To begin with death. To work my way back into life, and then, finally, to return to death. Or else: the vanity of trying to say anything about anyone. It was a hot morning in early July
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To begin with death. To work my way back into life, and then, finally, to return to death. Or else: the vanity of trying to say anything about anyone. It was a hot morning in early July I took a six thirty a. I interpreted the cramps as a sign of worry for my father.
My father picked me up at the airport at nine a. Two of your three brothers are here. You have no family in Miami. Who are you going to turn to?
When he leaned over to open the door, he began to cough, a deep and hollow cough that produced a mouthful of thick phlegm, which he spat out in paper napkins piled up in a plastic bag next to him.
So whenever he coughed, he covered his entire face with both his hands. I waited for him to stop coughing, then leaned over and kissed him. The blunt edge of his high cheekbones struck my lips hard. That morning at the airport he wore a gray sweater, a striped blue shirt and navy pants that looked like they belonged to someone twice his size.
At that point, I still wanted to believe that our discomforts might be comparable, something that a few herbs and aromatic plants could fix. A large Jamaican woman with a knit rainbow head wrap, she motioned my father to a chair next to a machine that looked like it was set up for an eye exam. Leaning in, she examined the whites of his eyes on the screen. After my own eye scan, she told me I had an imbalance in my uterus. Had I ever missed any periods?
Had I taken a pregnancy test? Everyone in his waiting room, mostly Caribbean, African, and Eastern European immigrants, seemed to be struggling for breath. Some, like my father, were barely managing on their own, while others dragged mobile oxygen tanks behind them. At the same time, it was where Papa appeared most comfortable, where he could cough without being embarrassed, because others were coughing too, some even more vociferously.
In the skeletal faces and winded voices around him, he could place himself on some kind of continuum, one where he was still coming out ahead. A nurse asked my father to step on a scale soon after we arrived. This was the part of the visits he would come to dread most, for it offered proof that he was indeed shrinking. Before he became ill he had carried pounds on his five-eleven frame.
During that July visit he weighed pounds. When we stepped into his office, Dr. Padman quickly introduced himself. A short, bespectacled South Asian man with only a trace of an accent, he seemed, like my father and me, to have spent part of his life in a section of the world that still echoed in his voice. With the examining table and a full-size scale filling up the tiny room, there was space for only one seat across from his desk, where a computer screen was angled toward a barred window, away from the patient.
Padman asked. Padman continued. Or maybe it was simply a way of not having to remember names. He took advantage of Dr. Padman would write a letter for his Taxi and Limousine Commission appeal, stating that he was taking the codeine for legitimate medicinal purposes.
Padman nodded and made a note on a yellow pad. Then he picked up the phone and buzzed his assistant. Edie was a skinny, perky Filipina who spoke every sentence at the top of her voice, as though it were being broadcast through a bullhorn at a pep rally. Padman told my father. My father looked up at Edie, then back at the doctor with equal helplessness. He slowly pushed himself up by holding the back of the chair.
He had no air to spare. Edie will take good care of him. You can look it up on the Internet. Padman said, as though this was the kind of information one could keep to oneself.
What causes an illness like this? I wondered as Dr. Padman and I waited for my father to return from his pulmonary function test. Could it be the persistent car fumes from the twenty-five-plus years my father had worked as a cabdriver? Besides, the transplant is no guarantee. Edie was standing behind him when he appeared in the doorway. Her shoulders drooping, she momentarily seemed as breathless as my father, who had been unable to get through the test.
Each time she asked him to breathe into the tube, she reported, he would nearly collapse from coughing. In the past two months or so, when my father stood for too long, his body would shake as though he might suddenly fall over. His body was shaking now. Instead he prescribed more prednisone and codeine. He pushed his head back against the wall, closed his eyes and tried to take deep breaths, which came out as gasps.
Now he seemed even more apprehensive, lost in the isolated world of the unwell. In the car I broached again the very first question Dr.
Padman had posed to him. Not bad. Okay, even. Not coughing too much. Not breathing too hard. Driving was fine because he was not exerting too much energy, but walking was difficult. Walking was hell. He had a meeting at the car service business he ran with my uncle Franck, the younger of his two brothers and the only one of his four surviving siblings living in the United States.
My stomach was cramping again, so hard and so frequently that I wondered if perhaps the herbalist might be right after all. Was something going on with me? I asked my father to drop me off at a nearby pharmacy, where I picked up a pregnancy test. I squinted to examine the results. One pink line popped up, then two. I examined the box again to make sure I was interpreting correctly.
One line meant not pregnant, two meant pregnant, a symbolism that of course made sense. Before the results, one believed oneself to be one; then suddenly one was two. I leaned against the sink, grabbing hold of the faucet so I could remain on my feet. My father was dying and I was pregnant. Both struck me as impossibly unreal. Cradling the now wet plastic wand, I slipped to the floor and sobbed. I was afraid of losing my father and also struck with a different kind of fear: baby panic.
Everything was suddenly mixed up in my head and leading me to the darkest places. Would I carry to full term? Would there be complications? Would I die? Would the baby die? Would the baby and I both die? Would my father die before we died? Or would we all die at the same time? On the other hand, bringing a child into the world seemed to be about anything but death. It was a huge leap of faith in the future, an acknowledgment that one would somehow continue to exist. I had to speak to my husband.
I blindly searched my purse for my cell phone and dialed his number. But there was no other way to do it on this particular day. Still, I held back from telling him about my father. How wonderful is that? I could imagine his calm, reassuring smile, broader with delight.
Brother, I'm Dying
Edwidge Danticat is a powerful and celebrated voice in contemporary fiction. Edwidge grew up in Haiti, where she was raised by her uncle. When she was 12, she moved to the United States where she joined her parents and siblings whom she hardly knew. And I grew up in Port au Prince, spent the first 12 years of my life there. My mother and father left Haiti before I did, my father, when I was two, my mother when I was four, and I grew up with my uncle Joseph and his wife Tante Denise in a neighborhood in Haiti called Bel Air. Back then, a very lower middle class neighborhood but one that had grown increasingly poor over the years.
NEA Big Read
Background[ edit ] Edwidge Danticat is a contemporary author of Haitian heritage. She was born on January 19, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to a cab driver and a seamstress. By the time Danticat was four years of age, both of her parents had immigrated to New York City to seek the American Dream. After Danticat and her younger brother were left in Haiti by her parents, she was raised by her uncle and his wife. Not knowing if she would ever see her parents again, they finally sent for her and her sibling when she was twelve years old to join them in New York. In , she married Faidherbe Boyer and had two daughters.
Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. Late in , his life threatened by an angry mob, forced to flee his church, the frail, eighty-one-year-old Joseph makes his way to Miami, where he thinks he will be safe. Instead, he is detained by U.