Dads dead," Wendy says off handedly, like its happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy. "He died two hours ago."
"Hows Mom doing?"
"Shes Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner."
I have to smile, even as I chafe, as always, at our familys patented inability to express emotion during watershed events. There is no occasion calling for sincerity that the Foxman family wont quickly diminish or pervert through our own genetically engineered brand of irony and evasion. We banter, quip, and insult our way through birthdays, holidays, weddings, illnesses. Now Dad is dead and Wendy is cracking wise.
It serves him right, since he was something of a pioneer at the forefront of emotional repression.
"It gets better," Wendy says.
"Better? Jesus, Wendy, do you hear yourself?"
"Okay, that came out wrong."
"He asked us to sit shiva."
"Who are we talking about? Dad! Dad wanted us to sit shiva."
Wendy sighs, like its positively exhausting having to navigate the dense forest of my obtuseness. "Yes, apparently, thats the optimal time to do it."
"But Dads an atheist."
"Dad was an atheist."
"Youre telling me he found God before he died?"
"No, Im telling you hes dead and you should conjugate your tenses accordingly."
If we sound like a couple of callous assholes, its because thats how we were raised. But in fairness, wed been mourning for a while already, on and off since he was first diagnosed a year and a half earlier. Hed been having stomachaches, swatting away my mothers pleas that he see a doctor, choosing instead to increase the regimen of the same antacids hed been taking for years. He popped them like Life Savers, dropping small squibs of foil wrapping wherever he went, so that the carpets glittered like wet pavement. Then his stool turned red.
"Your fathers not feeling well," my mother understated over the phone.
"My shits bleeding," he groused from somewhere behind her. In the fifteen years since Id moved out of the house, Dad never came to the phone. It was always Mom, with Dad in the background, contributing the odd comment when it suited him. Thats how it was in person too. Mom always took center stage. Marrying her was like joining the chorus.
On the CAT scan, tumors bloomed like flowers against the charcoal desert of his duodenal lining. Into the lore of Dads legendary stoicism would be added the fact that he spent a year treating metastatic stomach cancer with Tums. There were the predictable surgeries, the radiation, and then the Hail Mary rounds of chemo meant to shrink the tumors but that instead shrank him, his once broad shoulders reduced to skeletal knobs that disappeared beneath the surface of his slack skin.
Then came the withering of muscle and sinew and the sad, crumbling descent into extreme pain management, culminating with him slipping into a coma, the one we knew hed never come out of. And why should he? Why wake up to the painful, execrable mess of end-stage stomach cancer? It took four months for him to die, three more than the oncologists had predicted. "Your dads a fighter," they would say when we visited, which was a crock, because hed already been soundly beaten. If he was at all aware, he had to be pissed at how long it was taking him to do something as simple as die. Dad didnt believe in God, but he was a life- long member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can.
So his actual death itself was less an event than a final sad detail.
Excerpted from This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Tropper. Excerpted by permission of Dutton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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