The first semester of law school, I was studying in the library when my mother called to tell me my cousin had died. She never called, and that was the reason I answered. I took the call in a quiet corner of the stacks, safe, I hoped, from the shush of the students, from the scold of the bitter librarians. While I scanned the worn spines of the densely- packed books, my mother told me that Jacob had been thrown from his motorcycle while riding on the highway near Wausau. Speeding, she said, and not wearing his helmet.
“It’s okay, though, because, you know, he was born with his guts hanging out”—a birth defect she had always blamed on his mother, my Aunt Cathy, for smoking. “No one thought he would make it then. And so it’s a miracle, really, that he did have all those years.”