When I was in the second grade, my class went on a field trip to visit the pharmacy my dad owned in rural New Jersey. I watched with pride as, one by one, each of my classmates climbed onto a stepstool to help him scrape tiny pellets into red and yellow capsules. On our way out, we got to choose a treat from the rack in the center aisle. I picked a Chunky candy bar.
It had been my favorite since I was a toddler. Once, I stole a handful of Chunky bars while my dad was busy helping customers. When he bent down to give me an unexpected kiss, he smelled the chocolate on my breath, which led him to a graveyard of crumpled wrappers under the card rack nearby.
My father loved that story. He often recounted it to me when I was young and we would lie in bed together watching Tom and Jerry cartoons. And since I loved it too, he’d sometimes tell it to distract me, like the time I got a splinter from the fence in our yard and he gently removed it from my tiny finger.
Our relationship began with chocolate-scented kisses, cuddles, and cartoons—but like so many stories, it became much more complicated.
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I don’t know exactly when my father died. Or how. When the coroner in Beaufort County, South Carolina, called in January 2020 to break the news, he said he didn’t know, either. All he knew was that my…