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  • Love & Fury
  • Richard Hoffman (bio)

My father is explaining that he thought it best to name my brother as executor of the will since he is local. He has also given him power-of-attorney when it comes to medical decisions. Well, he hasn’t actually filled out the paperwork, including a Do Not Resuscitate order, but he assures us he is going to do so. His signature there will ratify something he’d said to me on the phone a week or so earlier. “Just promise me that when I go you don’t let them bring me back, you hear? For Christ’s sake, it’s bad enough to have to die once.” I know he’s had a similar conversation with my brother, so there’s something about this meeting at the scarred and wobbly table that is formal, official, like closing on a house. My father is “passing papers.” Earlier he’d said, “After supper tonight I’d like to sit down with my sons and go over some things,” as if we were not the sons he was referring to. And in fact there is something detached and ceremonious about the way this is unfolding. “So. Any questions before I close up this box? Anything unclear you want me to go over again? No? Good.”

Then, the silence uncomfortable, I start to gather the remaining dishes, rise to take them to the sink. “Sit. Sit,” he says. “There is something else. Something else I want to talk to you boys about.” Joe and I sneak a look at each other: you boys? [End Page 63]

But whatever my father had planned to say, or at least the words he’d planned to use, won’t come; tears, which he stanches with difficulty, arrive in their stead. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I made a mistake once, a big mistake, and I don’t want it to cause any more trouble. Joe, I think you know a guy named Beerman. I think you went to school with him.” My brother is nodding, his brows knit, wondering what’s coming. “Well, his aunt is a woman named Amanda Schuler. I don’t know if that name means anything to you.”

It does. To me. And I can see my brother knows where this is going, too.

I can remember my father slamming the door on his way out to visit her. He and my mother had been arguing. It was right before Christmas, either the first or second since our move to this house, so I would have been fourteen or fifteen. I’ve never considered this before, but thinking back to my father in a coat and tie—something he never wore—groomed and cologned on his way out the door to his girlfriend’s house, further west even than our house on 13th Street, further into the wealth of the city, I wonder if my father was, perhaps, trying desperately for the bourgeois life denied him in the semi-squalor of our family. There was not only the heartbreak of my two brothers wasting away in their wheelchairs, doomed by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, not to mention their constant need for care, but also my mother’s less-than-respectable family: Helen, Cory, Etta, and Kenny—without education, alcoholic, vulgar, poor. My father’s prospects had just improved: he was hired as recreation director for the city. For years he had worked as a coach at the Boys’ Club, as a laborer, then as a city health inspector, all the while umpiring and refereeing for extra cash and his love of sports. Now he was finally getting to do what he loved. I imagine it felt as if a new life were possible.

“Well, you might someday hear from this guy Beerman that your dad had an affair with his aunt, so I wanted you to know that it’s true. I’m not proud of the fact. I was selfish and weak and I know I hurt your mother terribly. But I just wanted you to know so you don’t someday get in a brawl or something with this Beerman kid trying to deny...