Ketchup and Bananas

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Isaac blum

Gen­er­ally, when some­thing ab­surdly tragic hap­pens to you, the world just keeps on go­ing. Your world may halt, but no­body else’s does, and you learn just how in­signif­i­cant you re­ally are. Un­less your freak tragedy co­in­cides with the death of a ketchup mogul and United States sen­a­tor. In that case, shit shuts down. The flags fly at half-mast. Im­por­tant peo­ple make speeches. You get your pic­ture in the pa­per. On April 4, 1991, ketchup mogul and United States sen­a­tor John Heinz was killed when his air­plane col­lided in midair with a Sunoco he­li­copter. Af­ter Heinz’s lit­tle pas­sen­ger plane smashed into the he­li­copter, the fiery wreck­age fell onto the play­ground at Me­rion Ele­men­tary School in sub­ur­ban Philadelphia and killed two chil­dren. One of them was my sis­ter Rachel. I don’t know who the other one was.

My fa­ther has a box of mag­a­zine and news­pa­per clip­pings in the base­ment, and ev­ery April—go­ing on twenty years now—he sits me down and goes over them with me, like I’m study­ing for some kind of exam: “What was the des­ti­na­tion of the plane?” “How many for­mer pres­i­dents at­tended Heinz’s fu­neral?” “How much did Sunoco set­tle their law­suit for?” “What was the name of the stu­dent teacher the school sent out to iden­tify the bod­ies?” “What did we eat for din­ner that first night?” My dad wants me to mourn Rachel as he does. But she was six. I was two and a half. I do not re­mem­ber her.

Most peo­ple do not have the ben­e­fit of news­pa­per ar­chives doc­u­ment­ing the loss of their loved ones, and I do en­joy—or not en­joy, but ap­pre­ci­ate—look­ing over the black-and-white pho­to­graphs. There’s one photo in par­tic­u­lar, a pic­ture of mourn­ers at my sis­ter’s fu­neral, walk­ing from a car to the grave. The pho­to­graph shows my fam­ily: my par­ents, my aunt and un­cle, my grand­par­ents. I wasn’t at the fu­neral—a fu­neral is not a great place for two-and-a-half-year-olds. In the photo, my fam­ily’s wear­ing black. Their heads are hunched, and they look mis­er­able. But when I look at the pic­ture, I can’t con­cen­trate on them, on their faces, on their grief. I look in­stead at a plas­tic gro­cery bag my fa­ther car­ries in his left hand. It’s in the fore­ground of the im­age, and the lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher has mis­tak­enly fo­cused on the bag.

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