It was the eyeglasses that did it. You handed them to me just before they wheeled you down to get cut and I just about lost it. Finally, we spend half an hour alone together and it’s gotta be here. Like this.
I know what you must be thinking. There you are, at five-thirty in the morning, shaved from neck to ankles and wearing a gown that makes you look small and weak and scared and sick, not how you usually look, and what does your asshole brother remember but a pair of eyeglasses.
It’s not all I remember. For months afterward, I lay awake most nights watching reruns of the whole thing, until the sun came up and the screens inside my eyelids faded to light. Every minute we were with each other that day was right there in front of me, Joe. You waking me up on the couch at four, so we could get to the hospital on time. (Like you, I hadn’t really slept and was grateful to not have to pretend any longer.) How you dressed — light, easy for me to throw stuff in a bag later on, no wallet because you weren’t gonna need one where you were going. The look on Mom’s face when you kissed her good-bye and told her not to worry. The look on your face after they laid you down on the gurney and the young, sweet black guy touched your shoulder when he saw that you might start to cry.
Some of the images have faded with time, but the glasses? Not a chance. It hurt way too much and way too deep to take them from your hand, to know that even though you were young and strong and necessary at the time, you might not need them again. And that if you hadn’t needed them again, surely I would have them, on a shelf or in a drawer, maybe right here on my desk. Someplace where I could always get to the glasses. And to you.
I waited in the lobby downstairs during the surgery and, for some reason, kept taking out my handkerchief to clean your lenses. It felt good holding the things in my hands, taking care of them, y’know, but on the fourth or fifth time I remembered something that made me put them back inside my pocket. For good.
I was 14 or 15 years old (that’d make you 10 or 11) and had been going through some drawers in the old apartment on Liberty Avenue, when what did I come across but a pair of daddy’s old glasses. The frames were black plastic, not wire like yours.
This memory wasn’t exactly helping me get through the wait, and so I went and got some coffee in the cafeteria and tried hard to blow it all off. But I couldn’t. Dad was necessary, too, young even, and look how that turned out. Now you’re in there with your ribs broken, your chest cut wide open and your heart being held up out of your body by some guy you’d only met two days ago. And what’s this joker trying to do? Fix the exact same thing inside of you that they couldn’t manage to fix inside our father almost thirty years earlier.
After one sip of watered-down hospital coffee, I tossed the cup and thought that what I really needed was a good stiff drink.
You scared the beejeezus out of me by getting so sick, so fast, Joe. When you called to tell me that you needed the operation right now and how it’d be great if I could get away for a few days to help you out, the only time your voice cracked was when you noted the date that you got the news.
For years, October 7th has been the day for us. I was there when it happened, you know. The firemen carried his body right past me and into the bedroom, until Benny the undertaker could show. They whisked you away upstairs so that you wouldn’t have to see, I guess because it was okay for a 12-year-old to see his father’s corpse stroll by him, but 8 was just a little too young. Everything that morning happened so fast. His chest hurt, he fell down on the kitchen floor, he was gone.
I was having a beer with a friend the other night. He asked how you were doing. His brother had the same operation you had a couple years back. I told my friend how you had to get cut again five years after that first time and how I moved in with you for a couple weeks to help out. That was, what, ten years ago now? But when I was telling my friend that thing about your eyeglasses the other night, goddammit if I didn’t start crying like a little girl.