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My dad: 35 and dead

And then, just like that, he is gone. Thirty-five and dead.

And just like that, we go on. Or, try to. Three of us stumbling through that first year. My mother, thirty-three, a widow now. My brother and I, eight and six, 1970.

A death, quick. Abrupt. Unwitnessed. Mysterious.

*

The parking lot. That morning. I am on my bike, my new two-wheeler, riding in circles in the parking lot of the Kroger grocery store. My mother has sent me out. Or have I chosen to leave?

Here they come. People I know. People who know me. Blood, they say. Relatives, all. In big, wide American cars, they drive into my faded-asphalt lot. There’s my uncle Paul, my aunt Nancy; my godmother Lorraine and her husband, Clarence. There’s Uncle Harry, there’s Aunt Sue. They are waving to me. I am one boy on two wheels, going in circles, not stopping. And there they go, one after another, to do what you do when a life stops. Coming to close the circle.

*

“What do you remember about that day?” I ask my grandmother as we sit toe-to-toe, her in her wheelchair.

She tells me that after they broke it to my brother and me, she went upstairs to the bathroom.

“I needed a place to cry,” she says. “That’s when I saw them, right there in front of the radiator—your father’s slippers.”

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