December 30, 2001

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the school of the dead

Cixous writes: "For a long time I lived through my father's death with the feeling of immense loss and childlike regret, as in an inverted fairy tale: Ah, if my father had lived! I naively fabricated other magnificent stories, until the day things changed color and I began to see other scenes--including everything I could imagine that was less consoling--without overinvesting."

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I tell all my friends growing up that my father died of a gallbladder operation. Because no one tells me otherwise, even though he lived another six months after that operation. My fourth grade teacher tells me it is very unusual for someone to die of a gallbladder operation. She says, "Are you sure?" And I wonder if I'm hiding something.

I'm 21 before I ask.

My mother tells me the truth then, about the day he had his operation and the doctors took her in a room, there by herself, to tell her that her husband's gallbladder is fine, but his pancreas isn't. The diagnosis is pancreatic cancer. The prognosis, much as it is today, omonous. Six months maybe. My mother tells me the news rips her apart, and her first and strongest instinct is to wail for her own father. "Bring my daddy here. He'll know what to do. I need him." But there is no comforting to be done for this family.

There will never be comfort again.

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