Inner Loop Contest Nonfiction Winner: “The Many Afterlives”
October 1, 2021 @ 10:00am
To read about the three Inner Loop Contest winning entries, and interviews with the winners and judge, read Nicole Schaller’s coverage on the contest.
As it turns out, my father didn’t actually die of pancreatic cancer. He faked his death and joined a funk band. I caught him playing trumpet at a fiftieth birthday party.
Before his return, I pictured my father’s afterlife as a never-ending game of baseball with his friends, other refugees whose families also fled the Nazis and found their way to the Bronx. They’d wake up the drunks sleeping on the infield to be their referees. My kids’ sanitized soccer games always made him smile.
Sometimes my younger daughter plays my father’s keyboard, employing the same prerecorded background music he favored. Samba! That’s when I pretend that he is upstairs.
When they first got to this country, my grandmother woke before dawn and made Austrian tarts to sell to bakeries. They escaped from Vienna by taking a bus to the border of France and running across, dodging bullets. My grandfather was held in a French labor camp until three years later when their visa, sponsored by cousins, came through and they immigrated to the United States.
My father played tennis and golf, the picture of senior vitality, when he got his diagnosis. He’d dropped weight and took on a yellowish tinge. What really got him was that he would not live longer than his father, a smoker, who lived until 79.
Twenty-four hours now, the hospice workers would tell us in hushed voices after leaving my father lying on a hospital bed in the living room. He’d start the day angry when he realized he was still alive.
I surprise myself with how much pleasure I get from picturing my father in his hereafter scenarios. Some think you spend it with family, possibly on a cloud, but I know better. He passed two and a half years in and out of hospitals, lounging on the couch in his thick sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, like the Unabomber’s suburban cousin. Now he’s young and spry and fielding line drives on neglected baseball fields.
My sister says the trumpet player looks nothing like my father when I text her his picture. He’s at least thirty years younger for one thing, she points out, but I say who knows what shedding us as a family could do for a man.
There he is, my father, taking a solo. Not dead at all.
Follow Lynwander @amylynwander on Twitter + @lynwander on Instagram.
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