My father was dying, though I didn’t know it. It was my birthday: 10. My mother sent me to Chinatown with Thelma, our housekeeper, and a couple of friends; she gave us each $10. I wanted to buy something for my father, to make him feel better. I remember the winding, crowded streets, the men in the clothing store (died hair, comb-overs, white shirts and ties) selling me pajamas. Pajamas were something to be sick in, though; I searched some more. Then I found it: a plaster buddha, painted gold.
My father died two days later. Walking through the kitchen the next morning, aching and angry—the catered forks and knives beside the steaming coffee urn, the sound of grownup laughter, the cigarette smoke—I turned and saw it on the large, green-lacquer dining table: the gold buddha, shimmering in the bright winter sunlight.
It lasted a moment, the break, and then I went back to it: the beginning.