My friend Bergelson kept his past in a box for fifty years. Now he’s not making new memories, he doesn’t know what year it is, and the box is where he wakes up unable to breathe. They’re very respectful here about numbers and names. They know we’re not comfortable standing in lines. They know how we feel about showers. But Bergelson’s fearful of baths. They plunged him into freezing water more than once when we were young; now, living in the box as he does, every day is a bath in ice. Behind the fear you see he is resilient. Dreamers didn’t stand a chance; only the practical survived. When fate put bread on the path, we picked it up. We ate what we needed and hid the rest. When fate put butter in a strongbox, we learned to steal or starved to death. We still hoard food. Our nightstands groan with rock-hard bagel halves. When the ladies here panic there won’t be enough, we’re given a tour of the pantry where tins of peaches and butter beans are stacked to the ceiling and deliveries are always arriving. Bergelson thinks he should have been pulled from that line. A thousand times a day he tells us he should have been the one to be handed a shovel, instead of the boy. There, there, the nurses tell him: They could have chosen anyone; it was never your fault. But I was there. I saw my friend gesture with his thumb as they approached him. Who knows why they acted on that gesture. Who knows what I’m hiding in my box. For now, I tell him: It could have been anyone, Bergelson. There’s plenty of food. They won’t make you stand in line again, or take a bath if you can’t.
Copyright © August 03, 2007 David Hodges