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A Father Transformed by Anguish

There is applause, there are nods, there are some tears; and then it's over and Arredondo is in the car, going by the funeral home where he stopped in the other night for no reason and ended up praying over the body of a stranger; and then he is home, sleeping separately from Melida because they are afraid that if they are together she will touch his leg; and then it is morning, and the phone is ringing, and he is answering it, and he is momentarily unable to speak.

"Victoria?" he says.


The worst of Arredondo's injuries were on his legs, to which he applies antibiotic cream. Twenty-six percent of his body was burned. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

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Much later, after he and Victoria have talked for two hours, and he has asked about Brian, and Victoria has said that the day will come when he will call, Arredondo will say that for the first time since Alex's death he felt something lifting in him. But for now, he talks without anger, without bitterness, with his eyes shut, to the mother of his dead son.

"Do you know I have two pictures of Alex in the casket?" he says at one point. "They're helping me. To accept what happened."

"They're helping?" she says.

"Yes," he says.

Later:

"How did you handle it?" he asks.

"How did I handle it?" she says.

"Yes," he says.

"I cried a lot," she says.

Later:

"I think I was angry at a lot of things," he says. "I was angry that I don't have my boy anymore. But I wasn't saying it was your fault. I understand it was his choice."

Later:

"I think it's beautiful where he is," he says.

"It's a very nice spot," she says.

And finally:

"Well, thank you for calling me."

He puts the phone down. He is sitting at the table with Melida's computer on it, upon which the slide show of Alex's photos is playing. Alex in the casket. Alex the Marine. Alex riding a bicycle. Alex asleep in the embrace of his father. Alex on the day he was born.

"How about a trip?" Melida says after a while.

"Yeah," Arredondo says. "That would be nice."

At the cemetery, there are several inches of fresh snow. The grave, soft in August, is hard now, and this time when Arredondo stamps his foot -- hello Alex, hello Alex, hello Alex -- the snow flies into the air. Up it goes, onto the reddened skin of his legs, an unexpected explosion of cold, and maybe that's why the man who set himself on fire is suddenly shivering and wondering: Is this how it feels to feel better?


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