Keeping a journal during all those dark days gave me an outlet, a foundation, something to grab and weather the everyday changes that shaped everything. It was a time of life folding back in on itself, the view from the hospital window of the old neighborhood, the history there, where even Jennifer lived as a child, and the history of the hospital itself, where I was born, where family members had died. Life repeating familiar patterns and doing the best to make memory make some sense of it all—and both memory and events co-existing in the now, both alive and in a dance as one.
“Talmadge could be a contrary bastard,” Uncle Dulith says that day at the reunion, chasing peas around his plate with his fork, his smile the tip of secrets. “Lord knows we had our scrapes.”
Surely, battles when they are younger, always an undercurrent of animosity now, an unspoken carefulness when around each other at dove or squirrel hunts on the land in
where the Cothern boys roam while growing up. My father the oldest, Dulith the third son, it is the resentment of sibling rivalry carried into adulthood. The times they seem comfortable and laugh easily about the time Papa Cothern kills 27 roosting doves with one shot or the time they find his stash of homebrew and lift a few bottles, those brief moments when unguarded are always a surprise. Mississippi
My father, married with two sons at the time, never serves in the armed forces like his younger brothers. Perhaps part of the undercurrent is Dulith returning from the Navy to hugs and kisses, war stories to tell his big brother, his scars to prove he has done his part, and his oldest brother’s, too, who knows?
Pulled from sleep and dressing quickly, shoes on without socks, too young to be left alone in the house, I know about a fist-fight between Uncle Dulith and my father during a fishing trip because I ride with my mother late one night to pick up my father. He is standing outside of a bar and steps from the shadows and passes through neon colors when we pull into the gravel parking lot.
My father gets into the passenger side of the Kaiser, leaning toward my mother and showing her a wound behind his ear.
Can you tell if it’s still bleeding?
Sitting in the back seat—afraid to move and afraid because my father’s voice is so worried, I imagine my father has been in a fight in the bar, has lost, checking his wounds in the shadows, ear bleeding, waiting until we arrive.
Is whoever beat him up still around?
The next day my mother calls Dulith and I hang around the kitchen listening to the seriousness in her voice.
What happened, Dulith?
Hmm-hunh . . .
Hmm-hunh . . .
Not too bad.
I wanted to know.
After hanging up and sitting there a moment, my mother presses her lips together. I ask what happened.
You know your father and his drinking. Him and his nya-nyaing. Uncle Dulith knocked him out of the boat.