Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Funeral

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Funeral

Article excerpt

Our return to Charlottesville came quickly with the end of Christmas break. Having reconnected with Constantine and my mother, Allen and I both felt that this might be the right time to attempt a reconciliation with my uncle and his family. On the one hand, I did not feel I owed my uncle anything. His last action had been to try to deny me tuition at Cornell, and I had worked my way through school. On the other hand, I suppose that deep down inside, I wanted to show Michel that he had been wrong, that I was a success, that I was not a sharmouta, that I was married, and that I had earned a PhD and a tenure track position at a leading university. After all, this had also been his profession, university teaching. I have no memory of the negotiations, but we must have arranged our visit with the family. We decided we would drive to Miami at the end of the school year.

It was a long trip, and I was the sole driver. I recalled from my uncle's drive to Miami that a welcome area greeted you as you entered the Sunshine State, offering fresh orange juice. Allen and I stopped, and the cold beverage was as delectable as I remembered it.

On arrival in Miami, we drove directly to a hotel not far from my uncle's house. After checking in, we called the house and learned that Michel was in the hospital. He had had a stroke (either that day or the day before; I do not remember), had collapsed in the shower, and my aunt had not discovered him for several hours. He was in a persistent coma. We went straight to the hospital.

As we entered the large, almost-empty room, I saw George at my uncle's bedside. We sat in a corner, away from the bed, not uttering a word. I heard George ask a nurse if his father could hear him. The nurse, looking bored and tired, glanced at the medical chart next to the bed, then moved a penlight rapidly over Michel's face and eyes and declared that he was comatose and could not hear anything. Her words did not stop George from speaking directly into his father's ear. He began a long soliloquy about how sorry he was, about how he hoped he had not disappointed his father, about how wonderful a father he had been, and what an example he had set for his son. He spoke of his current wife and how certain he was that Michel would love her if he got to know her. George went on and on, as we sat there trying to be invisible. This was, after all, a private moment for Michel's only son. When George finished unloading his brain and his heart, he left the hospital room without acknowledging our presence. 1 understood that he was most likely in his own emotional world.

After George left, Allen and I proceeded to Michel's bedside. I looked at my uncle's face. I assumed this would be the last time I would see him. He looked to me like his normal self. I almost expected him to start screaming at me. In retrospect, I understand that this was just fear invading my brain. After all, had I not been present when the nurse made it clear that Michel was comatose? I do not remember uttering a word to my uncle, and most certainly Allen would not have. We left the hospital and drove to the house.

We entered the house to find the entire family present-all of Michel's children and their spouses, Olga, of course, and Olga's brother, Uncle Herb, and his wife. George was going through papers in the living room. He picked up a bill for a minimal sum (my memory says less than $5.00). Then he turned to me:

"You did not pay this bill," he said in a loud angry voice, repeating his words: "You did not pay this bill."

I was furious. Body and voice shaking, I managed to get the words out:

"Listen, George," I began, my voice rising. "I sent any money I earned to your father because he wanted to be in charge of paying my bills. If a bill was not paid, blame your father, don't blame me. Don't go accusing me of not paying my bills." I was so angry that, unlike my normal self, I looked directly at George as I responded. …

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