My father may have killed a man. It was 1970, the year before I was born. The year the US invaded Cambodia and the voting age was lowered to eighteen. He was thirty-five, the same age I am now, living at his parents’ house with my mother and my one-year-old sister on the North Side of Chicago, trying to make it as a writer.
They lived across from a park, a large park for a city block but not a green park. Chicago ran on a system of patronage with Richard J. Daley, the kingmaker, at the top of the pyramid. It was a crooked town, and proud of it. Someone got paid off with a contract and covered the park in cement, a swing set, and a baseball diamond, turning it into a hard place filled with rocks.
The neighborhood was changing. Older residents, mainly immigrants who had arrived following the First World War, were moving to the suburbs. The new people were from Tennessee and other points south. They had less money and more children. They were louder, or at least that’s how it seemed, especially to longtime tenants like my dad, who wasn’t doing so well financially himself.
He was at work on a book about euthanasia and retirement homes, an idea given to him by an editor at a large publishing house. He wrote on the sunporch, constantly distracted by tiny bombs rattling through the screens. It was almost Independence Day and the explosions had been going off all week. Occasionally he clenched his teeth and let out a yell that my mother and grandmother ignored. The anger was part of the package. To love my father you had to accept the outbursts, wait for them to pass, and move on to the next thing. It was something he had been doing since he was a child, when his mother would tell the other siblings not to challenge him. “Your brother’s nervous,” she would say. Anyone who stays with my father over time has come to this basic fact.