I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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There wasn’t supposed to be any funeral. He didn’t want a funeral, but my sister-in-law had planned a memorial service at my mother’s house anyway, and, while I couldn’t get a read on my mother’s feelings about it, I knew my father would have hated it, just as I knew that he would have humored my sister-in-law because, he would have said, sometimes it’s not about the truth. Sometimes it’s about kindness. Especially when it comes to family. That’s what he’d said to me a few years before he died, not like it was a profound truth or anything, but like fishing advice, like, Wait till the end of your cast to snap your wrist. He’d made the remark on New Year’s Eve. My brother had just called to make amends for punching me in the face the summer before. I’d been drunk that summer, drunk when he’d hit me, so I’d had it coming, I’m sure, but by New Year’s Eve I’d gotten sober, and everyone was cautiously optimistic. It was my first sober New Year’s, and I was in Arizona visiting our parents when my brother called, drunk, to make amends and tell me he was proud of me for getting sober. I said OK and thanks and I loved him too and so on, and then I went out to the living room and found my father still up. He’d gone to bed early, but he was up again, said he never could get much sleep anymore. He was watching some kind of cop movie with people shooting each other and beating each other’s faces bloody, and I told him about the call and how it was funny, my brother being drunk, telling me he was proud of me for being sober, and my father said I’d done the right thing, being gracious. His own brother was dumb as a post, he said, referring to my uncle Ray, my favorite uncle, a stoner fuckup who’d once been a musical prodigy but was now, as my father said, dumb as a post, always calling up drunk to say one stupid thing or another, to complain about his life or make crass jokes, trying to feel connected to someone, and you just had to listen to him and say, Yeah, I know, things are tough, and laugh at his jokes as though you hadn’t heard them a thousand times, because sometimes, like my father said, it wasn’t about the truth. Sometimes it was about being kind. And because my father had said that, I knew he would have told me to be gracious about the memorial service, even though he’d never wanted a funeral of any kind, least of all a pagan funeral with candles and mealymouthed speeches like the one my sister-in-law had planned. The night before the event we were having dinner with my mother at the house in Arizona — my wife, my sister-in-law, my brother, and me — and my sister-in-law was explaining how the service would go, who would say what and when, and she asked my wife, my Mormon wife, if she wanted to say something during this pagan funeral, and before my wife could say anything, I told her she didn’t have to. There’s no reason you gotta take part in this circus, I said, without realizing that this would be an insult to my sister-in-law, that describing the thing as a circus was the same as shitting all over it. I was just trying to protect my wife, who was still relatively new to the family and not accustomed to our eccentricities. I worried that it would infringe on her religious beliefs to participate in a pagan funeral. That’s why I said it. Unless, of course, I said it because I did, in fact, think it was a circus, and here at the table I had the opportunity to let everyone know. Bad business, that, but my wife said she would sing, so that night we practiced. I played the guitar and she sang “On Eagle’s Wings,” a song I’d picked because I’d heard it at my grandmother’s funeral, and my grandmother was Catholic, and when my father went to the hospital and they asked him for his religious preference, he said, Catholic, and they sent a Catholic priest and my father sent him away, saying, No, no. I’m not Catholic. I prefer Catholics. My wife is Catholic. My kids are Catholic, he said, even though in truth neither my brother nor I had practiced for years. That was, in fact, why my father had told me it was OK — good, even — to marry a Mormon, in spite of my Catholic mother’s objections. Your kids won’t be Mormon, he said. They’ll grow out of it the same way you guys grew out of Catholicism. But it’ll give them some kind of moral foundation. That shit is difficult to teach without religion, he said, and that’s why he was concerned about my niece, my brother’s daughter, because she was being raised without religion, as far as he could tell, and therefore without morals. So my wife and I practiced our song. She sang, He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, and I played guitar, and we had it more or less nailed by the time people started coming over for the memorial the next day. But how was it, I wondered, that my sister-in-law’s face had remained blank when I’d called the whole affair a circus? How was it that, at the dinner table, after my brother had cleared his plate and it was just the four of us — my wife, my sister-in-law, my mother, and me — how was it that she’d been so unaffected? Only my wife had said something. Dewey, she’d said, Hannah’s gone to all this trouble to plan a memorial for your father, and you just called it a circus, and before I could even finish saying I hadn’t meant it that way, Hannah cut me off, saying that it was all right. Of course it was all right, I thought. My father was dead. But still, you have to admit that she was awfully kind. Awfully. It was a kindness I almost hated, because what I’d said must have stung, and yet she hadn’t even blinked, and the next morning everything was in place.
I wore a suit. My uncle Ray, my favorite uncle, who had always pretended to be frightened by my Halloween costumes, had driven in from California in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt for the occasion, and in the kitchen, before the other guests arrived, he asked me if I thought I might be a little overdressed. Don’t you think you’re a little overdressed? he asked across the granite countertop, and I said, You’re telling me I’m overdressed for my father’s funeral? He put his hands up, palms out, both to indicate apology and to tell me to stop. Easy there, bulldog, he might have said, but he didn’t, because he could tell I was angry. I wanted to be angry. My father had taught me to handle grief with anger, and anger was easier, so I was angry, but I knew the anger was artificial, and I knew my uncle was right: I was overdressed. No one else had dressed that way. Not even my mother had insisted on such formality. Why had I? And why, when confronted about it, had I called the affair a funeral? You’re telling me I’m overdressed for my father’s funeral? I’d asked, when in fact it was not a funeral, or even a religious service, except to the extent that my sister-in-law was (or believed she was) a pagan witch. It was a sham, I thought, the pagan thing. A sham she’d bought into with an open and generous heart, but a sham nonetheless. Paganism, she’d once told me, was rooted in nature, and as such had more respect for women than Christianity, which was patriarchal and therefore oppressive. And I wondered: Who were these pagans? They could not have been Vikings. I’d studied Vikings as an undergraduate. Vikings would have strangled slave girls and burned them on the boat with the dead chieftain. That was their version of a memorial service. And what did any of it have to do with my father? He didn’t want a funeral. Why did I call it a funeral? Did I want there to be a funeral? A formal event to validate my guilt — the feeling that, when I’d stuck my fingers in his mouth in the hospital to pull the bloody phlegm from his throat, because he was too weak to spit it out himself, I’d killed him, because I’d exposed him to whatever bacteria might have been on my fingers, which in his weakened state had led to a C. diff infection, which had not in truth been the thing to kill him, but had so severely complicated his recovery that it might as well have been. Who did I think I was, taking on that guilt? Wearing a suit? My father would not have worn a suit. My father would have said, Don’t you think you’re a little overdressed? I didn’t have any business being angry with Uncle Ray, my favorite uncle, who’d shrieked in terror when, at the age of six or seven, I’d leapt from behind a door in a space-alien costume my mother had made with construction paper and garbage bags. After the service, after the so-called mourners had gone, he would ask my mother to give him back the bag of weed he’d given my father a year before, which my father had never touched, and which my uncle would subsequently find while helping my mother go through the old man’s things. Do you mind if I take this? he would ask. My mother would keep it and throw it away. She would tell me about it days later, after the service, after Ray had gone home. What kind of a thing is that to ask? she would say. I mean, what was he thinking? But Ray was never much good at thinking. He was good at music, but, like me, he’d squandered his talent on alcohol and drugs because he was, as my father pointed out, dumb as a post. So as he walked away from the kitchen counter — my uncle Ray, that is — I told myself not to be angry with him for asking me if I thought I might be a little overdressed. He’d only asked, I told myself, because he was dumb as a post.
The mourners arrived. We went to the backyard, a large, fenced-in concrete space with a swimming pool and a seating area and a view of the mountains and the cactuses and the rocks and the desert, and my sister-in-law lit a candle and said a few words about the spirit of the universe or the spirit of my father, some such, no matter, then she sat down, and my brother stood to speak. My father, he said, and he raised a finger, always dealt with you one-on-one. When he dealt with you, my brother said, he dealt with you one-on-one. And I wondered, What does that mean? Of course he dealt with you one-on-one. Was there another way to deal with people? The observation was so banal and yet so obviously meant to carry the weight of eulogy that it was insulting. Could he have meant it as a macho thing? Like, he dealt with you man-to-man? Or was there some other meaning I’d missed? Something about the dignity and primacy of the individual perhaps? I sat off to the side of the general seating area with my wife, away from the others, with the rosebushes behind us and also a Meyer lemon tree I’d always hated because the lemons were so sweet, and why do you want a sweet lemon when the whole purpose of a lemon is to be sour, and my brother stood surrounded by the mourners in the general seating area, all those guests I didn’t know, and he said this meaningless thing that perhaps meant a great deal to him but meant nothing to me. And maybe it didn’t mean much to him, either. Maybe he knew it was meaningless. There was something about the way he held up his finger and said, One-on-one, then found himself with nothing more to say, that made me think he’d realized that he’d never had anything to say to begin with: he was only saying something because he felt he was supposed to. He’d struggled to come up with something meaningful, only to discover that it was a platitude, and that nothing he had to say mattered in the least: the old man was simply dead. But who was I to think such things? A man who criticizes his brother for a father’s eulogy? This is not a man you want to be. This was not the man I wanted to be. My father didn’t like my brother, I knew, and my brother didn’t like him. Their relationship had been strained. Many times my brother had told me that my father was out-of-date, a dinosaur, a controlling naysayer. And many times my father had told me that he’d had his Fredo moment with Nate. I’ve had my Fredo moment with your brother, he’d say, which I took to mean that he was finished with him, that his feelings for my brother were like Michael Corleone’s feelings for Fredo in The Godfather Part II. My brother, I was given to understand, could get in the boat with Fredo, because he was nothing to my father now. I do not think my father meant this, not even for a second. But my father and I had never had a Fredo moment, and so he could vent to me, as he had about my brother, Nate, after the business with the realtor. When my brother moved to Tucson, my father connected him with a realtor. I couldn’t imagine, at the time, why my brother would have wanted to move to Tucson. I told him, in private, that I couldn’t imagine moving to Tucson myself, meaning that I couldn’t imagine wanting to live in the desert with the cactuses and rocks and scorpions and dust, but what he thought I meant was that I couldn’t live near our parents. So he told me that he was moving there because I wouldn’t, and because eventually someone was going to have to take care of our father. There would come a time, my brother said, when our father would not be able to take care of himself, and someone would have to wipe his ass. There was a part of my brother that would have enjoyed that, I thought, enjoyed wiping our father’s ass. He’d always felt that our father was a controlling naysayer, after all, and he might have taken a perverse pleasure in seeing the roles reversed, being in the position of power for a change, playing the strong and competent caretaker to our helpless and pathetic father. But when I told our father, sometime later, that my brother’s intention was to take care of him, my father laughed. He laughed until he was breathless, then said it would never happen. Never happen, he said, and he stopped laughing. I wondered now, as my brother stood among the mourners and said that our father always dealt with you one-on-one, if my father had in fact pondered it for a moment. What if Nate did have to take care of him? he might have wondered. How terrible it would have been. Or he might have been thinking something altogether different, like, Who does he think he is? In any case, he stopped laughing. Nate moved to Arizona, and my father connected him with a realtor. My father’s realtor. My father had always thought business was about relationships, so it was a meaningful act, connecting my brother with his realtor. But my brother did not think business was about relationships. My brother thought business was about getting the best deal, so he let my father’s realtor show him a house, then had another realtor — presumably one who would take a lower commission — close the deal. My father was enraged. And when he confronted my brother about it, my brother called him dude and told him it was none of his business. Dude was the last straw, the final bit of disrespect. They’d made amends eventually, Nate and my father, because, as my father pointed out, sometimes it wasn’t about the truth. It was about kindness. Like the kindness my father had shown his own dumb-fuck brother, my uncle Ray, who nodded with faux seriousness as my brother prattled on with this one-on-one business. Uncle Ray, nodding reverently in his Hawaiian-print shirt. Our father had taken us to Hawaii once, my mother and my brother and me. I was in eighth grade, I think, maybe eleven or twelve years old. My brother was fourteen or fifteen, and one day we went deep-sea fishing on a private charter boat, which must have been a dream come true for the old man — only a middle-aged man at the time, maybe forty-two years old — just him and his family on a fishing boat, trolling off the coast of Hawaii, and when it was my turn to hold the rod, I hooked a marlin, but I was too weak to reel it in, too weak for anything in that sun with all that water around us, weak, worthless, embarrassed, ashamed, because everyone else had already reeled in a fish, and here I was too weak. I was always too weak, too weak for fishing, too weak to stand up to the bullies at school, too weak, even, to bear my own shame, which grew and grew until finally the first mate came over and tugged on the line and turned to my father and said, I don’t know what he’s got there, but it’s bigger than him, and then the shame was gone, because everything was as it should have been. Even the first mate had said it. There was no way I should have been able to reel in a fish that size. So my father took over the rod and the chair and fought with that thing for two hours before he got it on the boat, a marlin maybe five feet long, a fantasy catch for him, and I’d hooked it. I was his good-luck charm that day. I was his golden boy, and he was my hero, and on the way back to shore I fell asleep on the upper deck, and when I woke up, my legs were sunburned purple. Almost thirty years later we’d have a similar experience in Mexico, on a much smaller boat, practically a skiff, my wife vomiting over the side, the skiff bouncing on the waves, the occasional raft of driftwood and trash going by, and me with this fish, this giant sailfish jumping, his glorious fin, his beautiful swordfish nose. I’d hooked him, and I couldn’t reel him in, just like when I was a boy, only I wasn’t a boy anymore, so there was no excuse, and my father was old and sick and weak — he would fall down when we got back to the dock, fall down on his face simply because he couldn’t keep his balance anymore, couldn’t feel his feet except for the burning neuropathic pain, and so he didn’t know where they were in relation to the ground, and down he would go on the dock and bust his nose on the wooden planks because he was old and sick and weak — and so he couldn’t reel the damn thing in either, and it was left to the Mexican man who owned the boat, a gracious and evidently very strong man, who brought the fish in for us and whacked it on the head with a bat so its eye filled with blood, and now my brother stood in my mother’s backyard, surrounded by phony mourners, talking about one-on-one like it was supposed to mean something, when all I could think about was this fish eye full of blood and how tough, how stupidly tough and defiant my father had been to be out on that boat, the irresponsible insanity of being on that tiny boat when he couldn’t even walk, and the slightest toss could have thrown him overboard, into the sea, and the Mexican man would not have been strong enough to pull him out and my mother would not have been strong enough to pull him out and I would not have been strong enough to pull him out because he was corpulent and old and sick and weak. He’d never been weak until then, and I was horrified by his weakness because, while I didn’t recognize it at the time, my understanding of the universe had been built around his strength from the time I was very small, maybe six years old, and I’d swiped a beer and he’d pressed his finger into my chest, tapped his finger against my sternum and told me whatever he’d told me. I couldn’t remember what. All I could remember was the strength of that finger, tapping at my chest like a hammer, his fury, and the, yes, one-on-one nature of the exchange. The funeral-goers were drinking. All the funeral-goers were drinking except for my wife and me. We did not drink. Even my brother had a Scotch on the table beside him, not moments after noon, the sun bright, the Arizona sky like an anvil, and I wanted a drink, too, wanted one badly because I hadn’t had one in years and I was tired of being sober and I was tired of wondering what one-on-one was supposed to mean. Was it an homage to the old man’s integrity? His respect for his fellow man? What sort of grotesque nonsense was this? And how, after I’d gone through an ocean of memories, could my brother still be talking about it? What had I missed in the interim? What insights had he shared? What stories had he told while my attention had drifted and I’d remembered the boat and the fish eye full of blood and how they’d resented one another, my brother and our dead father, a man who always dealt with you one-on-one?
My niece was naked. She was only about three, this niece with no religious upbringing and no moral foundation, so maybe it didn’t matter, but she was running around naked with her disheveled blond hair hanging down to her bright-white bottom, and people were staring, and I could tell my wife didn’t like it. I could tell my wife thought my sister-in-law should have put some clothes on the child, but my brother didn’t seem to mind. My brother, who was always strong enough to reel in his own fish. When we were children, he seemed the favorite, because he loved to fish, and he didn’t care if he got worm on his finger or fish guts on his shirt. He reveled in it, like my father, reveled in baiting the hook and casting it into the water and reeling in his prey and gutting it for dinner or even just throwing it back, when I could never stand it. I could never stand to touch the fish, that slimy coating on their bodies that made my fingers stink. I couldn’t stand touching them, and I couldn’t stand to think I was hurting them. The first time I’d ever gone fishing, I was six. We were on the rocky bank of a swiftly moving river, and the fish were running, something I’ve never seen since, and the river was not much wider than a creek and not very deep, so you could see that it was full of fish flicking their tails, and my brother caught one and my father caught one and I snagged one by the eye. It had been swimming, minding its own business in the current, when my hook had lanced its eye, and I reeled it in and saw it and cried, and my brother mocked me, and I imagine now that my father might have been amused, but at the time I imagined he was ashamed, the way I would imagine later, as a high-school wrestler, that he was ashamed when he came to one of my meets and saw me pinned in six seconds, after my brother had won third in the state, a bronze medal, he was so nimble and quick and confident and strong. When I was in trouble with bullies, my brother was always the one to get me out. He’d beat them senseless, if intimidating them wasn’t enough. And when we were stoned out of our minds and tripping on acid at some concert or another, back when he was in college and I was in high school and we would get stoned together, he was always the one to navigate the crowd to go for water. It doesn’t sound like much, going for water at a concert, but when you’re on acid, navigating a crowd like that, remembering what you’re doing and why you’re doing it without getting distracted or frightened by the constant stream of hallucinations, is a heroic act, and my brother was nothing short of heroic in that regard. So decisive in his movements. Decisive enough to choose his own realtor. The realtor was not the only argument he’d had with our father, of course. There had been others. Too many to catalog. By the end of my father’s life, I think they’d given up communicating. A few days before my father’s last Christmas, I’d gone with him to pick out the roast for Christmas dinner, and while we were walking through the grocery store, he told me that he’d been thinking about it for a long time, and he’d finally figured out where he’d gone wrong with my brother, what he’d done to alienate him. I asked him what it was, and he said, Not a fucking thing. It’s got nothing to do with me. I wondered now, as my niece ran naked around the pool, if that was a conversation he and my brother had ever had one-on-one. Did they even speak to one another toward the end, outside the context of family gatherings? My brother didn’t even like going over there anymore, he told me, because our father always had that fucking fascist news channel on. This, of course, was a reference to Fox News, as if a man in his late sixties, a retired executive who liked fishing and drinking, who’d worked in the insurance industry his whole adult life, would have been watching anything else. Of course he was watching that fucking fascist news channel, I thought. What of it? He’s our father, I wanted to say. But Nate had to be right. It was more important to be right than to be on speaking terms with our father. They spoke, of course, but they were not close. Our father was too controlling, my brother said, too intrusive, and when I’d asked our mother about it — our mother, whose expression was impenetrable during this not-funeral, because she would never have betrayed her emotions in the midst of such a gathering — when I’d told her, on the last Christmas my father was alive, that what my brother had said infuriated me, not only about the fascist news channel but about wiping our father’s ass, about our father being manipulative and controlling and authoritarian, when I’d told her that I was disgusted with myself because I had said nothing in response, even though I had never experienced our father in that way, even though our father had loved and nurtured me, had encouraged me to write and play guitar and focus on my creativity when another father might have told me to focus on school, even though I had loved and cherished this man, I had said nothing to defend him, when I’d told her this, my mother had said that it was not my place to defend him. That he had, in fact, been controlling where my brother was concerned, that he had never encouraged my brother to do anything creative because he’d never had any confidence in my brother’s ability to be creative, and that my brother had been hurt by that, and it was not my place to worry about their relationship but, rather, to maintain a good relationship with both of them, which I had failed spectacularly to do. She did not say that last part. It was, rather, implied with steady eye contact and raised eyebrows. And it was true. I hardly ever came to visit. I hardly ever called. I spoke to my father from time to time, but I only spoke to my brother when I was in town for the holidays, and then only at family gatherings. I should have dealt with them one-on-one, I thought, as my brother prattled on inanely, standing in the middle of the not-funeral-goers, while his daughter stood naked beside him with her disheveled hair and my wife squirmed at the sight. People are taking pictures, she whispered. And then he was done. He allowed a silence to resonate, then sat down. And now it was my turn to speak, in my suit and tie. I was the only one in a suit and tie. The only one to show any respect, I thought. Or the only one pretentious enough to dress up for a backyard funeral, to seethe at the absurdity of it all. I stood. And I began.
I began with a story his mother had told me. My father’s mother, I said, so you know it’s true. It wasn’t just some story he’d told me to brag about how tough he was. It was a story his mother had told me, to explain how stubborn he was. My father’s father had died when my father was very young. Five years old, to be exact. My grandfather was run off the road by a policeman while on his way home from a sales call. So my father didn’t have a father figure to look up to until he met his uncle Elmer. Uncle Elmer was a steelworker. Uncle Elmer had lost his thumb in a steelworking accident. Uncle Elmer was the toughest son of a bitch in East Gary, Indiana, Uncle Elmer said, and my father, being young and under the sway of John Wayne, was impressed by this. So he asked Uncle Elmer, What does that make me? And Uncle Elmer said, You’re the second-toughest son of a bitch in East Gary, Indiana. The not-funeral-goers laughed at this. But that’s not the end of the story, I said: When my father came home, he told his mother that he was the second-toughest son of a bitch in East Gary, Indiana, and of course she was appalled by his language — he was eight years old, and this was 1949 — so she said, Excuse me? And my father repeated it, so she took him to the bathroom and washed his mouth out with soap. She washed his mouth out for a long time, washed it out with the intention of drawing tears, but she could not draw one, and when she was finished, he smiled triumphantly and said, See? I told you I was the second-toughest son of a bitch in East Gary, Indiana, and the not-funeral-goers laughed again, and it was good. I was feeding off the energy, so I told another story. I told them about the shark, about the time my father was surf fishing at Vero Beach, and I was maybe nine or ten years old and terrified of sharks because I’d seen Jaws, and I’d seen the sharks at Vero Beach, Florida, that very beach, come in close to shore at dawn and dusk, bull sharks swimming in shallow water, their gaping mouths rising from the waves after jumping fish, and my father stood knee-deep in that water with a bucket of shrimp tied to his waist — so he might as well have been the bait himself — and I stood on the beach and watched a fin coming for him and shouted, afraid for his life, even though he was only knee-deep, because I knew those sharks could grab your leg and pull it off if they wanted to, but my father simply looked down with contempt and kicked the thing like a god, and it swam away, and as I told the story to the riveted not-funeral-goers, I realized there was a theme running through these unprepared remarks, this not-eulogy at this not-funeral, something about his strength and his fortitude and his indomitable will, so I told them he was indomitable. Indomitable, I said. You can’t hurt steel, he used to say. He was a man who did things his own way, and nothing could stop him. And if he didn’t want to do it, he would not do it. For the last three years of his life I’d tried to talk him into using a wheelchair so he’d stop falling down, but he would not do it. And I don’t think I saw him eat anything more than a strawberry shake from McDonald’s in those last years, either. He was diabetic, and he consumed those things, consequences be damned. At the end, in the hospital, he would not eat. The food was terrible, he said. The doctors would have cut a hole in his belly to feed him through a tube if only we had given our consent, but we would not give our consent, and he would not eat, and as I was telling them this, the people at this not-funeral, this charade of a fucking funeral, I began to feel as though I’d lost the thread, as though this was not, in fact, connected to his being the second-toughest son of a bitch in East Gary, Indiana, and in spite of the stubbornness that seemed to connect the incidents, what I was really talking about was his suicide, his refusal to take care of himself, and how I’d begged him to eat. I didn’t tell the mourners that — the mourners who didn’t know him, didn’t love him — I didn’t tell them that I’d begged him to eat, or that when I’d asked him why he wouldn’t eat, he’d said, It just isn’t in me. I didn’t tell them how I had felt, until that moment, as though his refusal to eat had been a surrender, a surrender based not on weakness but on indifference, like he just didn’t want to be with us anymore, like he just didn’t care, when in fact the truth was not that he wouldn’t eat but that he couldn’t, and I’d only told myself he wouldn’t because I couldn’t stand to think that he couldn’t, and as I stood in front of these not-mourners, I was suddenly tongue-tied and foolish, having gone from a story about his childhood, to a moment of glory in the water, to his final, pathetic days, when he was childlike again — or, even if he wasn’t, I’d painted him that way with stories about strawberry ice cream — and I hated myself. I hated myself. So I sat down, I picked up my guitar, and I played the song my wife and I had rehearsed, “On Eagle’s Wings,” a Christian song at a pagan funeral, and my wife’s voice rose beautiful into the giant sky, and I played the chords, and I looked from my mother’s face, a face I couldn’t read, to my brother’s inane seriousness, to my uncle’s smiling phony-reverent Hawaiian-shirt stupidity and my sister-in-law’s tearful, earnest desire to give us some kind of memory of the man, and I hated myself, and I thought they were better than me, and my niece danced naked, and I thought, Let her. Let her be naked. Let her dance.