Cover

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Praise, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-x

CONTENTS

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pp. xi-xii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

Thank you to the journals in which these essays first appeared: “Surfacing,” in Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction; “Notes Toward Building the Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania,” in Witness (as “Notes Toward Building the Memorial”); “The Yellow Flowers,” in Fourth River; “The End of the World,” in New Orleans Review...

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Afterward: An Introduction

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pp. 1-9

These things usually start with a date, so:
On February 26, 2000, my mother’s fiftieth birthday, I found myself staring up at pieces of plywood in an exurb of Denver, Colorado. The plywood covered some windows that had been broken on purpose almost a year earlier and would stay in place until completion of renovations...

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A for Absence

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pp. 10-12

Memory fails me, us. Our emotions fade until, like reconciling lovers, we no longer remember what upset us in the first place. But a physical object — the monument — reminds us every time we encounter it, holds up the event we have forgotten so that we might recall what happened, so that we do not forget. And the monuments...

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Surfacing

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pp. 13-27

On the eighth of November 1975, a storm forms in Oklahoma and begins moving northeast, picking up speed and intensity. The next day, it passes over Kansas City, over the older suburb of Mission, on the Kansas side of the state line, over a brown house on Nall Avenue where my parents, Tom and Kathie Rafferty...

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A for Ancestry

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pp. 28-30

I am marked by my people.
“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised,” God tells Abraham as the two of them establish a religion. “My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people...

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The Path

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pp. 31-43

I am a Midwesterner, Kansas City born, and despite living in a half dozen other states in my life, it is that city, split unevenly between Kansas and Missouri, to which I feel most closely bound. I was born in the old St. Mary’s Hospital in downtown Kansas City, in the shadow of the Liberty Memorial, and my parents moved me...

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A for Answers

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pp. 44-45

Where did these come from? This little one, this scratch, faint on my arm — what caused it? How many could I count if I spent an hour? Two hours? If I took a pen and traced each one, how long before I blacked out my body?
The cat’s claws? A spark from a fire? An envelope opened...

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Notes Toward Building the Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

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pp. 46-55

1. Here is the site, and here are the names of the people who died.
2. But to reach the site — it is remote, nearly inaccessible, and although the exit for the town is well marked, I still ask the Pennsylvania Turnpike tollbooth operator for directions out of town, to the site. They have printed up directions on a small flyer...

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A for Anatomy

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pp. 56-58

I remember, during my training as an altar boy, the priest rolling up the cloth that normally covered the marble altar of our church, Saint Agnes, to reveal a square plug of white stone.
“Under this,” he said, “is our saint’s relic. A piece of bone.”
My eyes must have widened. At that age I was obsessed with saints and the stories...

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Victims: The Yellow Flowers

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pp. 59-73

Underground. Double-checking my train’s departure time on the encased poster, I pass a note to the ticket agent. I do not speak Polish, nothing beyond a weak Do you speak English? and so all of my communication in this country is written out, copied carefully from my phrase book.
She looks at my note, crosses out the part...

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Bystanders: The End of the World

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pp. 74-92

I don’t understand the language, but I still know what’s happening.
At the altar in front of me, the priest speaks the words of greeting. The crowd responds appropriately. I hear a few words that I understand. No, not true. I hear one: Bog. God.
Few things in this world are quieter...

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Perpetrators: Undrawn Lines

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pp. 93-107

I remember the Nazi Boys of junior high, the ones who doodled swastikas endlessly in the margins of their notebooks, who looked up Mein Kampf in the card catalog of the school library, who wore all black and faux Iron Crosses they’d found at swap meets and auto shows. They lingered over the photos of corpses...

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A for Ache

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pp. 108-110

I read once that an infant’s brain at birth is completely smooth, and only as the child begins to process information coming from outside does the brain form the kinks and bends that give it its familiar shape. The events of our lives, no matter how minute, leave a physical reminder upon our brains, a scar painlessly made. Is a headache, then...

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The Definite Article

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pp. 111-124

First song: she comes out, precarious on high platforms. She wears a black ensemble, as though in mourning. Her negligee flows out behind her, caught in the light diffracting off all the smoke in the room. She grasps the pole and swings herself around casually, testing her footing on high platform heels. Reassured, she shrugs...

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A for Accident

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pp. 125-127

The car runs the light and comes directly for my door. True to cliché, time slows, enough that I can think, He’s going to hit us, before he does, shoving my car off the road and toward a light pole. Time crawls for that second.
With a detachment that must emerge as a defense mechanism as we realize our imminent death...

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This Day in History

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pp. 128-140

September 10, 1776: Nathan Hale volunteers to spy for the Continental Army.

* * *
I’ve been to New York City once in thirty-five years, so it’s a little odd for me to presume that I could write anything about what to do with Ground Zero, or to critique what has been done with the site. I never saw the...

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Doors

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pp. 141-156

Spring came to Tuscaloosa last Monday, a brief two-week season between the forty-degree winter and too-humid summer, and the trees have all blossomed. I can’t see any of that, though. When I look around the building I’m in, Foster Auditorium, the only thing I find is all the proof of its neglect and decay...

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A for Accumulation

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pp. 157-159

All of this scar tissue builds up until it’s nearly impossible to penetrate. I’m careful, when I donate blood, to alternate arms, even though I have great veins, veins I’m complimented on, veins they call the trainees over to do. I don’t want to have access blocked to this, one of the few good things I do regularly. The tiny needle...

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What I Was Doing There

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pp. 160-174

Finding a crowded spot on the island of Oahu isn’t hard. The island, home to Honolulu International Airport (upgrade your rental car to a convertible for just an extra five dollars a day!), contains the fiftieth state’s largest city, most thoroughly equipped shopping mall, and the majority of its main tourist sites. Several experienced...

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Phantoms (A Correspondence)

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pp. 175-179

Dear Walsh,
The last two mornings, my wife and I have woken to a scurrying sound over our heads, and the last two afternoons, I’ve pulled down the attic ladder and climbed up to see what’s there that shouldn’t be there, roaming around the flattened cardboard boxes we stored when we moved to Fredericksburg...

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Reflecting Mirror: Orlando, the Day After

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pp. 180-182

I want the light to shine through.

* * *
My wife and I are in Orlando — the Kennedy Space Center, actually, an hour out from the Land of the Mouse — and in front of me stands the massive Astronaut Memorial, tilted, tiled panels of black granite with names on them. It is the day after a tornado has hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama...

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Hallow This Ground

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pp. 183-196

I’m from the Midwest; I know cold. As a child in Kansas, I once slid home from school on sheets of ice covering the sidewalks. When I lived in Iowa, I figured out a path from the edge of campus to my classroom that took me through as many buildings as possible, an escape from a wind chill so brutal that it could freeze...

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Aftermath: A Conclusion

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pp. 197-202

Another day, another empty field.
Except not really — by this point in my life it’s never an empty field. A wooden fence, rough-hewn, zigzags its way across my edge of the field in front of a forest. A path, muddy from the earlier rain, rolls up and down the field’s dips. My dog sniffs around the base of a sapling and raises his leg...

Notes

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pp. 203-206

Book Club Guide

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pp. 207-210

About the Author

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pp. 211-211