by Margaret McNellis


I always thought my father had great hands. I think I judge people by their hands more than their eyes or smiles. I knew someone whose fingers turned up at the tips and made me think of a spider’s legs; as it happened, trust was never solid between us.

My dad had great hands with strong but slender fingers. His nail beds cradled perfectly trimmed nails—evidence of his fastidious nature. They were short but never cut to the quick. His knuckles were strong, though never bulged, despite years of cracking them. He was capable of the multi-knuckle crack. He would lace his fingers together, turn his palms away from his body, and straighten his arms. The resulting chorus of pops was a can-do-symphony, a sign of strength. Frailty could never withstand that.

Veins and tendons lined the backs of his hands. As a child, I wondered why my hands did not have those veins. Our hands were so alike in almost every way, including the unfeminine hairs between my first and second knuckles. In my early thirties, when I first saw definition of tendons and veins in my own hands while typing, I welcomed them. They signaled a transformation to adult hands, my father’s hands.

We shared other physical attributes as well. My hair has the same wave on my forehead. Not even straighteners can train that wave, and though it results in my feeling like I have an antenna on my head if I let my bangs get too long, I finally accepted it. We have the same eyebrows, which is unfortunate in a society that demands women have perfectly shaped brows. Unable to wax them due to allergies, and unwilling to pluck them because the tweezer makes me sneeze—and it’s never a good idea to sneeze while holding sharp metal near your eyeball—I keep my unibrow at bay with a tiny electric face razor.

We had the same facial structure too, wide at the eyes but not quite heart-shaped. The only difference? My father’s eyes were hazel; mine a chestnut-brown. We both received the McNellis nose, with a significant bump on the bridge that can be minimized only by wearing glasses.

When I was fifteen years old, my doctor determined that I did not have asthma, as previously assumed. Inhalers were doing nothing for my breathing difficulties. The problem wasn’t in my lungs or bronchial tubes, but rather, in my nose. Like most babies not born C-Section, I had a deviated septum, except it was deviated so badly that the left side of my nose didn’t work at all. Add to that seasonal allergies and any kind of sport that involved a good deal of running was out of the question. My parents elected that I should have surgery. I remember at the pre-op appointment, the surgeon asked if I wanted him to straighten my nose. I never believed in plastic surgery except for restorative purposes, so I vehemently refused. I still have the bump, and now, I’m glad for it. I’m glad that whenever I look in the mirror, I see my father. It doesn’t matter that I’m a female and he was not.

The night he died, in the hospice parking lot, my sister said she was sorry I was the local kid, who had to spend her summer at the hospital or beside our father’s sick bed. “But you were always little Jim,” she added. The bump on my nose. The unibrow. The wave in my hair that I can never tame. All of these things annoyed me at one time, but the similarities between my father’s hands and mine never did. After watching him fight and lose his battle with stage IV lung cancer, none of these resemblances cause me discomfort—quite the opposite, I treasure them.

Current and Future Questions

by Eddie Dzialo


I am worried about the day my daughter will ask me if I’ve killed someone. No one has ever asked. Not even my closest friends who swam through Jameson with me when I first got home from my deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. She’ll ask around the time she’s old enough to be curious, but young enough to have no filter. Of course, then, I’ll tell her that I didn’t and that I love her. But some of that will be a lie, because I don’t know if I’ve ever killed anyone. Nothing about the type of combat being fought in Afghanistan is that definitive.

The Taliban wore the same clothes as the people we wanted to protect. Sometimes pregnant women were a means to hide explosives; dead dogs on the side of the road were packed with nails and ball bearings. Things weren’t as absolute as the Shoot/No Shoot drills that we’d rehearsed in training, and no one had promised that they would be.

During the first month I was in Afghanistan, we were in a firefight for four hours, and I never once saw a single person who had been shooting at us. We moved, they moved, and then at some point, they dropped their weapons and blended back into the huts. On another day, my buddy’s platoon—a kid from the south shore of Massachusetts—got attacked, and my platoon helped corner the attackers into a section of the city. We fired rockets, detonated walls with C4, had helicopters flying overhead, giving us additional viewpoints. But like the four-hour firefight that preceded it, the attackers eventually dropped their weapons, and they likely stood next to innocent civilians who were trying to get away from both sides.  

Throughout all this, I never saw a dead body. When we were being attacked, I saw bullets kicking up dirt around Marines who were too brave to run away; I heard rockets and mortars landing, but I never saw if anyone had been impacted by the things we did. It would be easy for me to say that because I didn’t see anything then it didn’t happen. No one got hurt. They fought; they ran. But I’d been told that the people who were attacking us often took the dead with them before fleeing. Another friend of mine, from another platoon, went into a room after a firefight, and there had been fresh, ungodly amounts of blood on the walls and floor, but no weapons, clothes, or people.

Once, on the morning after we were attacked, a man approached my company. He’d been pushing a wheelbarrow, and in that wheelbarrow, was another man who was badly mangled, barely alive. The man told us that his friend had been mauled by a tractor and was asking for help. The only thing we could offer him were prayers. But was he telling the truth? Had he gotten hurt by a tractor or had it been from artillery rounds? Honestly, I don’t know.

It’s those situations that will make things difficult on the day when my daughter will inevitably ask me if I ever killed anyone overseas. When she’s young, I will tell her that I didn’t and that I love her. And when she’s older, I’ll probably tell her the same things that I’ve written here and that I still love her. As for me, I will likely leave this world not knowing if I ever took someone else’s life. Maybe then I’ll know for sure.