The Wrong Half

Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

Whenever someone asks, and someone always does, the answer is "half." For a couple of seconds I argue with myself, and then I admit it: "the wrong half."


My aunt says back in Brooklyn he was the "goy boy," the kid who swept the synagogue after services on Saturday, the Sabbath, when the observant Jews don't work. His blonde hair and blue eyes let him pass, and in any case maybe he needed the extra money. In any case maybe he didn't mind pretending.

I don't have the luxury of passing. My only recourse is to come clean, to show I know enough to be ashamed.


My Aunt Ethel, my father's sister, got cancer when I was about thirteen. He took me with him to New York, to Queens, to see her in the hospital before she died. When we got there my other aunt and uncle were there, and all the cousins, and my father's sons from his first marriage. They all greeted my father like a celebrity and I was surprised to watch him play the part so easily, making jokes at his own expense in that offhanded way that means you can afford to. Then he sat down on the bed, he said to Ethel, "So, why are you so afraid to die?" I remember it all in one smooth entrance, like his other life was a stage and he was the retired host, back for a special guest appearance. I remember watching and it's all slowed down in my head, the ease of his body.


At home in Maine he wasn't like this. At home I never heard him talk about the other life. But now I knew – I saw that my father had been another person in another time and that he could slip into it like a Brooks Brothers jacket. He was somebody to them, those strangers, somebody important. Why was he somebody different for us? Why had he chosen life with us when he fit so easily there? I remember: he turned all confidence and control and called me over to the bedside. And when he introduced me Ethel said, “Margaret looks like everybody.”


In the family mythology I'm "like dad." I’m inward, not outward; thoughtful, not emotional; moral, philosophical, ecumenical. None of this is true of course; it's just part of how things were set up when we were a family made of two halves. My sister says now, “I don't know who you're like, but you’re not like us.” She means my mother and her. I got the wrong half, the one that did well by comparison when dad was still alive, but withered into singularity once he had died. I can't be like someone who isn't anything, anymore.


What's my half-life? Don't leave me here, says my half-self, I'm nowhere. Stand next to me and that way, I'll be pulled into your orbit-better a satellite than a meteor, a bit of something broken off and spinning, valiantly braving an irreducible distance between proximity and fusion.

Half is folded in with surfaces touching but not joined. To be half is to be singular.

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Image: Siona Benjamin, Finding Home #45

March 2004

Passion and Violence
Jay Michaelson

A Song of Ascents:
The News from San Francisco
Sarah Lefton

Bush the Exception
Samuel Hayim Brody

The Wrong Half
Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

God Had a Controlling Interest
Hal Sirowitz

Eliezer Sobel

Josh hosts a party
Josh Ring

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
Winter 2003-2004 issue now on sale!

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From previous issues:

I Wish I Was...
Harbeer Sandhu

four untitled poems
Joseph Dobkin

Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson