Family and Relationships
When I first met Fred, I didn’t know he’d be a thorn in my side for twenty years. I didn’t know yet what Dostoyevsky had meant when he’d said, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” I didn’t know yet that the parts of us that are the most painful, the most difficult, the least susceptible to healing are the very parts that bind us most to others.
I was five years old the first time I saw the total interconnected harmonic clockwork of the cosmos, and it happened again when I was seven or eight, and possibly once more when I was reading the great philosophers and experimenting with hallucinogens in my late teens.
Long past midnight Sam parted his mosquito net. He’d been in Namibia for a month, and each night he lay awake, listening to the corrugated-metal roof ping and the cinder-block walls pop as they cooled. He couldn’t adjust to his new surroundings: the language, the climate, the rural isolation.
My English wasn’t always this good. Once, I stood before an impatient pharmacist, touching my son’s throat and saying, “Sick,” and, “Help.” I stuttered in fear buying a bus pass or a sack of oranges. I set a microwave dinner afire on the stovetop because I couldn’t read the four sentences of instructions.
Danny James was a short, wiry, good-natured convict with a handlebar mustache and a marine haircut. At forty-six he started losing weight and having trouble with his coordination. After a plague of tests, the doctor told him that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease and that it was terminal. He had six months to live.
Everyone who came over said of the cherry, “Great tree,” especially in July, when its fruit started to ripen. The squirrels and the birds took the lion’s share, mocking me by dropping half-eaten cherries on the patio and the lawn. I ate only the ones I could reach simply by pulling down a branch and plucking. I’d had Rainier cherries from the store, but these fruits were a surprise: the flesh so sweet and yet so complex; the firm skin giving way to the textured meat beneath; almost like a golden plum, but small and round and mine.
My mother and I had been in the apartment four days when the sink broke and Zelensky came by to fix it. He had lived in the building for seventeen years — much longer than anyone else, as I understood it — and had some kind of arrangement where he helped out the landlady, who was unmarried, with basic maintenance.
Before the war you actually had to ask people’s names to know who they were. Now you can just observe what side of the river they live on. On the east side are the Bosniaks — Muslim citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the west are Croats, Catholic by faith. The two groups split my hometown of Mostar down the middle like an overripe pomegranate.
The gal looked young in the body and old in the face standing alongside I-80 with a flowered suitcase held over her head to block the sun. Stop! Darrell said when we drove by her, but Jake didn’t take his foot off the gas. She’s not such a looker, gentle Glenn whispered. He was by me in the back seat. They all look the same when they’re talking to your johnson, Darrell told him. He rolled his window down and hung his head out to stare at her disappearing shape.