The next morning, he is at his desk when I say good-bye. It's a bright Texas morning. March 29, 2003. The San Antonio Express-News had a headline the day before: "Deployment. Fort Hood's 4th Infantry Division Moves Out." The country is now at war and we are in San Antonio, a city of military bases. Starbucks on Broadway is filled with young army officers from Fort Sam Houston. They wear camouflage clothes and are on their way to Baghdad. "Macchiato skim," one says.
Fort Sam Houston, the country club of the army, borders the lush suburb of Alamo Heights. It's an oasis of privilege with a Texas zip code that is used conversationally—"09," for 78209, the demographic of debutantes and ranch kings, fiesta princesses, new-money Latinos and WASP bankers with Roman numerals after their names, some of which date back to the Battle of the Alamo.
"What do you think of the war?" I ask a woman I went to high school with. "I don't watch anything depressing," she says. "I know y'all are concerned about 9/11, but we feel so safe down here."
Starbucks had a swarm of kids leaving for Iraq, I say when I walk up the stairs of Carl's house. He has a shredder next to him, and at the moment I arrive, he is filling it with orchard reports, glossy brochures for Procure Fertilizers, invitations for dinners at the McNay Art Museum. I think nothing of this. He is a neat freak who shreds everything that crosses his desk. He has always lined up his pencils and sharpened them just so.
On the wall where he works is a large map of South Africa in the Boer years, framed in antique gold, and several pictures of our grandfather, Isidor, a man of committees and awards, donating his specimen camellia bushes to a worthy cause. It is a mystery to me why Carl has kept a shrine to a relative he did not know. He looks out of large windows with window seats to neat stone houses of 78209 and bright lawns with a sea of bluebonnets in the grass. You know it's March in Texas when you take to the hill country and see an unending blue mist covering the fields.
Carl's bloodwork is coming through the fax. He stares at the numbers. He is now a student of the CRP test, which measures inflammation and must read 3 or less; the CEA; the glutathione test, which is a barometer of the liver; a new one, the CA 19-9, with its Geiger counter to monitor the pancreas; the prothrombin, which tells you about clotting; the remnant lipo test, IDL plus VLDL3.
My CEA is going nuts, he says.
It is just a number, I reply too quickly. These numbers go up and down. You know that.
He's working with an assistant, a woman I have met through someone at the gym. I pretend, just like Frika, that everything is as it always has been. That I can escape. That my brother is normal. That this time in his life is just a challenge, a euphemism I use all the time. That his condition is "chronic." Something to be handled. Another euphemism. I am going back to my home in New York City. Just six hours away, I tell myself. We have blown past whatever went on the night before. We always do. Anger is our Prozac. I am trying to train myself to say: I love it when you're angry! You sound like you did when you were fourteen! Or: Here you go again! That wonderful juicy aliveness! Rage! Instead, I yell back and get stuck in a whirl of fury—what the Buddhists call samsara—the endless repetition of a treadmill, the prison I am in.
You have the best doctors in the country.
I know, he says.
This is manageable, I say.