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Death in the Estranged Family

I’m supposed to be promoting my book, Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost $4 Million. That’s what I’ve been doing for months, trying to squeeze a few more sales out of YouTube, my website, and … Read More

By / September 24, 2007

I’m supposed to be promoting my book, Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost $4 Million. That’s what I’ve been doing for months, trying to squeeze a few more sales out of YouTube, my website, and random appearances.

But on Saturday, Yom Kippur, my cousin Lydia died, and instead of spending Monday wondering how to convince the readers of Jewcy to buy my book, I’m going to be at a funeral on Long Island.

Now here’s the thing, I hardly knew Lydia. I hardly know any of my family. My father, one of six children of two Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a recluse by nature. Sure, he had his “reasons” for distancing us from the family, including perceived slights in rates from my uncle’s insurance business and lack of attention to my mother’s illness. (When the neighbors voted against our plans to build a carport, he stopped speaking with all of them till his dying day.)

But, the truth was he wasn’t good with people, didn’t like feeling out of place, and preferred to be alone.

How do I know? Because I have always felt the same pull at social gatherings. At every party I’ve ever attended, I’ve felt like an outcast at the first sound of laughter—kind of like Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love when he kicks in those three glass doors at his sister’s house to cut the tension of having to figure out how to be pleasant company. Or, as my father told me one day sitting on the curb while my mother went shopping, “Look at the all the people. Most people don’t understand how good it is to just watch everyone go by.”

When my father died in 2003, alone in his bed, cursing the last few of us who still tried to keep tabs on him, Uncle Harvey became my last close blood relative other than my sister.

I had called Uncle Harvey back then. He invited me to his apartment and we talked for hours—catching up on decades of distance.

“When your father got married, do you know how I found out?” he asked me. “He called me up to tell me he wouldn’t be coming to New York that weekend. I asked him why, and he said, because he was getting married.”

“And when your mother died,” he continued, “I had called him to check on him and he mentioned it, just so matter of fact. Like how much it had been raining. I couldn’t believe it. We had been so close as kids, and I said, ‘Arty, how come you didn’t tell me.’ And he said he, ‘Didn’t want to bother me.’”

There were tears in my uncle’s eyes. And I hadn’t known. I didn’t know that pulling yourself away left such a hole in other people’s lives.

And so tomorrow, I will be going to the funeral with my uncle Harvey and his wife, my aunt Gail. There is always a chance to reverse course while you're alive. There is always hope.

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