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Why do you think the author chooses to call this essay "Witness"? How does the title affect your understanding of

this essay? When formulating your answer, consider that the word witness can be used as a noun or verb.2019-10-27_015152.jpg2019-10-27_015152_1.jpg2019-10-27_015152_2.jpg2019-10-27_015152_3.jpg2019-10-27_015152_4.jpg2019-10-27_015152_5.jpg2019-10-27_015152_6.jpg




ANDRE DUBUS / Witness u ’s Ameri ' drinks 106 can Bar and Grill. My friend and I ate there, and had some
“The one at the mall?” After we see a play, my girls and I eat at a seafood restaurant near Joe’s at ‘ 'ma inin us d ' .
amalleas 1 g g Olng that Connectm . _ nd—
- eside me. ’ g places Wlth this woman sta
“No. In Boston?
“Where were you going?” “Andover I haven’t driv '
. en the same smce that ' ”
“Neither have 1.” night. 0 w . . . . u
have tIZthhi: snilldSPng and kept turning, lungmg, reaching. She said, 1 She carried him across the street and into her house, and I sat among
fallen leaves near the Curb and looked up at yellow leaves and branches and the
sky, andsaw the woman and her friend at the restaurant, then at the call box‘
The CW0 skateboarding boys were not ten years old; since that night She had
borne three sons; and my daughter Madeleine had been born. The woman
came out Wlth her 5011 strapped into a stroller and crossed the street. The boy
reached for the leg rest of my chair. She said, “He goes to a special school.
He sees a lot of kids in wheelchairs.” “What’s wrong with him?” “Probably autism. He’s too young for the tests.” He was looking at a book with pictures. Then he started tearing it, its
cover, too; he tore it in half, then into quarters. He was concentrating, grunt—
ing. I said, “He’s very strong.” She smiled, and said “They aren’t supposed to be able to tear them.” “He’s got a life in there.”
“Oh, he does. It’s me who’s frustrated. Because I can’t talk to him. And ”I know he’s fiustrated because he can’t talk.”
The girls came out with their dog and looked at me and the woman, and
I said, “Have you met your neighbor?” They came to the sidewalk, and I said, “She was there the night I got hit.”
Madeleine looked intently at cheeks color rose, and she said, “You were?”
I saw in her face something that was in my soul, though I did not know it yet; I felt only the curiosity you might feel on hearing an unusual sound in
the dark outside your window; Cadence looked as though she had just heard
something painful, but it had not yet fully struck her. I introduced the woman
and her son to my girls, then they went off with their dog. I looked up at the
WOman, seeing her beside the highway watching me fly over the car, land on its
trunk. My blood wanted to know; it rushed. She said, “The woman in the broken—down car was running around in the highway.”
"She was standing in the speed lane. I was trying to get her off the road.” The man who died was her brother. her; Cadence’s mouth opened, and in her 429 20 25 30 35


430 6 / IDENTITIES For a moment I was there: a clearjuly night, no cars Coming, eve th‘
I had to do seeming easy. I said, “I’m glad you had already calle ry 1n
troopers. They saved my life. I might have bled to death.
“Someone else would have called.’ ”Ma be. But a erl was hit.”
Y fl get out of his stroller; he reached for d and twisted in the straps. I wanted to ask her what she saw, but I could not; it was like Waiting to
confess something, waiting for that moment, for the words to Come, When I
got hit, I did not lose consciousness, but have never remembered being hit, Only flagging down a car for help, then lying on its trunk. .
I watched her cross the street with her son and, at her stairs, lift him 30111 the stroller and carry him inside. I began readng again- Soon a car turned the
corner behind me and stopped at the woman’s house; I watched a man go in—
side; he was not big, but his shoulders and chest were broad, and he walked With
an energy that sometimes saddens me. When my daughters and their dog
returned from the field, I moved to my car door, put the leg and arm rest into
the back seat, and got in. Before I raised the wheelchair to its carrier, the man
came out of the house, carrying his son, and walked to me. He reached over the
wheelchair and we shook hands and exchanged names. His face did not haVe
that serious look of some men, as though all play were gone from their lives,
and there was only work, money, the fiiture they may not be alive for. He was
a man who could be joyful. I can now see his face more clearly than I see his
wife’s; when I try to remember her, I see her standing at the call box, a body
whose face I could not see in the night. “My wife said she talked to you.” “It’s incredible. I’ve never met anyone who saw me get hit.” “She called me that night. What’s it like for you, after ten years?” “It’s better. I’m used to some things. I still can’t drive alone to Boston, at
night on 93.” “Oh, that’s a protective device.” “Really? You mean I don’t have to think of myself as a wimp?” “No, no.1 believe everything we have is a gift.” We talked about his work, and his son, who was moving in his arms, and
he said he’d like to have a beer with me sometime; he would get me up his
steps. I told him I would like that. In his face were the sorrow and tenderness
of love as he strongly held his writhing son, looking at the small face that
seemed feral in its isolation. We shook hands and he went inside. I started the car, picked up the switch that’s attached to a wire on the
floor, and pressed it, and the carrier on the roof lowered, two chains with an
elongated hook, which I inserted into a slot under the Chair’s seat. I flicked the
switch again, this time in the other direction, and the chains pulled the chair up- 45 50


ANDRE DUBUS / Witness 13‘” when It reached the frame Of the carrier, it stopped. The motor was silent. I released the switch, tried it again. It clicked. The chair did not move. I kept
pUShing the SWItCh' ItS Click was disproportionately loud, a sound without
pronfiSCiYCt I kept doing it- The chair was too high for me to reach it and try
to take It Off the hook, and a thirty-inch metal frame was jutting out from
my car. T1118 15 why'l have a car phone: for circumstances that require legs. My
son-in—laW, Torn, 1s a mechanic. I called him, thirty minutes away in southern
New Hampshlre. He said he would come. I was calm. I have never been calm
when the wheelchair carrier fails, and usually I am not calm for hours after Tom
has fiXCd lt' But that day I Was calm, maybe because I had started the day by going to Mass — this always helps — or maybe because my spirit was on the
highway on the twenty—third of July in 1986, I would not have the time to be rescued, then drive my daughters to my
house for dinner at five-thirty. My daughters were still inside. When they came
out, I told them, and we kissed goodbye, and they went back inside. I phoned
the woman at my house, and said we would not need dinner. I read Didion.
Tom came in his truck, looked under the hood, worked there for a while, then
said it was fixed, for now, but he would have to get a part. My knowledge of
things mechanical is very small: pens, manual typewriters, guns. I drove home,
feeling that I was on the circumference of a broken circle whose separated ends were moving toward each other. Soon they would meet. Next time I saw her,
I would ask everything. Around seven—tvventy, writers began arriving forthe workshop, and some
of us waited on the sundeck for those still on the road. I told them about the
woman and said that next time I would ask her if she saw me get hit; when
I heard myself say that, I was suddenly afraid of images I have been spared, and
I said no, I would not ask her. We went to the living room, and I told the story
again, to the people who had not been on the deck; this time, as I talked,
curiosity and wonder left me, as though pushed out of my mouth by the dread
rising from my stomach. I looked at the faces of the women and men sitting on
the couch, the love seat, the window seat; we formed a rectangle. I was alone at
one end. I felt faint, as if I had lost blood. I said,“I think I’ll go into a little shock
tonight, or tomorrow.” But I was calm that night, and Friday, and Saturday. On Sunday we had
a family dinner with three of my grown children, their spouses, the older son’s
two small children, and Cadence and Madeleine. That morning the sky was
blue, and I was on my bed, doing leg lifts. \then I swung my leg and stump up
for the fiftieth time, I began quietly to cry. Then I stopped. I made the bed,
dressed, ate yogurt and strawberries, showered, dressed on my bed. The tears
Were gone and would not come back, but my soul was gray and cool, and pleces
of it were tossed as by a breeze that had become a strong Wlnd and could be—
come a storm. I drove to the girls’ house. They live on the corner of the street, 55 431


6 / IDENTITIES and when I turned onto it I saw the woman in her yard. She Was doing 501m
kind of work, her back was to me, and I looked away from her, at the girls’
house, and I phoned them to say I’m here. . At my house we cooked on the grlll, and I sat on the deck, my face
warmed by the sun, and talked with my chlldren and enjoyed the afternoon I
looked up at my two sons and told them of suddenly crying while doing leg
lifts, of being fragile now, and as I talked to them I made a decrsion I neVer
make, a decision about writing, because my declsmns usually gestate fer
months, often more than a year, before I try to W.1‘1te anything: I told them I
would start writing this on Monday, because meetlng the woman, shaking her
hand, hearing her voice, seeing her sons, espec1ally the youngest one, and shak.
ing her husband’s hand, hearing his witness — She called me that night -— had so
possessed me that I may as well plunge into it, write it, not to rid myself of it,
because writing does not rid me of anything, but just to go there, to wherever
the woman had taken me, to go there and find the music for it, and see if in that
place there was any light. Next day I woke to a wind that brought sorrow and fear and rain, whjle beyond the glass doors in front of my desk the sky was blue, and leaves were red
and yellow, and I wrote. For ten days I woke and lived with this storm, and with the rain were demons that always come on a bad wind: loneliness, mortality,
legs. Then it was gone, as any storm. They stop. The healing tincture of time,
a surgeon told me in the hospital. On the eleventh day, I woke with a calm
soul, and said a prayer of thanks. While I wrote this, the red and yellow leaves
fell, then the brown ones, and the nights became colder, and some days, too,
most of them now in late November, and I did not find the music. Everything
I have written here seems flat: the horns dissonant, the drums lagging, the piano
choppy. Today the light came; I ’m here. QUESTIONIN G THE TEXT 1. Why do you think the author chooses to call this essay “Witness”? How
does the title affect your understanding of the essay? When formulating your answers, consider that the word witness can be used as a noun or verb.
’3 'T"L.'.. -.._..-- Z- ..If ---£I___:-,- , t .1


426 n’ r r ' _” th 0
ANDRE DUBUS (1937_99) was known to many as a writers writer Au or f eleven books and winner qf numerous awardS, mCludmg MaCArthW and Gdusggflilel/dezgq
Fellowships and the runner-up Pulitzer PrizefOV 1992’ Dubus has beencoitem orary
reviewer Gary K amiy a as “one Qf the great psychological realists among P Y
writers (yr short fiction. ” ' '
Dubus was also a powerful essayist. In “Witness” he takes readers illihbhlgncgla:
typical Thursday — typical, that is, in the years since 1986, When he wag . 1 Y t (fhi
he struggled to help two people whose car was disabled. That night; he ost rnos . 11.5
lefi leg; his right leg was shattered. On this particular 771147551435 he 5.19mi tame h” 15
wheelchair and, while he waits to picle up his youngest daughterSf or dinner at 13 .0115?)
muses on pain and on the will to live. Read this essay: WWI/l originally appeared m the
NeWYorker ([uly 21, 1997), and revisit the night thiS amide”); a night film led to
an identity shaft for Dubus, to bouts of depression, and to a long hiatus from writing. And join Dubus and his family on the day he decided to write this essay. . '
In an interview with his hometown newspaper, Dubus recalled advice his daughter Nicole had given him.- “keep writing essays about the wheelchair and let the wheelchair
come into your stories and gradually it will leave.” “Witness” is one of those essays, and
I wanted to include it here because Dubus faces “sorrow and fear and rain” and still man- ages to make it through to the light. ‘A-L- Thursday during the school year is a wheelchair day; they are all wheel—
chair days, but some more than others. On Thursdays I drive thirty minutes to
Andover, the town where my daughters live. They are Cadence and Madeleine,
fourteen and nine. I go to their school and park on the road that goes through
the grounds and wait for their classes to end at three—twenty. My right leg
hurts when I drive; it hurts when it is not at a ninety—degree angle, and most
nights it hurts anyway. While driving I have to place my foot to the left of the
brake pedal, and that angle makes my leg hurt sooner, and more. Often my back
hurts. Years ago I learned that pain and wheelchair fatigue —— sitting, and wor-
rying about what can go wrong because I can’t stand or walk —— take most of
my energy; I cannot live as normals do, and I must try to do only What is essen-
tial each day. So on Thursdays I neither write nor exercise. I make snacks for
my daughters, wrap two ice packs around my leg, drive and wait then take
them to my house for dinner, then back to their house, and then I return to
host a writers’ workshop at my home. I like Thursdays. I could leave my house at two—thirty or so, and my leg would not start
hurtmg till after three, my back not till after four, or even later, or not at all.

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