When a father dies a man knows he's alone, something he suspected the first time he left home to go to college or to work or to get married and have his own kids, but never really knew, not until now. This was emotional knowing, a rough course to get through on the path of learning.
When Sol died it was the second time I saw Stuart cry. His father had had a heart condition for some time but paid no attention to it in spite of everything Belle tried to do. And she did a lot. By modest estimates, she probably gave him fifteen years of extra life. No morsel of cholesterol ever fluttered into her kitchen. But of course he had no trouble finding the food he loved outside; as long as there was a mall with a deli serving hot pastrami and corned beef and chopped liver and pickled herring drowning in sweet onions, Sol did not do without. Where he stashed his cigarettes without her finding them remains a mystery that survives him. She sometimes came upon him hiding behind a tree to steal a few puffs like a rebellious adolescent. And playing gin rummy with his pals on Friday, she knew he would eat whole handfuls of salty nuts. But trying to save him had been her mission for two decades and losing him was losing everything.
I cried too for the robust, good-hearted, open and generous man our immediate world had lost, a guy who wore no masks except maybe the one that kept his poetic nature to himself. Still that was the nature Belle saw every time she chastised him, catching him red-handed with a butt while he looked at her guilty as charged and devilish but grateful all the same. And I cried as much for Stuart as for the loss of Sol because he was in pain and there was nothing I could do for him. He wouldn't let me touch him. He'd turn away and walk outside or get into his car and drive some place. It was as if instinctively he understood that when a father dies, a man must gather into himself an altogether new aloneness.