That's Him! That's the Guy!
Our father died when we were ten years old and for months afterward my
twin sister Helen and I thought we saw him. We thought we saw him
standing in the snow in the yard at night but it was just a tree. We
thought we saw him coming down the stairs in the morning but it was
just sunlight in the windows on the landing. We thought we heard him
scritching in the garden behind the house, moving
through the rhubarb along the garage. A raccoon.
We were really close for a while, in those years that
followed his death. Afterwards, not so much. Once she became
a teenager, she developed an uncontrollable attraction to
these really awful guys, one after another, all
through high school, and I tried to warn her and give her
good advice but she never listened. Finally, when we were seniors she
ended up getting pregnant. The boyfriend was a twenty-five
year old guy who worked on the road crew of our town's
Maintenance Department, and he was
married—"but getting a
divorce," she claimed—and I told her that
it seemed obvious that she ought to get an abortion.
Instead, she moved in with him. She gave
birth to her little lovechild, and eventually, I
heard, she and the boyfriend finally wed.
Meanwhile, I had left town. I went to
college, I moved down to Chicago and then to Santa
Fe and then to Spokane. I wasn't having a great
life or anything, but I thought of my family less and less.
At first, when I stopped talking to my mom and my
sister, I used to have these terrible
guilt-dreams. Like: I had
killed them, or was accused of killing them, and I
was on the lam. In the dreams, I was always
paranoid. In the dreams, I would walk into a
convenience store or a roadside restaurant and suddenly one of the
patrons would recognize me from a Wanted Poster.
"That's him! That's the guy!" someone would
shout, and everyone would turn to look. And I would to try to escape,
even though I knew it was
And then, twenty years had passed. I was the same age that my father
had been when he died.
There is a stage that you reach, I think, sometime
in early middle age, when you begin to think of
your former selves as characters, as if you had once
portrayed them in school theater productions. The old hurts
and resentments seem vaguely embarrassing.
Why not call her? I thought. So much time has gone
by. Is there any reason left to bear a grudge?
I was in Minneapolis on a business trip when I decided to try it. I
knew that she didn't live that far away, and there
was the possibility that we could meet, if things went well.
But I wasn't counting on anything, either. I was sitting
there in my jockey shorts, in a non-smoking King at the
Marriott, with the TV on mute, holding the ragged phone book
that I'd found in a dresser drawer.
When someone picked up the phone, I wasn't sure if
it was my sister's voice. "Hello?" I
said, and the
woman's voice echoed. "Hello?" she said
"I'm trying to reach Helen," I said. And
then the line grew so silent that for a second I thought she
might have hung up.
"Helen?" I said.
And at last I heard her breath shiver.
"Dad?" she whispered, her voice trembling like a
woman who had finally seen a real ghost. "Daddy?"