gashes in the towers, gashes I had seen in one movie after another, and I remember wondering how long it would take to repair them.
I went to the bathroom. My roommates were waking up. While I was away from the TV, the first tower fell.
I sat there, staring at the TV.
I went to class. People were shaken. Afraid. The rest of classes were canceled. And suddenly, the entire world was in mourning. The entire world was changed.
My mother called me later, crying. Uncle Michael, well he had been slated to fly to Mayo Clinic that day, but now the planes were all grounded, and who knows for how long.
I did what I had to do. I got out of Dodge.
——– Finis 3:08 PM