A Visit One Night

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At approximately 11:45 p.m., a pair of NYPD police officers venture to my East Flatbush home. This will not be a regular visit. These officers are about to inform my family and myself of the death of my father, Frank Ewart James, Sr.

I imagine the plight of the policemen.

In the patrol car, the cops are immersed in deep silence. Their hearts are heavy as they face an aspect of their careers that they wish they could avoid. As the blue patrol car turns into my street, they look at each other and shake their heads at what is apparently another senseless killing. The officers exit their car and walk up the stairs of my porch.

Each step sounds like bullets against the dry salt on the stairs and the police officers again look at one another. "Damn," one says. But it still must be done. Finally, they summon up enough courage and press the doorbell, each silently hoping that no one will answer. But my aunt, my father's sister, answers, and opens the door to our visitors.

My imagination stops here.

In actuality, the policemen were curt, insensitive and uncaring. One officer droned, "and he died at approximately 10:03 p.m." They could not have known that they brought news that would make my 18-month-old brother and 3-year-old sister fatherless. They were, after all, just doing their jobs.

At the time I was dozing in my bedroom, closest to the room in which the officers stood. I opened my eyes just in time to hear, "died at approximately 10:03 p.m."

My heart began pounding. Although they could have been speaking about anyone, somehow I realized that it was my father. Suddenly my brain summoned memories I hadn't thought of in years - my father throwing darts at Coney Island, and the snapping of the fishing rod the summer he took me fishing. These memories flowed freely and I was unable to restrain them.

My older sister ran to me and said, "Julia! Wake up! Daddy's dead!" But her words fell on deaf ears. I pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep to escape this reality.

I woke up the next morning feeling empty. I ventured to the kitchen expecting breakfast and chatter, rituals of morning. But instead, I heard nothing. My family sat at the kitchen table motionless. Each person seemed lost in his or her thoughts, but I believed that we were all thinking the same thing, "How could this happen?"

The days passed quickly and my father's viewing arrived. I found myself thinking of silly things like, "Will daddy wear his navy blue suit?" and "How will they style his hair?" I was lost in the details without facing the facts.

At the viewing, I finally attempted to make sense of what was happening. I tried to say the words in my head, "Daddy was shot and killed by an unidentified individual in the robbery of his taxi." I repeated these words again and again, but they refused to sink in. I couldn't believe my father had been killed for a total of $101.

(c) Urban Health Chronicles, Brooklyn, N.Y.