Issue 167, Fall 2003
My life this autumn has been astonishingly busy and empty, thanks to a seemingly endless set of tasks for small outcomes. In the midst of all this, my stepfather died, at the age of 100. Somehow I thought he would never die. He was like a sphinx in the desert, always there, always posing riddles in my direction. On his last day on earth, he was driven around his neighborhood, whose beauty he commented upon, and then was driven to a McDonald's where he ate his favorite food, a Big Mac. His last words before he died were "Good night and God bless." Knowing his other, darker side, I have almost no idea where this benevolence came from, but I suppose he had it all the time—perhaps it was some latency that emerged as he aged. My wife says it was a result of having forgotten what he believed in: he'd always been a judgmental type, but in his vacancy he fell into a sort of demented heartiness, which strikes me as quite rare in the very old. He had complained about the cost of his son's casket years ago at the time of that particular funeral, but with the irony of which life is so fond he himself was laid out in a casket with a label that read SOLID CHERRY stuck to it. I tried to pry the label off at the graveside but wasn't successful. Still, I have been mourning him, the man and his riddles, and the life I shared with him, and the care and the neglect he lavished upon me.