They say when my parents arrived home from the hospital with me that my brother who had been at home with the live-in housekeeper/nannie greeted me at the door with a baseball glove and a baseball because he had been told that I was to be his companion, someone to play baseball with. My wife says, “Of course, that’s what they told siblings in those days when they brought babies home.”

They also used to tell a story about how I fell from the bed as a baby in mysterious circumstances in the presence of my brother. Of all the people who told these stories or were principals in them, only I remain. No one can deny the embroidery I might choose to add to the recounting.

But I told my office colleagues – as a way to soften the statement that I had just made about going to visit my brother whose cancer had blossomed in his body – that one of the things I intended to do was to tell him that I forgave him for the incident with the hammer.

It must have happened sometime before 1948 and probably when I was six or seven. A playhouse had been erected in the side yard of our house in the Chicago suburbs, probably no more than ten feet by six feet, with a door and a window in the front and windows in the end walls. The outside was wooden weatherboards nailed to two-by=four studs. The inside walls were unfinished, leaving a ledge above the door where the header framed the opening. It was on that header that my brother had placed a hammer, a place to keep it out-of-the-way but handy.

It was my habit to enter the playhouse by jumping from the ground outside, up the six inches that it took to reach the sill. It must have seemed like a sign of ownership or something, making the little house tremble a bit on its concrete block foundations. It made me feel good.

And on this day, the balanced hammer responded to my entry by toppling onto my head.

I don’t remember any of this reliably. The memory of it has always been made clear by the inch-long scar on the left side of the back of my head, visible through my teenage years and into my time in the military when I wore my hair in a crew cut. But they say that I ran, sobbing loudly, from the playhouse to the kitchen porch, with blood oozing from the wound and down my neck. And placing the blame squarely on my brother. And over the years, the blame remained on him although the story began to be told more as the evidence of a brotherly bond than as a story about murderous intent.

So it was my intention, during my visit, to tell Walt that I forgave him, that I knew his intent had been innocent. Sitting in the room that he had adopted as his own when he became sick, lying on the bed where his pain had made him switch position so his feet were at the head of the bed, his large hand covering the left side of his face to help him reflect or to shield himself from his present situation, eyes closed, he said, “So what do you want me to tell you?”

So I said no, I wanted to make sure that I told you that I forgive you for the hammer incident. He didn’t even wait for a second sentence.

“Oh, my god! From the moment I realized what happened I knew I had done the stupidest thing imaginable. I tried to work it out that it was just a simple accident, but I knew that I had put the hammer in the worst possible place, that I should have known that it would hurt someone.”

And he and I were alone in the room, the last two survivors of that incident, one who carried the physical scar which he could not even see, the other who had carried the blame, blame without intent but blame, as a real part of his life.


In September in anticipation of the beginning of his chemotherapy I sent Walt some biker doo rags; he sent me this selfie with one of them in place.


en route, Tampa to Providence

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