Freshmen year McCormick converted this to story:
Waking suddenly in a roadside motel (Vermont?). Ceiling tiles fallen down around around them. Barbara and Bill in opposite chairs, made visible by the cherry-red dots of their cigarettes.
Planning their next move, how to extricate a startled child in the middle of the rainy night? Assigning blame for the chaos? Anger and asbestos dust.
He doesn’t recall what they said or he wrote, but does remember sending a copy to Barbara (purple ink, yellow paper) and her reply, folded around a check for fifty dollars.
“I’m sorry you remember it that way.”
(McCormick tells Sal Bergen about the night when he was six and thought he was going to die…)
The poison-lemon-juice arrow grazed his cheek and became a part of him.
The spindly shaft matched his skeletal appendages. He was the skinniest boy in any class. Frayed green fletching precursed thrift store and even home-sewn outfits Barbara sent him off in (more out of Pioneer thrift than necessity, he explains to the crossed, hairy ankles just visible from the couch). And the crux of the biscuit, that fraudulent head, only pretending to be special.
That’s how you see yourself? Sal spits.
No, he admits. Then, yes.
Whenever he trips someone’s wires like that, McCormick knows he must be wrong.
Did the Delaware cul-de-sac teach him he’s a Sad Sack?
The neighbors had big lawns and lots of kids. After dark they threw crab-apples at bats that dove from beech trees. But it was just dusk when McCormick, the youngest, ran in front of the bull’s-eye painted on a hay bail.
Bud, the oldest, was sorry to say he’d dipped his arrow in poison lemon juice.
Fear of dying—Bud said he would by morning—was overmatched by shame over what he’d let happen. It was fitful 4am before he called Barbara and Bill to his room and said goodbye.
Back to school. Taking the pan off the heat, stirring and folding, returning to the burner. Keeps the eggs soft. They saw Gordon Ramsay do it on Master Chef.
Around the age June is now, a lack arrived. He not only settled but reached for the smallest gun in the pile before Cops and Robbers. And when they got to Montana he became referee in recess football. Not a player. Never meant to be.
He worried he’d pass incapacity on. Or the food allergy would make June hang back.
But she always takes a big bite. This kid has appetite.
What if you have the gift of listening—knowing—so when you hear
We don’t have to be stars exploding in the night, or electric eels under the covers
We don’t have to be anything quite so unreal, let’s just be lovers
the alchemic achievement lifts you, holds you, sends you back down for more
like breath, like a child who has learned to swing?
Do you then imagine you can cast those spells, that reading so well means you might also write?
Try it. Open a page. Lower your hands and blink twice. Bring all your talent and luck.
The Mighty Thor, who could fly if he had his hammer.
A cowboy. His banana seat was a saddle, alleyways dry riverbeds, the rack at school a hitching post.
A lawyer, because it was good to prove people wrong, and he watched Perry Mason summer mornings on channel 11, and talk came easy.
Then a writer. The pleasure of converting deeds into words—things you could call poems—struck him in college and he started thinking how well they used their loneliness (Hemingway in the bunker, Salinger at the farmhouse, Woolf in her hard-won room).
Only last (resigning?) a teacher.
A shoulder tap. The teacher in remarkably thin linen, gently observing that his head should point to the center, not the wall. This, even fifty-two years into the project, could create several seconds of shame.
Today he laughs, swivels on the mat, deliberately brushing Julie’s arm, and receives the soothing suggestions.
Connect to a heartfelt desire…
(That we take the peace of this class home to our daughter.)
Move awareness through your body..
(Oh wow. My shoulder feels better!)
Witness your thoughts…
(I’m sorry I’m even in that book. That last line is embarrassing. Writing makes me unhappy. Please, stop.)
It’s Staff Appreciation swim, so members can’t get deck chairs or loungers until 10.
McCormick, taking a mere table, gives June an iPad. Watches the workers’ kids splash and laugh. When they get out, the regulars reclaim their territory.
Pretty quickly a toddler fight breaks out, causing several fit women to don DVF Cover Ups, extract their progeny, and retreat to separate corners of the roof.
The core of this epic meltdown, a neatly coiffed six-year old, won’t stop hollering “I had it first!”
McCormick—a Neiman Marxist—can’t resist the cliché: Brown children shared. White children did not.
According to his grandmother, people named Grivas died with their own hair and teeth.
And McCormick always believed going gray at thirty meant he wouldn’t suffer baldness. If he didn’t wear hats he probably wouldn’t recede at all.
As for teeth, he’s replaced what God gave him with titanium more than once.
He texts a photo from the chair to Julie (Jung-hye), who’s at lunch with her brother-in-law, niece, and June. They lost their sister, wife, mom, aunt (Sun-hi) in April.
He hates kimchi, but still feels left out. He taps another text:
Dr. Lotus says I have complicated roots.
It’s our last day and I’m sad. I won’t see stars at night for a whole nother year.
We’re doing the waterslides one more time: Baby Slide, Fast Current, Death Defying.
Momma screams the loudest of anyone!
But the day is actually over before we even leave for the airport, because Daddy shakes his head and collects all the, like, pieces of paper and cups and stuff floating down the lazy river with us, and Momma repeats words I don’t understand.
Notsies. Rule of Log. Sybil War.
And of course, like everyone always says, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump.