Watching my Great-Uncle Shave, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, circa 1954

Monday, January 14, 2019

All memory revolves in fragments, my good doctor says, and the memories begun in trauma are the most shattered, like a white dinner plate thrown across the room at the antique clock on the wall. 

Then the opposite must be true as well, and joyful moments must return almost whole. 

I remember the house on the hill. Because it was steep, and not quite light out yet, my father carried me to the door and then set me down. I was almost five years old, and I already knew and had felt things way beyond my years. The house was like one large room inside, and I couldn’t take my eyes off my great-uncle, who had lathered up his face and was standing in the light from a small bulb above the corner sink, a straight razor gleaming in the bulb’s poor light. 

I heard the happy, loud voices all around me. I watched my grandfather hold a glass of slivovitz high in the air, toasting everything and then nothing, and drinking the glass in one quick gulp, my grandmother shortly following. I felt the room begin to shrink, and the voices became a soft murmur and in the only light that matters, I see him slide the razor down his neck as if he was playing the violin. There’s a small mirror he leans into so I can see him twice from where I am, and I don’t know why exactly, but it was the happiest I had ever been in my life up to that day, watching him shave that way, wanting it all to be in slow motion so it would last longer. 

All memory revolves in fragments, even from the sweet Europeans who were my people of the truest heart, yet singular the image of him shaving in that small light with such precise perfection I would later know as art. That morning I watched him finish before he turned to me with his eyes and said something in a language I only barely understood, but knew to mean I was free.


Monday, January 14, 2019