He announced his arrival two and one-half months early—always jumping the gun, my nephew—and his mother was flown out of the canyon and into the city, a mile high, and instead of the sounds of a preselected birthing playlist and the cadence of Lamaze inhalations, exhalations, he was squeezed and cajoled into the world by a uterine wall that writhed and keened to a rhythm matching the force of helicopter blades and the wail of sirens, and when the exhausted womb failed, a surgeon sliced across his mother’s belly and let him free of the jelly and veins, the arteries that twist and hang, and he was born with his blood infused with adrenaline. Under the fluorescent glare of bili lights and swathed in the heat of an incubator and accompanied by a choir of motorized hissing and the loathing of death, he was baptized with sterile water.
Many months and a few miles away from the scent of alcohol and latex, away in the suburbs, a second baptism was celebrated with oil and holy water and spices and slats of evening sun through the grandmother’s living room blinds and candles and the clinking of glasses and godparents and the thanks be to G-d. A second baptism was celebrated so his spirit could grow when back in the canyon, appearing and disappearing between the shadows, the play of light and dark that the turn of a river and a jutting of rock can create. A second baptism so he could grow in the canyon, diving between the alternating hot and cold that the healing springs emit according to the depth of the water, the courage of the wader. And so he grew. His head always tilted slightly to the left, the mark [End Page 27] of muscles deprived of oxygen in a hasty advent, the only outward manifestation of his early entry, and soon—years can fly—with his adolescent head tilted to the left, and with his bleached blonde mane whipping behind, he flew screaming down the mountain of light, throwing fresh snow behind him, and children followed, and the drifts parted from the reverberations of laughter, and with his head tilted slightly to the left, he paddled down rapids and prayed that he would not go under, that the water would not consume him, that the neonatal surge of dopamine would reappear. And down the mountain and down the river he was a blurred vision of confirmation and hiking the back roads and nativity plays and piano lessons and passion plays and hunting elk and a khaki-clad boy renounced to penance and multiplication tables by nuns and sleeping in yurts and kneeling and cooking pumpkin pies with his mother and an altar boy sipping wine. There he was—an altar boy sipping wine.
At 14, still a boy, not even a young man, he began to leave. He left for the Southwest and a uniform and a school of boys, boys who needed a firm hand and morning marches and taps at dusk. It’s what he wanted. Two years past the constant warmth of the desert sun and the yes-sirs and the preconceived days and nights and the separation from his parents, at 16 —this was two years past— he left for Australia where the light turned upside down, with the Rotary Club as his host, his host amid the surf and sand, and the surf became his mountain, his mountain of waves that could crush his skull and keep the epinephrine rolling until he found his way to shore, drenched with sweat and salt, found his way to shore and a bottle of red, a bottle of white, a bottle of stout, and a bottle more. “He’s drowning,” I told my husband. “He’s drowning and his mother should know.” “No. That’s the way of the world,” my husband told me. That’s the way of the world.
Back in the canyon, back from down under, he spoke like a native Aussie and I thought that was strange, and I thought that was strange that he would absorb the speech so...