72–A preface, in the middle of things.
What matters is, I tucked them away; aware of their power but not of what they were. Honored, confused, horrified, excited.
Nota bene: The next 5-10 posts will be part of a series. Enjoy, Joey
In June of 1968, my father is 17 years old. He’s left South Africa and completed high school at the American School near Tel Aviv. He’s booked passage to Paris with a school friend.
From there, he will hitchhike from Paris through France, take a train into Scandinavia and then a ferry to London—time out of life to breath new air as a young man; to pause before going back to Israel, to his family, to military service; a moment to contemplate life—as an Israeli, or an African, or a European, or as something altogether else. Time to witness beautiful things, and meet unknown people, and to see himself in relation to unfamiliar worlds.
He travels with his friend and with his older brother and he writes letters which are sent to a friend in the States—letters which she saved, and sent back to him four decades later. Letters I am holding in my hands now.
We are in his upstairs bedroom in the house at Oakdale. Next to the bed where he slept for two dozen years; where he woke every day at 4AM and stared at the wall in the dark for five minutes (hands on his knees, back slightly stooped, eyes open but unfocused, looking into the middle distance) before rising to begin each day.
The bed where I lay when I was covered in hives at 15 and again at 18. The bed where I slept next to my mother on the long nights after his seizure, before his diagnosis—after we knew something was terribly wrong but before we could bring him home.
He pulls aside the sliding mirrored door. From where he keeps his bulk stash of deodorant and dental floss and twenty backup boxes of toothpaste (the worst flavors); from where he keeps years of his (and my and my siblings’) tax forms and all of our social security cards and medical records; from where he keeps an overflowing supply of clean, white REI socks rolled neatly in balls (which, when I’m home, I can borrow, or steal); from where, at night, he lays his watch and his cash (“grab some if you need it”), and mementos he never explains (an African paperweight; some photos; a handkerchief)—from this place he pulls out a large white envelope (slick, crinkled, AirMail), which he hands to me.
Says: “Maybe you’ll do something with these.”
What did I say?
“Thank you”? Or, “Of course”? Or, “Are you sure”? Or “What are these?” It doesn’t matter.
What matters is I tucked them away; aware of their power but not of what they were. Honored, confused, horrified, excited.
(I asked my siblings, incredulous: Did you know about these? They didn’t; no one did. They’d been held in someone else’s hands for fifty years—the recipients. They were never meant to make their way back to him, let alone to us, let alone to exist five decades in the future.)
I decide: when he’s gone, I will travel the route he took; I will read the letters along the way.
I hope it’ll be in many years. (It won’t).
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