The Story I Was Asked Not to Write
For a moment, I think he's talking about my writing career, my books. Then I understand. I look at him, at his unrelenting profile, so much like my own. Yes, it is a shame – and no, it is not. It is simply what it is. Meaning is the color of whatever lens we happen to wear when we look at our lives. "Such a shame," my father says again, and his voice, which is gentler now, breaks. And I realize he has carried this thought for a long time, a weight every bit as constant, as distracting, as my own physical pain. I see him at nineteen, working in his father's fields, so tired that by noon he must return to the house. I watch as he sits down on the porch steps, too weak to go inside. Thinking, "What the hell is the matter with me?" Thinking, "Am I losing my mind?" Thinking, "If only I work a little harder I'm sure I can shake this off." He entered the san as a young man with prospects; he left at twenty-one, missing most of one lung, with no idea what he would do next. Men his age were heading for Korea. Women his age awaited their return, rings shining on their fingers. He had toppled out of his life the way, someday, I would topple out of mine. He would start over, work his way up from entry-level sales, start his own company. He would fall in love and have children. He would stand in the doorway of his oldest, the excitable one, the one so full of energy that, as a child, she'd prowled the house in her sleep, and he'd tell her that, someday, she'd look back on this time of stillness and it would be nothing at all. You'll start over, he assured me. You'll catch up. You'll find a way to turn all of this to your advantage.
I remember how he took my photograph – over my protests – sitting in my first power wheelchair. "To look back on," he said. "After you get better. After you don't need things like this anymore."