Wednesday, March 9, 2011
… When I came back from the war I felt a tumbling sensation. I would often check the ground beneath my feet to make sure that the soil of Harlem was still the stable platform it had been in 1942.
I began to realize that the finely wrapped layers of my psyche were being stripped away, torn asunder and trampled upon. When I came home from the war things and symbols could no longer be so easily teased apart. I could no longer choose, with the certainty that I always possessed, between two mutually exclusive and polar opposites.
When I came home from the war I NEVER wanted to let my guard down. I peered from around the corner and looked at the little hollow spaces I had fashioned for myself and was amazed at the incongruity between the created and the natural, the soul and the body, my bulk versus Homer’s wisp. …
Potentiality: my mother, a petite woman much younger than Father, always smelled vaguely of peppermint soap on her thin wrists. She would take Homer and I by the hand and go with Father to Grand Central Station to see him off to various medical conferences, (whose attendance, it seems, was mandatory), in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, even St. Louis. Of course I realized later that he never left New York.
He always insisted that we go home immediately on hugging him beneath that vast roof, the smoky light filtering through the upper windows of that beautiful nexus of embarkation and departure that says, in so many profound and significant ways, that there is no such thing as humanity, but humanity in process and in transformation. Once Mother, Homer and I boarded a subway uptown he would bid a hasty retreat downtown, to the other woman.
Father had an unchallenging medical practice mid-town. He had time to spare, and that combined fatally with the fact that he was the type of man who forty years ago women found irresistibly attractive: he was older than his appearance, even in photographs in his early twenties during his residency. His temples were already spotted with gray hair; the lines on his face had deepened appreciatively: grooves beneath his mournful, pale blue eyes, scorings on his broad forehead, and light crows feet in the transverse angles of his eyes.
He was unusually tall, even taller than me, an odd enough occurrence for Americans who tend to sprout an inch or two taller than their progenitors. He had long, lanky limbs, narrow, slender shoulders and remained wiry and robust all his days. And the last I saw of him, he was standing, framed as it were, in the doorway of his and Mother’s bedroom.
I was perched on the staircase, my body just below his line of sight, only the top most portion of my head and my beedy eyes jutting above the lavender runner on the flat step of the last stair of the marble stairway. He was distinguished looking, attired in some sort of dark evening suit.
Mother was just out of view in the interior of the bedroom. I could picture her with minute detail in my mind: she is in bed, white night cap perched low over her fragile brow, wisps of blond hair spilling out of the cap, a wrap around night gown closed tightly over her slim shoulders, pale, tired, perhaps one of her reoccurring migraines beginning an introductory salvo of stabbing, throbbing pain in her right temple.
“But Edgar do you really need to go out and take a house call this late at night?”
“Yes, dear, I told you this particular patient is extremely ill.”
“But can’t one of your associates make the call? One of the younger doctors?”
“No darling, I’m afraid its out of the question. This case is particularly difficult and I need to go. I have to give this woman my individual attention.”
There was silence.
“Darling, I can’t predict when or with what frequency my patients will become ill.” More silence. Father was looking in Mother’s general direction, and I imagine she was turning over in the canopied bed, lifting the quilt and tapering the edges around her slim neck. Father rapidly turned toward the stairway. I hid behind a hamper left by our careless maid on the landing.
Slipping out the door I turned to the left and spied Father’s retreating figure walking at a brisk pace toward midtown. He was not taking a cab. He was not riding the subway. I followed him at a safe distance, pacing myself, placing visual obstacles between us.