...Explaining who Max is has never been simple. After nearly three decades, current language still fails to describe my family. I have called him my stepfather but he was never married to my mother. I have called him my father’s long‐term lover, partner or companion, but these terms keep him in relation to my father alone and speak nothing of the relationship he had to me. For this, there is still no word. And so my brother and I are left approximating, scrambling to describe a family which current terminology hasn’t caught up to yet. Once, when my brother was little, he drew an accurate picture of us all: two grown men standing beside each other, next to a woman and two kids. When the teacher asked him who the extra man was, family lore has my young brother looking at her and saying simply: that’s my Max, as if everybody had one.
My parents divorced in 1982 when I was five years old. In February 1983, a freak snowstorm hit D.C. and shut the airport down. My father was supposed to be on his way to London that night but his flight was canceled and he wound up at a dinner where he met Max. There’s a picture of my dad reading a newspaper in winter sunshine on a dark blue sofa. He’s wearing a striped polo shirt with the collar turned up and khaki pants. Tan worker boots hang with the laces untied from the foot of his crossed legs. He looks butch and handsome. The hint of a smile plays at the corner of his mouth, as if he knows he’s being photographed. Max took that picture the morning after they’d met and two months later, they decided to make a life together. In July, they closed on the apartment on Columbia road and we all moved in that October. If Max had lived six weeks longer to the day, he would have celebrated his 27th anniversary with his love, my father. Instead, this February 11th, my dad will board a plane to Peru and bring Max, in ashes only, back to the family from which he came...