From the time my siblings and I were very young, our blind parents taught us to assist them in ways they could not assist themselves. So we accompanied them grocery shopping. We read their mail. We sat next to them in theaters and whispered what we saw on the screen. We told them when they were wearing porn. They did not wear porn often, as far as I know, and it could be that our mother never wore it at all. Perhaps our father wore it only once. All I know for certain is that he arrived home from work one day so wet from a summer storm that his white dress shirt had turned transparent, revealing his T-shirt beneath, on which was a picture of a naked man and woman.
At first I thought the couple was wrestling, with the man having pinned his smaller opponent to the floor. No, I concluded, this is something else. I closed my comic book, rose from the couch and moved toward my father to get a better look, and my father, blind since the age of twelve, the age I was at the time, asked who was there. By then I understood what the couple was doing. I also understood that my father had mistakenly put on my eighteen-year-old brother's T-shirt and that, if this mistake were made known, my father would explode.
The last time my father exploded was three months earlier, on a [End Page 1] late afternoon in March. There was precipitation that day as well: large droplets of freezing rain that pelted us as we walked along 79th Street, arguing about my new shoes. The shoes were in the box I carried under the arm opposite the one my father held, and at issue was the fact that they weren't the current fashion. They were flats like my father's, like everyone's father's, I suspected—the footwear of old men and of nerds. I was a nerd, it is true, but the growth spurt I was experiencing included not only my body but also my sense of who I was and of what I might become. I might become cool, it had recently occurred to me, but for that to happen I needed platform shoes. My older siblings wore them, as did most of my friends, as did Don Cornelius and the Soul Train dancers. "When you're a dancer on Soul Train," my father responded to this last point, "I'll buy you platform shoes. Better yet, I'll buy you stilts." He laughed, and I regret that I did not simply laugh with him. Instead, I led him off the edge of the curb, where his feet plunged into the four inches of slush that, at the last moment, I had cleared with a short leap. My father shoved me aside, telling me to get away from him, although later, when we were home, he called me back. I found him in his bedroom, removing his belt. He ordered me to lower my pants and bend over. The pain on my backside lasted two days. But despite the heavy price I paid, I have not forgiven myself for what I did. I never will.
But my father forgave me. He forgave all of his children for our transgressions, the many violations of his and our mother's trust that provided a counterbalance to our assistance, like how we gathered our vegetables in our hands during dinner and, under the pretense of getting more milk, dumped them behind the refrigerator; how we kept our lights on in our bedrooms well after lights-off time; how we tiptoed into the kitchen to sneak cookies; how when told to turn off the television, we put it on mute; and how, if we were in the front of the house playing a particularly captivating game beyond our curfew, we remained silent as our father stood on the porch, his hands cupped to his lips, calling our names—transgressions we might have gotten away with if lights and televisions did not hum, vegetables did not rot, neighbors did...