when joe died, my father received a series of phone calls from a neighbor.
phone call 1: joe had collapsed.
phone call 2: joe was unconscious.
phone call 3: joe could not be revived.
phone call 4: the coroner had come.
in between these phone calls, my father called my mother to relay to her the information contained in these phone calls.
neither of them called me. they were, they said later, waiting for the story to develop.
the end result of this is that when my father did finally call, the story had not only developed but its telling had crystallized.
this was, by that point, the way this story was told:
plot point 1: joe collapsed.
plot point 2: joe is unconscious.
plot point 3: joe cannot be revived.
plot point 4: the coroner has come.
in speaking with me, my father relayed this in the continuous present and in this order. so that, rather than being told my grandfather had died, i was instead told that he had collapsed, was unconscious, could not be revived, and the coroner had come.
there came a point in this conversation where i silenced my father and said, wait, has joe died?
it was that unclear. not because it was unexpected- really, it wasn't- but because the story telling was so shifty. there was nothing to hold on to.
if joe were dead, how could he have died over the course of this single phone call?
i thought this was an aberration. i wonder now though if it isn't just the way my parents tell stories in extenuating circumstances or quasi-trying times.
or, alternatively, the way they tell stories for me.
in relaying bad news, my mother and father try to curate the fire, softening the flames through which the bad news will inevitably thrust me. so that, as i stand in the midst of it, i stand there wondering: but, wait, is this even a fire?
there is a shielding at play here. through fuzzy words, words that skirt the reality and muddle it. making it impossible to discern precisely what is being said but also, i think, intended to make what is being said more bearable.
there is an intent here that does not quite align with the effect.
my father had what appeared to be a fairly significant health scare at some point in the recent past- recent enough that i can't quite remember precisely when it was because the recent past has been such a blur, but it must've some time between my submission and the viva.
he went to the doctor. they found something. it wound up being something treatable, livable, and our lives went on. but the space between the phone call saying they'd found something and the doctor's appointment which revealed what they'd found was punctuated by another of these conversations.
in part, because my mother had planned not to tell me about this and i weaseled it out of her. in weaseling, i was rewarded with a story that made very little sense.
a story that involved all of the words but one, towards which all signs seemed to point.
a story in the middle of which i had to stop her and say, but, wait, is it cancer?
to which she replied, but you know we ALL have SOME cancer cells within us. a statement from which i do not think one can be expected to draw comfort and one which no one in my family had ever uttered previously, but which suddenly, briefly, emerged as a constant refrain. (praise be that events moved on and my mother has ceased to remind me that we are all made of cancer cells.)
but i am reminded of how three is a tricky number. the impulse being always to two up.
in such cases, someone is left out. i cannot bear for it to be me, possibly precisely because it has so seldom been.
and it seems this is the dynamic when these stories emerge. it is always, in some way, me trying to pry into a story my parents have constructed together or a story they have already passed through without me.
it seems perhaps also that it is to do with temperament. the disjointedness of their stories is not entirely unlike the time debo laid on the bed for 15 minutes before telling me she'd crashed the funeral of claude pascale.
to me, always, the most shocking element of that story has been that she didn't immediately share it upon her return. i know i would not have waited. there would have been a story in me and i would have needed, as soon as possible, to get it out, to tell it and to get it down.
debo holds things close. as the bible says of the virgin mary: "to ponder these things in her heart." or, more likely, to deny, deny, deny as long as possible, then share as gently as she can.
garebear- whose ultimate aim in life is to fix everything for everyone- shares a similar impulse to order the story, to make it make sense, and only then to put it out there.
this points to some other way in which they are like one another and i am not like them.
in which case, of course, i would find their story-telling baffling. coming at me, as it does, full-on, like a fire-ball.
WE ARE ALL FULL OF CANCER CELLS.
JOE'S COLLAPSED/UNCONSCIOUS/UNREVIVABLE/THE CORONER IS HERE.
it develops too quickly. the narrative escalation is too steep. there is nothing to hold on.
that this is the way i have chosen to write biographical narrative is hilarifying.