I once wrote a song for my band about going back home to Texas to visit
my estranged father when he was dying. It's a song about how you can
sometimes find in yourself the capacity to forgive the worst hurts,
even when the other person doesn't deserve your forgiveness.
I'm actually from Nebraska.
The father in the song belonged to a friend of mine. This was a couple
of years ago, and we were living together in an apartment in Lincoln
when he heard from his mom that the old man was really going and he'd
better get there as soon as possible, so I took off work and drove him
all the way down I-35 to the suburbs of Fort Worth. That's the only
real part in it that I had. My friend sat with his father in the room
for two days, holding his hand while all of the processes gradually
For two days, I too was there, but not actually there. I was sitting in
the smokers' garden at the hospital on a granite bench in the sun. I
don't even smoke.
After that, in Lincoln, I discovered that I had been fired from my job,
and my friend helped me out with rent for two months while I found
another one, but when the lease was up I moved in with a girlfriend,
and later we fell out of touch and I heard that he went out to the
East Coast. Later still — two bands later — I wrote
that song I mentioned, a song which became popular at our concerts.
Local crowds would cheer when they recognized the opening chords.
Unexpectedly, it began to get college-radio play. My friend whose story
it was heard it one day on WCUW all the way in Massachusetts. He called
me up, yelled at me for half an hour.
He said that I had betrayed him.
He hasn't talked to me since.
It reminds me. I have a cousin who used to spend a lot of time with the
Narcotics Anonymous sponsor of his high school buddy, Dov. The sponsor
was a really neat guy, the two of them agreed, a good
listener. Though the sponsor was significantly older than my
cousin and Dov, who were both sixteen, they treated him like a peer.
They all used to hang out every weekend. Dov had quit using and seemed
happy; things were good. One night, the three friends went and got
matching tattoos — a Chinese symbol, something to do with a
style of Kung-Fu they practiced.
As an adult, my cousin found out that the sponsor had been abusing Dov
sexually. The sponsor had a history of this type of crime, apparently.
He was not even a genuine addict; he had joined N.A. as a way to meet
The tattoo of the Chinese symbol is blurry with age now, blue-black.
It is positioned low on my cousin's bicep where it is exposed when he
wears a T-shirt. It's hard to hide, impossible to explain, but everyone
thinks they want to know the story.
What does it mean, they ask him.
What does it mean.
When I stare out into a crowd beyond the glare of the stage lights, I
think of us — of me and my friend — in the car on
the way back up from Fort Worth after his father died. I don't try to
remember what we talked about. Forgiveness. Forgetfulness. Instead I
picture the highway ahead open and dusty, my friend's fingers absently
drumming on the center console and his eyes closed against the painful
brightness of a day when everything has started again, different.
The song I wrote sounds so personal that the people who admire it
nowadays ask me if it hurts, when I play it.
Yes, I tell them. Every time.
K Chess is in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This is one of her
first published stories.
Detail of art on main page courtesy
of Howard Ignatius.
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