After everyone else had gone home from Michael’s funeral, I stayed on with Mom, Dad and my brother Chucky, and I learned more about dignity from my Father that week than I ever have before or since.
At that time my parents had a modest house on Greenbay Road in a small section of Highland Park, Illinois, called Ravinia. About half a mile south of them was a world famous summer theatre also called Ravinia, into which my brothers had regularly sneaked on balmy nights to hear Ella Fitzgerald sing or Vladimir Horowitz play.
Five blocks north of their house was the tiny village of Ravinia, in which the barest minimum of shops serviced the needs of the immediate area: A barber shop, a pizza parlor, a drug store, a dry cleaner, and a deli. During the week I remained in Highland Park, I went on a lot of walks with my father. Sometimes we walked four or five miles north to visit my Aunt Libby and Uncle Jack. Sometimes we went even farther to the library in town, where we examined a few magazines or newspapers, and then walked home. Sometimes we just went around the block.
One day, though, my father led me to the little hamlet of Ravinia. He did not tell me what he was going to do before he did it. He walked to the barbershop and opened the door. I followed him in. He approached the proprietor.
“Hello, Mr. Reuben,” the barber said.
My father quietly asked the man if he remembered his son, Michael. The barber nodded and began to smile. “Of course, Michael comes in here often.”
Then the barber saw something in my father’s eyes. He stopped smiling, and my father told him that Michael had died last week in a boating accident.
The barber’s face froze in shock. “Oh, Mr. Reuben. He was such a fine young man. I’m so sorry.” My father nodded softly and walked out of the store. I followed him.
Samuel Reuben told of Mikey’s death in the same way to all of the proprietors of all the little shops in Ravinia … the man in the pizza parlor, the druggist, the owner of the dry cleaners, and the owner of the delicatessen. He told all of the nice people who knew and had done business with Michael.
Until now, I have never told anybody in my family about that walk. There was something so solemn about it, as my father went from store to store in the slow, lumbering gait of a broken mountain, carrying out a ritual of his own design, the purpose of which must have been acknowledgment, debt, truth, and something else that I can’t put my finger on.
The acknowledgment was that his beloved son Michael’s life had ended. The debt was to Mikey and to those who knew him. It was a debt of truth. A truth that had to be faced so that reality could be properly adjusted to admit of the loss of a fine young man.
My boy is dead and his passing shall not go unnoticed or unmourned … is what my father’s actions seemed to say.
It has taken over fifteen years of being stunned by Samuel Reuben’s quiet dignity for me to write about it.
My father was a great man. He was a poet in his acts and in his thoughts. He was an inventor in his deeds. He was a father to the very core of his being.
He loved all of his little chickadees as if each were his only child…as if the earth couldn’t rotate unless our existence gave it the motivation it needed to spin. The death of any of us would have devastated him equally. But Mikey … Mikey had a particular gentleness and vulnerability. There was a sensitivity to his soul suggesting that only a delicate, silky, almost translucent membrane protected his hopes and dreams from the devastating disillusionment of an often-ugly world.
And Mikey had beautiful eyes. Dark, deep and brooding. Or dark, sparkling and happy. A virile, sensitive, healthy young man who only needed one thing to survive and succeed as an individual: Time.
Time to live.
Time to learn and gather the strength to protect his precious individuality, iconoclasm and sensitivity.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben.