Memoirs of a shattered hope.
(Page 4 of 10)
Dad had said the New York Times had two stories in Thursday’s paper, on pages 7 and 42. I pulled on a sweater and went out into the hotel in search of a paper. The elevator went very slowly. The elevator man didn’t know where I could find a Times at this hour; maybe at the kiosk down the block. This man, this sleepy boy, didn’t seem to realize that my brother Dick was dead. There was numbness and indifference in my whole body, a sense of unbearable sickness. Didn’t he feel it at all?
No papers in the lobby. Outside, the corner kiosk was closed up for the night. I ran across the broad street to a hotel across the way. The man at the desk was contemptuous: Of course there were no papers. How should he know where I could find a paper? Ask the girl over there. The hostess at the entrance to the bar, her face masked with gray cosmetics, and her silver eyelashes grotesquely extended, didn’t know where I could find a paper.
It seemed fitting to have to wait until morning for the news dispatch about my brother’s death.
In the lobby of our hotel, however, I found the rubbish cart of the cleaning lady. There was a Times on top of the pile of emptied papers. I rescued it and began to leaf through its pages. I found the general story on the rioting in Pakistan: a subdued story, reporting in vague, general terms riots that admittedly had been going on for weeks. Whole villages were being burned. Deaths were estimated in the thousands. The rioting was the most serious since the partition of Pakistan from India. But the story was deep on the inside pages. Part of the difficulty was, my father had said, that strict censorship had been imposed by the Pakistan government on news about the bloodshed.
Back in our room, I could not find the story about Dick. I searched every page ending with a “2,” and then every single page, column by column. The Times was very full that day. But, even after an hour, I could not find the story.
The next day, reporting again at my publisher’s to turn in the last chapter of my manuscript on the Second Vatican Council, I was given a copy of an earlier edition of Thursday’s paper. The short dispatch was as Dad had said: missing and presumed dead. The cold print seemed to make the news more real.
There was just a little work to be done, Betty Bartelme had said, to shorten my manuscript. But before tackling that, back in my room, I telephoned both the New York Times and Time, trying to see whether they had any further dispatches that might reveal his fate. Nothing.
My parents wanted Karen and me home as soon as possible. They had learned that a funeral mass was going to be sung in Pakistan on Monday, January 27. Father George DePrizio, C.S.C., Dick’s provincial superior, encouraged Mother and Dad to schedule a funeral in Johnstown on the same day. “It will take away the tension and uncertainty,” he told me by phone. “In Dacca, they seem to be certain that he’s dead. But they cannot cable any details.” Actually, Father DePrizio soon had many more details, which out of mercy he did not share with my parents—as my sister Mary Ann discovered in researching community archives.
That day a report came that a body had been found, believed to be that of a Westerner and probably Dick’s. It seemed a relief to have something definite. Fantasies of his prolonged suffering or helplessness were much more terrifying than news of his death.
Reluctantly, Mother and Dad agreed to the funeral. The bishop would preside. Father DePrizio and other Holy Cross priests would come.
Then the report proved unfounded. The body was not Dick’s. Nevertheless, the funeral Mass in Dacca was not postponed. This seemed right to me. They were in a position to assess the situation. The Holy Cross priests had been in East Pakistan for more than a hundred years. They had seen the fury of the January riots. Dick’s body, presumably, had been thrown in the river or in some paddy, where it would never be found.
My brother, Dick.
I felt guilty for not having written him more often, for all the neglect and slighting I had ever shown him, and for still being alive.
Saturday morning, Karen and I took the train to Princeton where we had left our old, green Plymouth with friends, and then drove to Johnstown. It was a cold afternoon, and up in the mountains the air was full of gusts of rain turning to snow. But the snow didn’t pile up, not even on Bedford mountain, and we started down the other side of the mountain towards Johnstown knowing that we would make it without mishap.
Mother and Dad seemed to relax the moment we came in the door. We were the first of the family to return home. Ben would come in from Penn State on Sunday. Jim, a lieutenant in the Armored Corps, would fly home from Germany, courtesy of the Red Cross, just in time for the funeral. Mary Ann, who was fifteen and had been home all along, was especially tender and affectionate when she embraced us at the door.
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