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  • On a road that takes me home to my childhood house, there are these newly built houses. They’re empty now but soon they’ll be filled. There are so many of them! They obscure the view of the surrounding hills and the ocean, but still they grow. And they look inviting. They look like a fresh start. They look like places nostalgia hasn’t oxidized. Their windows are clear-eyed.

    When the road reaches the back of the valley, I take it on auto-pilot, empty-minded. Most of the trip I’d been shuffling and shaking my brain for the words that might carry me through the visit, that would lend something like support to my mother, something like honesty to my stepfather. But nothing comes and –no matter how much I believe in words – I’m resigned to the fact that even if they had come, they’d’ve lost their rightness to the moment.

    The door is unlocked.

    The house has grown smaller since my last visit. It is quiet and littered with hospital equipment. There is a cabinet that contains collectibles, sweet objects whose languages I don’t know but that speak of a life of travel and of a taste I’m not familiar with. In the quick look I get at them I try to orientate myself but my mother comes out from the kitchen and, before I can, we hug. Her tears bring immediately some to my eyes.

    “Phil is back there, in the family room.”

    “Is he asleep?” I ask.

    “No, no – you can go in.”

    I open the door. My stepbrother is there in a chair next to bed. He gets up to greet me. We shake hands briefly and I say hello to Phil. He is so tiny, a baby bird still wet wrapped loosely in white sheets. And he is exhausted. Our visit lasts only a few moments.

    My mother talks in the kitchen to the visiting nurse, a nice and somehow clumsy man whose name tag is askew. When they finish talking about how to recognize the end and the virtues of morphine, my mother and I talk about strategies for making the couch she is sleeping so she can be close to Phil more comfortable. Then she thanks me for coming and we say goodbye and I am heading back to the city, back home.

    I pass the new buildings on the now empty road and see them lit. With the windows of car rolled down, I can hear crickets and frogs calling out the stars.

    Two days later, she sent me an email. It was brief. Eight words and the time of his death.

    Maybe our brains are not big enough to hold the cosmos. Maybe the words we’re looking for don’t exist. Can we find the beauty in it? I think most of us try. But it’s hard. It’s hard because it means too much all at once. And it means things we can’t admit, things beyond our admitting. Or more accurately: it means things that admit us rather than the other way around. But in the wake of the new beginnings that follow us to our end, all that is taut softens. Everything.
  • With love to Rotimi, who has brought me home in more ways than I can count and brought me home this time, too.
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