My brother, Michael Asher Reuben, was a talented, passionate, virile, handsome young man who wanted to write scripts, produce movies, compose music and do great deeds. Like many young people, he longed to make the world a better place. He despaired of the ugliness and immorality around him, and he agonized over the incurable horror of being twenty years old, an ailment the only remedy for which is growing up. Mikey, with his big, beautiful hazel eyes surrounded by the longest and curliest eyelashes ever known to man, died in a boating accident on March 3, 1974, shortly before his twenty-first birthday.
The light went out behind Samuel Reuben’s eyes when his oldest son died, because he had lost the joy of his existence. And Mikey was a joy. There was an innocence and a vigorous purity about him that was a delight to behold. There was an originality and an irregularity in his way of doing things that made one realize that iconoclasm was not going to die with my father.
His death broke was the fissure into my father’s well being through which crept an array of ailments that prematurely ended his life.
Mikey had a pet falcon named Dusk. He featured Dusk in a movie he made called “Pyhrric Victory” that starred my father. The only time my brother ever got in trouble with the law was when, caught under a bridge with a flashlight, he told an incredulous policeman that he was trying to trap a pigeon for Dusk’s dinner.
During his high school summers, Mikey worked as a house painter. He and his friend called themselves Renaissance Painters, and lugged around an enormous wooden sign on which they had painted those words, alongside what was unmistakably a Wise Old Owl. There was something so ineffably sweet and world-gentling about two high school boys in blue jeans with a few paint brushes and a ladder, and the grandiose implications of their Renaissance Painters sign.
When Mikey died and before the wagons circled, family members flew in from Canada, the Midwest and both coasts to support and comfort my parents. The funeral was a horrible, heart-wrenching affair that took place under a tent on a day so beautifully bright, I wanted to tear down the tent and scream that Mikey loved sunshine, and who the hell had asked them to put up a goddamn tent anyway. On the first Friday night after the funeral, we were having dinner at home, as usual, and my father stood at the head of the table to say the blessing for the meal. Halfway through the blessing, though, he started to cry and he had to leave the table. Then my Uncle Ikey tried to continue with the blessing, but midway into it, he started to cry, too.
When my sister wanted to take over, I told her to stop, that we should forget the prayer and eat. I couldn’t stand to see an escalation of the pain that we were already feeling. And I was stunned. I had never seen my father cry before.
My father was a mountain. A gentle mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.
Mountains are not supposed to cry. They are supposed to endure. To endure everything.
What do you do when you see a mountain cry?
A day or two later, I was sitting with my father in the guest room, and he asked me if I believed in an afterlife. I was taken off-guard, because although he often quoted philosophy to me, he was never one to discuss it. So without thinking, I blurted out, “No, I don’t. Do you?”
He answered very simply. “Yes. I have to believe in heaven, because then I’ll see Michael again.”
I looked at him, and felt so futile and useless, because there was nothing I could do to ease his pain.
“Is there anything I can get you, Daddy? Do you want anything?” I asked.
“I want my boy back,” he said. He said it so quietly and with such sad dignity, that I will never forget the sequence of those five words.
I will never forget that it was at that moment I realized hearts really do break.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben
What do you do when you see a mountain cry? Shelly Reuben
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