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When the surgeon took the golf ball sized tumor out of my father’s head he apologized and said my father would be lucky to see two more months.
As a family we dug in for a fight to the finish that would last 500 long days. Slowly, the disease stole all my father’s faculties until he sat shuddering in a wheelchair, one arm limp around my shoulder as I hoisted him up and carefully walked him to the toilet.
Death hung in the rooms of my childhood like October fog and settled into the creases of our young faces like fine dust. After it was all over I had to get out. Out of the house, out of the state, out of the goddamn hemisphere.
Everyone deals with profound grief differently. There is no right way, but there are plenty of wrong ways. Only one thing occurred to me, Italy.
What I would do in Italy was beyond me, all I knew is that I had to go.
Italy elated my mind, piqued my imagination and began to sketch for me what it could be to live again. I was twenty.
The stigma of death was never far and often while standing in a cathedral or trying to will myself to sleep, I was keenly aware that I was running. I knew behind my constructed guise of a carefree traveler I was a young man under a curse.
My grieving mind took to the natural wonders and the tumbled vestiges of earlier times with the frenzy of an addict. Each fresco, each statue, each bored Madonna was so far from the stale, malignant rooms I had dwelt in that I nearly worshiped them.
Verona: I climb the stairs to the height of the first hill and wash my face in the flow of a tiny fountain. Further and further up until I meet the ruined ghost of a castle, survived only by a great perimeter wall. I hoist myself up. I relish the final passages of a book that I had been taking my sweet time with. Reading the last line maybe ten times I shut the cover and look out on the afternoon.
Somewhere far but not too far a bell rings. Something good sneaks into my heart and I feel close to that good, held by that good and a part of the infinite sum of the good. Then, like an inspiration, I think of my father. An undercurrent deep within me stops, and my mind hitches at the change in velocity.
I feel myself stop running.
I stay on the ledge of the old castle wall for a good while. When I do finally leave it is with the unhurried pace of a man who strolls for pleasure, not runs for his life.