Thomas Wictor

I’ve been granted permission

I’ve been granted permission

Don’t ask me how I know this, but I know it exactly the way I recognized and remembered the Cardinal Ghost when I met her on November 6, 1987. I’ve been granted permission to write my next novel.

This is good news, because the subject matter is going to rattle a lot of cages. But I know in my bones that I’m supposed to do this. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Now, don’t get me wrong: My next book will be a novel. Pure fiction. I’m going to make up absolutely everything in it. Like these notes. They’re all pretend. None of this happened.

February 18 - The Marketing Director of my publisher sends me her plan for my book. It’s nonexistent. The plan is for me to do all the work. I’m to buy as many copies of the book as I can afford and simply send them to as many reviewers as I can, hoping for the best. Also, I’m to arrange all my own appearances and signings. Since I’d informed her months earlier that I can’t make appearances due to the Meniere’s disease, I tell her that this is a perfect recipe for failure. If she won’t market the book, I’ll hire an independent publicist. She says she won’t work with an independent publicist.

I send a message to the publisher, informing him that the marketing director refuses to market my book but won’t work with an independent publicist either.

February 19 - The publisher tells me to go ahead and hire a publicist. He says he will speak to the Marketing Director and review her campaign. I query a huge LA publicity firm by e-mail.

February 20 - I hear back from the huge LA publicity firm. They offer one free phone conference with me. I accept and go next door to visit Mom and check on Dad.

Mom gets a call from City of Hope. They inform her that she has lung cancer as well as Stage IV peritoneal cancer. I get on the extension and talk to the doctor, who says that Mom’s newly discovered lung cancer is encapsulated, so they’re still optimistic about her chances.

After I hang up, Dad goes completely crazy, refuses his food and medication, and begins running through the house with no pants on as Mom continues her conversation with the doctor, taking notes on her new cancer. Dad runs back into his room and demolishes his computer, shouting, “I’ve fucked it up! The records are in the alley!

I put diapers on him and call the hospice to ask if they’ll accept him one day early, since he’s now completely unmanageable. The hospice agrees to send an ambulance the next day.

Tim comes over and calms Dad by telling him he’s going into the hospice. All Dad wants is to get away from us.

Dad’s brother and sister-in-law call and ask if they can come out and see him. Mom tries to explain that he’s already gone, but they don’t seem to understand. Mom hands me the phone, and I tell them as gently as I can that the man they knew has already departed, and they wouldn’t recognize what they saw if they came out here. They’re shocked, since Dad had concealed his condition from them.

I tell them he’s going into the hospice tomorrow. They ask a favor: After he’s settled in, could we please put phone next to his head so Dad’s brother can say goodbye? I very carefully refuse, telling them that Dad wouldn’t even know his brother, and he’s so agitated and terrified that saying goodbye might cause him terrible psychic agony. Even now he refuses to face reality. Forcing it on him would be cruel.

Dad’s brother asks what will happen to Dad’s body. I tell him that since Dad was unable to contemplate his mortality, he left no instructions. We were going to cremate him and scatter his ashes on a nice outcropping overlooking Pasadena. Dad’s brother very hesitantly asks if his family can have Dad’s ashes, and Mom and Tim nod. I tell Dad’s brother they can, and he and his wife thank me. We hang up.

That’s the happy part of the novel.

I’m kidding, for God’s sake! This won’t be a grim, horrible, painful slog through nothing but misery. It will an opportunity to exorcise and banish. The reason I was given permission today is that the novel will exorcise and banish for all of us, not just me. Others want me to tell this completely imaginary story.

Remember: It’s fiction.

Today was very strange because I got a whole slew of e-mails all united by a common theme: Those who commit crimes never get away with it. Sure, they may steal your money or take your life, but transgressors always pay, one way or the other. In this world or in the next.

So, now that I’m certain I’m doing the right thing, here are some photos that are in no way whatsoever relevant to the novel I’ll write. Mom in 1958, when she and Dad were courting.

Mom on the beach in 1958.

Mom and Dad’s wedding, May 30, 1959. It’s apt that they’re blurry; neither of them came into focus for me until after they’d died.


On the honeymoon. Smoking filterless Pall Malls. See that carton? Dad smoked five packs a day. Half a carton a day. And he made it to eighty-four.


Tim is going through all the clippings Mom saved from newspapers and magazines, and he’s discovered articles on DNA splicing, alternative pop musicians, coral reefs, astronomy, chemistry, every religion, ancient architecture, agronomy—this is what she read for fun. Mom was an egghead.

Mom and Dad at their first house in Venezuela.

And Mom and Dad with Tim, May of 1960.


This is my favorite photo from the slides I looked at today. Dad took it on their honeymoon.


I knew Mom would someday get the life she wanted. Today I feel that Dad might too. That’s a huge change. Just yesterday I was sure that he’d never have the courage to take responsibility for his actions and make amends.

For whatever reason, today I feel that he’s begun his journey along that awful path. He put himself where he is; the only force that can save him is him. He’ll have help if he asks for it.

Once I saw mountains angry,
And ranged in battle-front.
Against them stood a little man;
Ay, he was no bigger than my finger.
I laughed, and spoke to one near me,
“Will he prevail?”
“Surely,” replied this other;
“His grandfathers beat them many times.”
Then did I see much virtue in grandfathers,—
At least, for the little man
Who stood against the mountains.

—Stephen Crane

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