[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
001 002 Prologue 001-002 003 004 005 Chap 1 003-005
Chap 2 006 007 008 Chap 3 007-008 009 010 Chap 4 009-010 011 012 013 Chap 5 011-013 014 015 016 017
Chap 6 014-017 018 019 Chap 7 018-019 020 021 022 023 Chap 8 020-023 024 025 026 027 Chapter 9 024-027 028 029
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 030
I don’t believe in astrology and the phases and alignment of the planets and all that stuff, and I don’t read the daily horoscopes. But I have wondered over the years if Dad’s way of looking at the world was not somehow determined by the fact that he was born the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Whatever the reason, he’s one of the few people who, I believe, really tried to do more for his country and other people than he expected from them in return. He was a patriot without the quotation marks.
In the late fall of 1988 just before I went off to college he asked me to go for a long walk with him in the forestland that abutted our property. It was a trek we had made together many times during my childhood and teen years, but this time he wanted to “talk about important things” rather than just “enjoy the nature around us.”
“You’re old enough now,” he began as we crossed a small stream that was the rear property line, “to be aware of how things are.” This was coded phrasing for him, and it referred to the divisions in the world, unfair, as he always pointed out, but there nonetheless.
“That’s true,” I agreed.
“I’ve never told you about Viet Nam, but now I want to.”
After he had finished medical school and a year of residency he was all set, in 1968, to enter a residency in general surgery. Instead he enlisted in the army to serve in Viet Nam.
“But you didn’t have to, did you?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I didn’t have to.” He paused a moment. “But it was my duty.” There were not quotation marks around the word duty either.
“How do you mean?”
“People my age were going to Viet Nam to be horribly damaged and even die, and people my age were going to Canada and Sweden to avoid that. I wanted to do my share.
“As it turned out, I couldn’t have gotten better training in general surgery, and when I returned to the states three years later I was a shoo-in for a very fine residency in reconstructive surgery. And that led, ultimately, to cosmetic surgery.
“I’ve been very, very lucky, Mazarine. The things, the money, the cars, the educations for you kids, all of that … it all came at a cost. A truly horrible cost.” And this is when he got that thousand-yard stare in his eyes I saw for the first time that afternoon. He was back in the field hospitals. “I learned what I learned and became what I became because a lot of young men had their faces blown off. I never paid them for what they gave me. Nobody ever really did. But I’ve earned a great deal of money because of them, because of their suffering.”
He stopped and turned to look at me, with great intensity. “We must never, never forget that, Mazarine. I hope you will remember it all of your life. What we owe to those young men.”
That’s it. We walked for another hour or so without a word, listening to bird songs and observing the forest. But I never did forget that afternoon or what he had said. It made a deep impression on me. It’s certainly one of the reasons I don’t cheat on my taxes. The government gets it share of every penny I earn, on Aspasia’s books or off.
My parents instilled in me a lot of their own common sense about the world and its flaws, and, I hope, some of their essential decency. By the example of their own lives each of them helped to inoculate me against the ideological viruses that seemed to find such fast and fertile footholds in the unthinking minds of many of my contemporaries in both high school and the university. I was never seduced by the silly siren song of communism (Dad, sighing: “It will never last, Mazarine. It can’t. It’s basic assumption is that the vast majority of humans are by nature altruistic, and that is a false assumption.”) and I did not grow up in a pampering hothouse that allowed for the luxury of venomous hatred for America and all things American (Mom, huffing: “Those morons should all read Plato’s Crito and write a monthly essay on that dialogue.”).
I thought of myself as a grounded person, well adjusted, not burdened by childhood scars. I didn’t see myself as messed up. Furthermore, I certainly hoped I was not entertaining any serious illusions in this regard.
The train was starting to decrease speed, and shortly we pulled into the quaint little fifties-style station that served the community of Akers Pond. Since it was a Monday morning, there weren’t a lot of people riding away from the city and only a few individuals got off the train. Both my parents were on the platform waiting for me. They waved, and I felt a small lump in my throat. I threw myself into Mom’s arms and then hung my arms around Dad’s neck.
“It’s so nice to see you, honey,” Mom said.
“It’s been too long,” Dad added.
“Well, I’m really glad to be here.”
Dad hefted my little suitcase and we walked over to the nearby parking lot and got in the car. We went to a pancake place that had been in town since the beginning of time and had a leisurely, hi-carb lunch.
Dad dropped us off at the house and then continued on to the hospital. He is an adjunct professor at the university in the city but does most of his procedures here in town. After I got settled into my old room and chit-chatted with Mom, I went for a short walk. Everything was so quiet, so unhurried. The contrast with the city struck me: only the occasional sound of a truck passing on a distant highway, a car going by on the road in front of the house, the purling sound of water flowing in the brook, the background creaks and snaps of insects, birds. Tranquility, almost mesmerizing in its sluggishness.
The week sped by. We went out to eat a lot, drank good wine, talked late into night. One afternoon Mom and I went to the cemetery and put fresh flowers on the grave where Grandpa now rested next to his wife. I finished the Annals of Tacitus and decided I’d start in on the Symposium when I got back to the city. Latin and then Greek. Sweet as it was to be with my parents, by Friday I was getting a little antsy and was ready to leave, and on Saturday Mom and Dad drove me to the station to catch the 14:14 that would put me back in the city before five and my apartment before six. We hugged, and Mom, like me, let a few tears drop.
“I love you both so much,” I choked.
They both nodded. “We love you, too, Mazarine.”
They kept waving until I could no longer see them.
TO BE CONTINUED