Nobody’s Son

Beautiful piece in the New Yorker by Mark Slouka about the death of his father. Stopped me in my tracks today. Maybe this will explain why:

It needs to be said: in some strange way, my father’s death has made the thought of dying easier. The door opened, and he walked through it successfully; the land of the dead is a peopled place for me now because he’s there, somewhere. And, because he’s done it, because he’s pulled this thing off, it’s become conceivable for me as well. Hell, if the old man can do it, I can do it.

It’s an unexpected gift, this release from fear—it’s like a gentling touch, a father’s voice. He lifts you onto his lap, presses your head to his chest, pets your hair. You can hear his heart. Sh-h-h, sh-h-h, it’s O.K., it’s O.K., it’s O.K., he says as your sobs begin to slow, then catch, then slow some more. Don’t cry. There’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing at all. We all must die. Accept, accept.

And I just might, except that this is not my father’s voice, which is as alive to me as anything in this world. This is something very different, a flowering as deceptive as cancer, blooming in the light of his loss. A flowering fed on self-pity and orphaned love.

Accept? My father was irritated by death, chafed at and ignored it. It was an annoyance, an inconvenience. He fought it to a standstill, refused the morphine of the ages. Harps and virgins? Please. Oblivion would do fine, thank you. In the meantime, there was injustice and stupidity to perforate, cruelty to expose, the absurd and gorgeous carnival of the world to watch going by.

“What is this sickly sentimentality?” he’d say to me, “this weakening at the knees? I was old. I died. It’s to be regretted—certainly by me—but so what? Think of me when you need to, that’s more than enough. Now pour me another and get out of here—don’t you have somewhere to go?”

Six months in, the heart, the soul, the spine, begin to regenerate. Slowly. In moments of weakness, his voice saves me, which is appropriate. He was my father. Is.