"I don't know, seeing your father again after all these years, remembering Bud and his death, reliving the experience of finding the body. Any one of those things by itself would be enough for you to be not fine, put them all together and somehow I'm not buying it. I mean, you had repressed most of this stuff and you wouldn't have done that if you had been in a position to handle it."
"What do you want me to say? It's over, it happened, I'll deal with it."
"And have it bite you in the ass when you least expect it and cannot afford it? Not very wise."
"I just don't want to talk about it. OK, Chief?"
"What do you want me to say? It's not like I can change any of it so why dwell on it."
"And if you could, what would you change?"
"What's the point of this?"
"Humor me, what would you change?"
"On a rational level, some of the shit that happened with my dad. On an instinctive gut level, finding that body I guess."
"That's understandable. You were a child and you were confronted with something you had no business seeing in the first place."
"Not just that, but also if I hadn't found the body and I hadn't seen Bud's killer maybe things with my dad wouldn't have spiraled out of control like they did."
"What do you mean?"
"Things weren't perfect before that, not by a long shot, but they were not so bad. It got a lot worse after Bud's death. First I lost my mentor, who provided some sort of shelter, and then it was precisely because I had been able to see Bud's killer that my dad called me a freak for the first time."
"So it all comes down to that moment."
"Pretty much. I had never seen a corpse before that, not up close and personal, and then stumbling onto the body of someone who was almost a father to me like that was a real shock. I can tell you it was not like in the movies. Of course, in time I had to get used to gruesome scenes, but back then it caught me totally off guard and I really didn't know what to do."
"Believe me, you are not alone there. I remember the first time I went to a funeral and it still gives me the creeps just thinking about it."
"Well funerals are not supposed to be joyous gatherings, you know?"
"I know, but that was awful. I had just turned three at the time and..."
"Let me get this straight, Naomi took you to a funeral when you were just three?"
"Yes, when I asked her about it she said something about accepting death as a part of life. Also, it's not like she could have gotten out of attending it. It was her younger brother. He was killed in a car crash when he was sixteen. Besides I wasn't the only kid there."
"That must have been bad."
"I really don't remember much about my uncle, just that he used to tickle me a lot whenever we were there, which wasn't all that often."
"And what happened?"
"Well, I mean, my uncle's death changed everything, especially as far as my relationship with my grandfather was concerned."
"You have to understand that Naomi was the middle child, she had an older sister and then there was her brother. Back then my grandfather couldn't stand the sight of me. I was an embarrassment, you see? His daughter's bastard son."
"Did he ever call you that?"
"I think so, not to my face, but I think I remember him telling Naomi something about 'her little bastard' when they were arguing. I didn't really know what it meant at the time, that came later. Anyway, my aunt was already married when my uncle died. I remember my cousin was there during the funeral. He was two years older than me, and we were playing. I don't think either one of us understood what was going on, and we were irritating everyone with our lack of respect. I guess I can understand that now, but honestly, what did they expect? Eventually my aunt took my cousin to a different room to try and get him to calm down, and then mom came to me and took me to see my uncle."
"And what happened?"
"Well, nothing particularly dramatic, I mean, he didn't raise from the dead or anything like that, but it was scary. Remember, this was a jewish funeral and he had died in an accident, in fact he had been killed instantly."
"Well, there were a couple of factors, one of them had to do with the fact that the funerary business was not nearly as developed then as it is now and given the size of the jewish community in that town funerals still took place in the house, so it was a really weird combination of a very familiar environment with truly exceptional circumstances. The body was in my grandparent's bedroom but everything was so different, it was dark and there were people there, I really couldn't understand what it was that they were doing. That made things somewhat more surreal, but the thing I remember most vividly is the scent of blood. You see, even though in Jewish funerals there are no attempts to make the corpse appear life-like, traditionally the body is carefully washed as part of the ritual to purify it, but given that the blood is part of the body it deserves burial and because of that my uncle's body couldn't be washed, and since he had been killed instantly there had been no attempts to clean up his wounds by doctors trying to save his life either. That meant that my uncle's body was still covered in blood and then my mom made me touch him. My grandfather was furious at that, but Naomi wanted me to see that he wasn't sleeping, she wanted me to understand that he was dead. He was so cold and..."
"My god! What was she thinking? How could she make you touch him? You were just a baby!"
"I don't know, but I don't think I'll ever forget it. I think that may have something to do with my inability to get through an autopsy though."
"I can imagine, but you said that your uncle's death changed everything with your grandfather."
"Yes, you see, when my uncle died I went from being my grandfather's shame to being his hope. He had had one son and two daughters, then his son died when he was just sixteen. Before that happened I was 'Naomi's bastard' and I think he did everything he could to forget about me but after his son died I became the only heir to the Sandburg name. I mean, it wasn't like he was suddenly proud of having a bastard for a grandson, but it meant that his name wouldn't die with him. Having lost most of his family to the death camps that sense of continuity was important to him. The problem was that my grandfather's acceptance of me as part of his family destroyed the relationship between Naomi and her sister. My aunt had always been the 'good daughter', and she resented the hell out of the fact that my grandfather chose me over her kids because I was a 'Sandburg'. She had done what he had asked, she had gotten married and she had given him two legitimate grandchildren already, and would eventually give him two more, but all that was swept aside when my uncle died on behalf of the 'little bastard'. She never forgave Naomi for that, or me for that matter."
"So you stayed in touch with your family after that?"
"We always had some contact with them, but not much. There were just too many differences for a closer relationship to work, though sometimes Naomi did try to accommodate my grandparents, like with my bar mitzvah. That was my grandmother's idea, and it was done mostly for the benefit of my grandfather, though it was important for other reasons as well. I mean even if I'm not a practicing Jew those are still my roots and for obvious reasons remembrance is a concept that carries a lot of weight in that particular community, so Naomi knew she really couldn't refuse and I'm glad she didn't try."
"I had wondered about that. A bar mitzvah didn't sound like Naomi at all. But what about your uncle, the one who taught you how to drive a rig, or your cousin the bookie? I mean, how do they fit into that picture?"
"They are my family, but not by blood. They are people I met along the way and I sort of adopted them. You see, I got in the habit of referring to the people my mom left me with as 'aunts' and 'uncles', and their children became my 'cousins'. I guess it was better than acknowledging that I had been left with almost total strangers."
"Couldn't she just have left you with your grandparents? It sounds like you were close to them."
"She never tried that. I think my grandparents would have liked it, but Naomi just wasn't willing to risk the confrontation her parenting style would have caused. Their relationship was complicated enough without opening that can of worms. In a sense I think it was better for me that way, I mean, I would have loved spending more time with them when I was little but having to shift from my mom's carefree lifestyle to a fairly traditional jewish environment would have been way too difficult and confusing back then. I don't think I could have handled it without Naomi there to mediate between us."
"Did your grandfather ever comment on Naomi's lifestyle?"
"When she first got pregnant he was furious but as I said after my uncle died that changed. I think toward the end he had already figured out that even though he disagreed with some of Naomi's choices he understood that those choices were hers to make. Besides she was always his little girl, and in spite of everything I think he was proud of what she stood for, even if sometimes he disagreed with her methods."