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  • Certain stories pull you in; you know? The topic doesn’t so much matter. The words don’t matter. Or the time at night you read them. The music in the background. The people you’re sitting with and the drink you smell. The hardness nor softness of the chair, the bed, the floor, the world. The length of the sentences, the breadth of the margins. The blue flowers and the red flowers, the green sun and the yellow grass. The black sky. The warm rain, the cold rain. The dog scratching the door. The cat plucking the couch, the coat, whatever-the-hell-it-wishes. The mother yelling, crying, laughing, cooking. The birds. The moon.

    Last time a story pulled me in, a sunburn pulled me out. I’ll remember to bring an umbrella, wear sunscreen. Stay at home. Go fishing. Call my estranged uncle.

    He would come by when I was younger, beat me at basketball and tell me about the women’s program at Notre Dame, and how they would make it far in the tournament that year. He’d buy my clothes and food. He’d bought my mother time when he had come in the night and moved her to another state, my abusive father passed out at a trailerpark-party, consumed with hate and alcohol and poverty.

    Grandpa was never proud of Uncle. Grandpa had never gotten over his divorce, some fifteen years past. Never knew Uncle ran away at sixteen, that he was homosexual, that he had needed to see him before he died of AIDS.

    Uncle had visited Wrigley Field many times, living only a few blocks away, an avid Cubbies fan. He would work late nights bartending, meeting people, keeping up with people, loving people, returning to his hometown to see his family on holidays.

    He was a pallbearer at his beloved grandmother’s funeral. That night he’d drink himself to sleep. That morning he’d remember her expressions, her loving disposition, her refuge. He’d think unsuccessfully about what her absence would mean to him. He wore a black suit, matching his black receding hair, dark skin, dark eyes, and black shoes. At 6’2”, he thought he could hold the weight of her casket.

    He enjoyed making CDs for my depressed mother, with the latest songs, some of them, he thought, liberative. Mom would listen to them while she cleaned the house, blowing the speakers more than I can remember. He would buy her dinner for her birthday.

    One summer he had taken my brother, first cousins, and me for a week to his house in South Bend. The eldest was eight years old. He would take us shopping for the week's food. Let us play in his Jacuzzi. We'd make beards of the bubbles. He would take us to see Tarzan at the theater, the first time any of us had been there. He would let us ride the horses he had in the barn, and make nachos and popcorn every night in preparation for the rented movie. He would play the Playstation and dig out the Play-Doh on the walls and carpet after the make-believe war.

    He would make himself available whenever anyone needed him. He would never forget a birthday.

    He would be mugged in Chicago, one night. He’d cancel his credit cards.

    He’d move to Las Vegas to pursue other bartending opportunities, to buy a large house, to get diagnosed with AIDS, to hear he had only three months to live.

    Whenever a story pulls me in, I can’t describe its significance. I can’t retell the way it read to me. The way the world had changed. How I had changed. How the sand in my book didn’t matter. The sun in my face. The temperature. The tight shirt, the loose pants. The car wreck. My mother’s failed suicide attempts.

    I can only live there, in the story. Pick it up like humans do. Feel like humans do. Understand. Regret. Forget. Realize. Live. Breathe. Love. Drop out of college courses. Be cynical as hell. Be optimistic after coffee. Call my estranged uncle.
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