The October People. Chapter Six: The Christmas Visit and Beyond

Updated on June 25, 2018
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Mr. Vanek is a student of the Human Condition, and a Writer among other things.

“I love,” said he, “to see this day well kept by rich and poor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at least, when you are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and having, as it were, the whole world all thrown open to you; and I am almost disposed to join with Poor Robin, in his malediction on every churlish enemy to this honest festival…”

Christmas Day”

Washington Irving

BEEP:

“Hi…Frrrank?...Dis is George…I know it’s late…But I’m all alone…It’s Christmas f*ckin night, an I’m f*ckin all alone…”

It was almost the stroke of midnight. I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, came downstairs and replayed the message I had heard being left, then immediately called him back.

He didn’t sound good on the machine, but he sounded far worse when he answered. He was drunk; really, really drunk. And very upset. Desperately, he wanted someone, anyone, to listen to him. So…I listened: Because he was my brother.

He’d had a very upsetting Christmas. He kept repeating in shock that all this was happening to him on Christmas, as if such things were celestially banned from occurring on Christmas. His kids were now at his ex-wife’s for the remainder of the week. In stunned disbelief he reiterated the cruelty of being alone in his apartment on Christmas night.

Earlier that evening there had been a discussion at the family gathering at Jake’s house about whether “Death Row Conversions”, or “Deathbed Confessions”, were enough to save your soul. He said he’d gotten all worked up over that.

“I tol em you just can’t say you’re sorry at the last minute, and then get away wit what ya done!” He had insisted. “And dey all f*ckin jumped down my f*ckin throat! All of em! I ken have my own f*ckin opinion, can’t I? Dey were f*ckin all ova me! …I tol da girls lata, I tol em, I said; ’Lissen girls, I’m sssooorrry, but I gotta say what I think, ya know?”

He was obviously badly shook up by the unexpected opposition he ran into.

“That’s a very weird topic for those people to get worked up over... or even be brought up at all.” I thought to myself. “But hasn’t he ever had to stand alone?” I agreed with him on one thing: This was Christmas. You don’t behave like that or do things like that to people on Christmas. This ‘family’ liked to torture the wounded. I hated to see ganging up. I found myself growing angry.

“On f*ckin top of it all, on f*ckin top of it all…Ya know what I got as a present from Jake? My f*ckin Brotha!? Ya know what my own f*ckin Brotha f*ckin gives me fa f*ckin Christmas!?” his slurring voice crescendoed and broke off into a loud wail. “A SHOTGUN!! A f*ckin 16 gauge, f*ckin single f*ckin shot, f*ckin SHOTGUN!!”

There was a brief, pregnant, pause, then he let it blow.

“Why would anyone give a F*CKIN DEPRESSED, F*CKIN SUICIDAL, F*CKIN DRUNK A F*CKIN SINGLE SHOT F*CKIN SHOTGUN!!??”

“There’s only one reason.” I told him grimly. Now I knew what thoughts had really been tormenting him all those lonely Christmas night hours as he drank alone. This was no time for well-meaning lies. “To commit suicide.”

“YEEEEESSSSS!!!” It howled up from the depths of a betrayed and broken heart.

Then we talked. I let him get it all out. He was terrified of having that shotgun in his apartment, terrified he’d lose control and use it.

A few questions told me that wasn’t as likely as I first feared. He had been scared enough of his own state of mind to deliberately leave the box of shells behind at Jake’s.

“The son of a bitch had even bought him shells? What the hell was the matter with him? Oh, Merry Christmas! Oh, Merry f*cking Christmas!” I got his promise to either return the weapon or leave it with the parents.

Between sobs he told me again how the divorce and the loss of his house and of his kids had devastated him. Bitterly, he related how whenever he tried to talk to his parents about what he was going through they turned him away in disgust, telling him they didn’t want to hear it all again.

Distraught, he tried to talk with his sister, who just secretly put his call on “Speakerphone” so everyone could listen in and laugh at him.

Then Jake, who he loved, his brother, that knew what he was going through, knew how depressed he was, knew how hopeless it all seemed to him…gives him a shotgun.

Why!?...Why!? Why would he do sumthin like dat ta me!!??” he kept asking. He felt utterly alone, forsaken by his brother, his sister, his whole family.

“Thank God!” he sighed, “Thank God someone’ll tawk wit me!”

“That’s one thing this ‘family’ has never done; is talk.” I told him grimly “We’ve never talked honestly and openly.”

I kept him on the phone. We talked into the small hours of the morning. Mostly now of mundane things. Things that skirted his pains and avoided probing raw wounds. Enough of that had been done.

Finally, he was calmed down and just sounded weary. He had drained himself of it…for now.

“Hey, thanks fa tawkin wit me, man.”

“Merry Christmas, George.”

After Melissa had refused to go down there again and my kids had moved out of state, I had gone to Long Island by myself for Christmas visits. I didn’t meet with any Holiday joy there. My parents made it clear by their behavior that I was not welcomed, just tolerated. I figured at the time it was because they really wanted to see my kids, not me.

“Wheneva ‘Brotha Frrannnk’ comes down from cowshit country, we’re all suppose ta drop whateva we’re doin, and go visit!” Ann seethed at me over the phone.”Dat pisses me off!”

She made it clear that she was expressing Jake’s sentiments as well, though he took care to remain hidden as usual. I tried to explain to her that it was my mother’s idea to invite them all over when I was there, that I’d just as soon go to their houses, but to no avail.

Incredibly, I heard the same exact wording, word for word, from George as well. Mysterious ‘influenzas’ would break out suddenly among my siblings’ families for the day I was coming down. After a couple of years of that, I didn’t see much point in going down anymore and stopped.

So now the parents went north instead. Why, I have no idea. It was never pleasant for any of us.

This year I turned the tables, and I played the ‘Mystery Flu’ game. I did not want them around to spoil our holidays again. The more I thought about it now, it seemed like she always did her utmost to ruin Christmas as I was growing up. The Christmas tree, like the season, filled my heart as a boy with reverence and a blind yearning for something more than what my life was. I had to work hard to hold onto those feelings, and ignore how intent she seemed to be on destroying any vestiges of pleasure in it all.

There was never any joy, warm smiles, or relaxation of the tension for the holidays; on the contrary. All she did was loudly and bitterly condemn Christmas as meaning nothing but more work for her; it was only a holiday for kids. She complained about the holiday house cleaning, addressing and sending all the cards, all the baking and cooking, the expense, the decorating; everything. It was as if she hated the season all the more because some people, somewhere, were happy.

She could even turn decorating the tree into a ritual of torture.

Each year, precisely one week before Christmas Eve, “The Tree” was brought in and set up. Frugality at this time of year was important, so the cheapest, sparsest tree on the lot had been purchased a few days earlier.

After dinner on the specified night, she sourly took a seat in “Her” easy chair across the room from “The Tree”. The old boxes of ornaments from the attic were arranged at her feet. No one else was allowed to touch them in their boxes: Her mother had given them to her, they were her things.

One by one, they’d be unpacked and handed off to Al, and in later years to me and Jakey, to place exactly where she said. To please her was excruciating, and hopeless.

No! I said: Dere! Put it dere!...Not dere! Whattsa matta witchu! Look where I’m pointing! Look! Dere!...No, dat’s no good. Put it on da otta branch…Not dat one! Look where I’m pointing! Whattsa matta witchu!?”

From my father I had painfully grown accustomed to expect nothing better than the coldness I always saw in his eyes. I was never allowed to help him do anything…Except to help put up the outdoor Christmas lights on a frigid Sunday afternoon. I would have gladly declined that ‘honor’. He hated that job. We only put up 2 strings of lights, but it was inevitable that at least one string wouldn’t light up, so each bulb would have to be separately checked. Those weren’t Christmas carols he was hissing under his breath.

I told them Melissa was ill, and postponed their visit till February. I was coming to grips with the fact that my parents had never loved me. Facts were facts: I could not find a single memory of being treated with love, gentleness, understanding, or kindness.

Strangely enough, the realization that my mother had no love for me and never did caused absolutely no pain. It was the bursting of the delusion that my father loved me that caused a sadness, a wistfulness. I found that odd, because even more than my mother, he had displayed anger, resentment and hate for me for as long as I could remember. He was not the father, nor the man, that I had made him out to be somehow in my mind. It was a case of mistaken identity. He was never a father, a teacher, a friend; I learned nothing from him, he taught me nothing.

Yet I’d catch myself saying to myself when doing something: “I’ve got to remember to tell Pop about this. He’d be interested in this.”

Then I’d stop. A rueful soberness would straighten me up.

No…No, he wouldn’t be…He never was.”

But I felt a certain peace; maybe because it was a relief to stop pretending.

In early January Jacob called and left a message, wondering if anything was wrong, why hadn’t we sent him our tax material? He had never asked for them before. For him to ask if something was wrong meant he already knew something was wrong. George had told me that on Christmas, Jake had asked if anyone had heard from me in awhile.

I didn’t return his call.

It began to snow 2 days before my parents were coming up and it snowed right up to the morning they were to arrive; a classic Nor’easter. By the time the skies cleared and the temperature began to plummet with the Northwest wind, we’d gotten almost 2 feet of snow again.

We kept shoveling steadily, and by lunchtime we had the long driveway and all the paths to the outbuildings cleared.

They informed us they’d be coming just before dinner and leaving just after breakfast the next day in the same call in which they put in their ‘menu selections’. That would make this the shortest of their already short visits. Not that we minded.

As soon as they arrived they announced that they were going to sleep downstairs on the couches rather than in the upstairs guestroom as always. The explanation given was that my mother was too weak to go up and down the stairs.

They showed sudden, extraordinary, interest in the timing of our routines. My mother insisted on knowing the oddest details, such as: Did we get up in the middle of the night to feed the woodstoves? Always at the same time? Did we sleep with any windows open in our bedroom?

For his part, my father seemed inexplicably interested in the view out a kitchen window. I couldn’t see what was the attraction: The birds at the feeders? The ground under our bedroom window? What?

Later, when we mentioned that we were looking for a treadle sewing machine, my mother said she had one. Melissa asked if we could buy it if she wasn’t using it. She refused, saying it had been her mother’s. But, she continued, as nobody else had claimed it, we could have it…after she was dead. Melissa told her we’d keep looking, thanks anyway.

A few years earlier my mother had told us that all the “kids” had been told if they wanted something in the house after the parents were dead to “Put ya name on na bottom of it now.” She enumerated who put their names on what in detail.

We were never invited to do so, just told about it after it was all over.

Melissa, tired from the shoveling and not enjoying the company, decided to go to bed early. Before she went up she sat for awhile on the stairs behind my father, listening to the conversation. Her being behind him obviously bothered him greatly. He told her he didn’t like her sitting behind him where he couldn’t see her. She ignored him and stayed there until he gave up and moved himself.

After she went on up I stayed up a bit longer, seeing them settled in on the couches with anything they needed. I noticed that, curiously, both were wearing their wristwatches to bed.

They left early the next day. As usual, it was becoming quarrelsome. This time we brooked no rudeness. We treated them civilly, saw to their needs, and fed them well; but I no longer felt under any other obligation to them other than the traditional courtesies one shows any guest under your roof. There were at least 3 occasions in which we had to curb their insolence.

Just before they left an odd incident occurred. My father had gone out with the luggage to their car, refusing my customary assistance. When he got back in he wanted to know what that “small house” was I was building. I responded that it was a new chicken coop. It puzzled me, because I had already told him about it. How the hell could he forget so quickly?

He wanted to see it and insisted I lead the way down the shoveled path to the framed-out building.

On the snowy slope going down to it his city shoes failed him behind me; his feet shot out from under him and he landed in a heap at my feet.

Instinctively, I silently extended my hand down to him. When his eyes met my cold ones I saw something unexpected: He was afraid of me. My first reaction was one of distain. He knew me not at all if he thought I’d strike someone when they were down. I pulled him to his feet. He laughed nervously, shakily.

It was only later that I wondered why he thought I’d do anything to him.

With a great sense of relief we watched them drive off… for the last time. Neither of us waved as they drove down the hill and out of sight around the bend. I still had the task of having that discussion with them in August.

But that was 6 months off.

A day or two later Jacob called again. This time I picked up. I told him matter-of-factly that in view of the circumstances I did not consider it appropriate to discuss anything yet nor for him to be doing our taxes anymore: I had procured the services of a local accountant. He got off the phone quickly in a blind, stumbling rush, obviously embarrassed. However; a couple of days later I got a two sentence letter:

“Dear Frank and Melissa,

I just lost a wife. I couldn’t bear to lose a brother and sister-law too.

Luv,

Jake.”

I found this fascinating. I had deliberately not said anything, in keeping with my desire to remain silent for a year. But he seemed to have known exactly what was wrong. Then this letter arrives, predictably appealing to my compassion.

“Don’t think of it as losing a brother and sister-in-law; look at it as losing people you don’t care about anyway” I told him when I called back. He immediately took the offensive.

“I use ta idolize ya when we were kids.” he stammered in an amalgamated tone of agrievement, accusation, and a call for my contrition. Idolizing me is not what I now remembered. All he was doing again was trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty for reacting appropriately to what happened; to slough the blame all off onto me.

“So; what happened then? Why did you change?” I demanded.

“I felt like ya abandoned da family!” he blurted out, now sounding almost in tears.

Who abandoned who?” I shot back without thinking. I winced as I realized what I’d just said and to whom. For me; “abandoned” conjured up that night when he and my cousin ran like rabbits, leaving me to fight 3 guys alone and damn near die. I shouldn’t have worried; it apparently didn’t allude to the same thing for him.

“I know, I shoulda called, an written…An I know it’s been a long time since I been ta your place.” he admitted abjectly.

As long as it was him that had broached the subject and not me, I told him why I had stopped coming down after all those years of trying. When I added how we felt at Ann’s funeral, he saw that as his chance to regain the offensive, hiding behind his and his family’s grief at their loss. I stayed away from criticizing his family as much as I honestly could, but I would not back down.

“Da kids acted dat way because they jest don’t know you or Melissa.”

No. Someone they do not know creates either curiosity or disinterest in kids. “I told him flatly. “Not hatred.”

With George when he called I thought I had a chance for a more honest discussion. I was wrong. When I told him frankly and bluntly that we were fully aware of how we were seen and treated at the funeral, he tried to deny everything. But a day later he called back with a different tune. Now he admitted that he was aware of how we were treated, but could shed no light on why.

“Yeah, an I asked my kids, an dey said yeah, dey saw it too…Dey didn’t know why, but dey saw it.” He paused, and then as if it had just occurred to him, offered an explanation. “Hey…Ya wanna know what I tink? I tink it’s because dey don’t know ya!”

“Bullsh*t. Children react to people they don’t know with curiosity, or they ignore them. They don’t react with hatred.”

I cut our firewood by hand with a bucksaw and split it with a maul. During that winter I cut my way through 14 and ½ cords of wood. A lot of anger got used towards a good end.

And as I worked, I continued going back over my life, seeing it with new eyes, questioning everything, questioning all my premises.

By the time spring arrived, we had all the wood in, and the farming year began anew. Before the snows were even gone, the fruit trees had been pruned, the brush burned, and the cold frames sown.

As soon as the snow pack melted, the spring clean-up began in earnest. Now was the time to scythe the fall raspberry canes, cut out the dead summer raspberry canes, clean out the chicken coop bedding, and begin another year’s compost piles.

As soon as the soil thawed and drained enough, the beds were forked up and raked smooth and level. In April the first crops were sown in open ground and the first salad harvests for ourselves had begun.

By the time the markets began in early May we had asparagus, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, Mache, other greens, and herbs ready to go. As the soil warmed progressively, more and more crops were sown, with the most cold-sensitive sown by the end of the month. By late May the first cutting of hay was done.

By Fathers’ Day all the main season crops had been sown or transplanted out.

I called my father and, coolly but civilly, wished him a happy Fathers’ Day. I told him I had a couple of questions I had been wondering about and would like to ask him. He told me to go ahead, but the obvious shaking in his voice made his trepidation apparent.

“How was it that Mom became such a church-goer, seeing as neither of her parents ever went to church?” They must have had me on ‘speakerphone’, because before he could mutter a syllable in reply, her voice screamed shrilly in the background.

“MY FATHA WAS A LU-TRAN! SO HE WANTED US TA BE! SO WE WENT! MOM COULDN’T GO CAUSE SHE HAD BABIES TA TAKE CARE OF!!”

“‘Babies?’ WhatBabies’?” My mother was the youngest of four. If all four of her mother’s children were in church, then who were these ‘Babies’ that my grandmother was supposedly taking care of?

“Guess dat answered dat.” he sounded relieved. “What’s ya next question?”

“Why did you break with tradition and bypass me, your eldest son, and name Jake the executor of your estate?” I asked bluntly. This one caused some squirming. And this time, my mother was dead silent, leaving it up to him to handle it.

“Well…Uh…Jake…Uh, is a ..” he began in a mousey voice, “ ...a, an accountant, uh…an a lawya…An he’s right here in da thick a things.”

“Uh-huh. That’s it?”

“Yeah… Yeah, dat’s it. Any more?” He sounded very glad I wasn’t pushing on that one.

“One more. Who was it that told Aunt Rosa that the only reason I visited her or wrote was to suck up to get into her will?”

I related to him a phone conversation I had with her a couple of months before she died. She had suddenly stopped in mid sentence.

“You know, Ralph didn’t leave me very well off…”

“Are you alright?” I had asked her, perplexed. “Do you need anything? Any money?”

“Oh, no, I’m fine. It’s just that I won’t have anything to pass on.”

“Oh, good. I’m glad you’re alright.” I told her, and our conversation resumed. Only months later had I realized she must have thought I was angling.

“Probably nobody.” was his dismissive response to my narration and repeated question. “Ya Aunt Rosa didn’t tink like otta people.” Now he was feeling cocky, and his voice had taken on an obnoxious swagger. “Any otta questions?”

“Yes… But later.” I told him coldly.

He had handled hearing that one better than another conversation with Rosa that I had told him about. I

t was my last one with her. I had called to invite her over before our season began. She asked to put it off till the weather was warmer, but she died before it could take place. Again, in the middle of a sentence she had suddenly stopped.

“You know...” she had said, “After all these years, I’ve finally come to understand that your Dede was right, all along.

“About what?” I asked, completely confused again. That heartfelt remark had absolutely no bearing on what we had been talking about. She must have had something else on her mind.

“About…everything.” was her cryptic response after a long pause. She would say no more about it, but resumed our conversation from where she had left off.

When I had told my father what she said a month or so after she had died, I was again startled; this time by the electrifying effect my words had on him.

“WHAT DID SHE MEAN BY DAT??!!!” he demanded shrilly. The whites showed all the way around his eyes and I thought his hair was going to stand on end. He looked so absurdly scared I almost couldn’t help laughing. I told him simply that I had no idea, that she never said what she meant.

My Aunt Rosa occupied a fond place in my memory. She would drive down from Saratoga once a summer to take the 4 of us kids out for a day. She took an interest in me, and took the time to find out what I was interested in. The birthday and Christmas gifts I got from her showed thought and consideration; a rare commodity shown me in my youth by anyone.

Whenever Melissa and I were in her area we’d swing over to stop and visit for an hour or so on our way through to an Art Show, for no other reason than that I liked them. I never thought they had any money. They seemed quite modest in their lifestyle. They had owned an Ice Cream Stand, open only during the tourist season, for Christ’s sakes, not an Investment House. It was my mother who thought they were rich for some reason.

And I also enjoyed visiting because Rosa would tell me stories about my grandparents that I knew so little of. She liked to proudly show us her keepsakes when we came too.

It was on the way upstairs to see some of them one day that I was stopped in my tracks. I stared at a photo of a young man hanging on the staircase wall. I had never seen it before. She must have just hung it recently.

“Aunt Rosa. Who is that?” I asked quietly.

“Oh, that’s your Uncle Ralph. It’s from just after we were married.”

“Oh... Very nice picture of him.”

She went on upstairs. I hung back a minute and beckoned to Melissa.

“Look at this.” I spoke softly. “Who does that look like?”

“I don’t know, who?”

“It is the spitting image of Jake at that age.”

Really.”

In early July, I got a call from my father.

“I’m jest callin ta keep ya up ta date wit what’s been goin on…”

Suddenly it was important to “keep me informed”?

It seemed Kathy and her husband Maury were getting divorced.

“Yeah. Maury, he don’t tink like otta people. He’s outta his mind. He sez dat she was foolin around wit some 28 year old young guy…Dat’s how she hurt her ankle: He trew her outta bed!’ he related, but sounding strangely pleased.

I said nothing. I was seriously beginning to consider that my entire family was insane. And I was not about to believe anything I heard about, or from, Kathy.

Never mind all the other lurid tales from the past; in just the last month I heard she postponed the parents’ visit down there by claiming to have been bitten on the knee by a Brown Recluse spider; then it was on the ankle.

By the next week it was back on the knee and had morphed into a poisonous snakebite.

From there it became “possibly fatal cancer of the knee”, which had now been transmuted into a sprained ankle caused by a demented husband.

“…Yeah, he told her:’ Dat’s where ya belong; on da floor like da dawg dat ya are!’ when he trew her offa da bed!”

As I listened silently I could hear my mother vociferously feeding him his lines. Her voice was becoming shriller and more vehement, the stories escalating, becoming wilder. I understood suddenly why: It was because of my silence. I was not reacting with the appropriate outrage for my wronged sister. And I wasn’t outraged. These stories were just too bizarre to be taken seriously.

I simply did not believe Kathy’s mother-in-law had “clawed” her face and that Kathy had then “decked” her. I know how much it takes to “deck” someone and Kathy did not have it.

Nor did I think that Maury was fabricating from nothing that his wife was having an affair with a “28 year old”. That seemed an oddly specific number to have just plucked out of thin air. And I did not think it likely that Maury had been beating her as I was now hearing for the first time.

It’s not that I was fond of him and making excuses. As a matter of fact, I had counseled her not to marry him. I had told her that she could not really love him herself if she could run off with 2 guys and stay incommunicado for weeks when she was engaged to him.

One night when she was 25, she had simply disappeared: Just never came home from the Pizzeria where she worked as a waitress. No one knew what had happened to her: There was no note, no phone call, nothing.

Pop wound up in the hospital with an anxiety attack. Maury was sure she was lying dead somewhere, savagely slain and dismembered. He kept a mournful vigil at the parents’ house until my mother had Pop tell him to leave because he was just too “goddamn depressing” to have around.

After some weeks I heard through George that there was a rumor that she’d run off with a couple of guys she knew. But still no word from her.

Then one day she called. She was broke. She claimed to have been abducted, taken forcibly against her will to the Florida Keys, kept imprisoned in a motel room, and repeatedly raped by the two kidnappers. She wanted to come home now, and no, she didn’t want the police involved.

George and his wife were dispatched to fetch her back to the bosom of her family. The night she got home I got a call from my mother and heard about the tale of abduction for the first time.

“…and she was raped!”

I was disgusted, repelled, and furious to hear that she was relishing the story, her voice bizarrely dripping with triumph and pride.

“Ya wanna tawk ta ya sista?” she urged.

No.” I managed to get out through clenched teeth. “Maybe later.” I turned to Melissa as soon as I got off the phone. “She’s lying” I told her flatly.

And her story fell apart quickly enough. The Pastor of their church, her parents, her brothers, and her fiancée were all in that tiny kitchen, commiserating with her over the trials she’d borne so bravely and so well.

One of the ‘Kidnappers’ she had taken off with in her panic attack called the house while she was sobbing dramatically over her awful experience. Maury took the call. He listened for a minute.

“Hey, Kathy…” he said, holding out the receiver toward her. “Ya wanna marry dis guy…or me?” The‘beau’ on the phone unfortunately was not aware of the story she had concocted.

The truth was quickly revealed. All hell broke loose in that little room.

I happened to call a little after the fireworks. Kathy was alone in the house. She told me pandemonium had erupted with the truth. Simultaneously , Maury had begun to cry, “Daddy” began cursing and pulling out his hair, “Mommy” sat gaping open-mouthed like a fish, George roundly cursed Kathy out, and when Jake told him to “Shut the f*ck up!”, he told him to ”F*ck off!”. That led to pushing, then a scuffle on the floor. They then scattered into the night in anger and disbelief. Only she and the Pastor were left.

As he prepared to leave, he looked at her severely. “Young lady,” she said he told her, “Your life…is a Soap Opera!”

A little while later, it was quietly announced that Kathy was pregnant, Maury was the father, and the wedding was soon.

In the background, my mother was almost frothing now, and what I was hearing had crossed the line into the insanely absurd. I finally had to stop them.

“Pop! Stop! Listen to what you’re saying! You are telling me that Maury rigged Kathy’s car up with a bomb, and that when she demanded to know why it wasn’t running right, that he went out to that same car, opened the hood, and had his own bomb explode into his face, so that she had to drive him to the ER? Do you hear what you’re saying? Do you really expect me to believe this!?”

My mother had now gone into full-blown hysteria because I wouldn’t believe what I was being told. She kept frantically screaming that Kathy was a “good girl!” (That was important to her, and it wasn’t a new assertion. In her “Official Family History”, Kathy had ‘regained’ premarital virginity just like Mother Mary.)

“Maury don’t tink like otta people.” was my father’s only defense.

“Kathy told us she married inta a dis-funk-channel family...Dat’s da first time she eva said dat!” he crowed happily.

My less-than-desired response to those stories only led to a series of frantic calls on the topic over the next few days, each wilder than the last. Now, I was told, Kathy had been smuggled into a shelter for battered women and the Virginia National Guard was stationed all around the building, shoulder to shoulder, rifles at the ready, in order to prevent her crazed, insanely jealous husband from getting at her.

It was my refusal to accept what I was told at face value that was the issue here, not what did or did not really happen. The stories seemed to take on a life of their own. Kathy’s alleged infidelity completely disappeared and his alleged beatings of her were retroactively extended back into time, so that gradually he was said to have been beating her regularly before they were married. I was sure that if I listened long enough, he’d be accused of beating her in Kindergarten, and then in utero.

Jacob called at the behest of his mother to help them in their efforts to convince me. It was the first time I’d heard from him since February. It was a “Isn’t it horrible what poor Kathy is going through?” call.

Tactical blunder: The more people that are brought in to convince you of a story, the more opportunity to double-check the versions one against the other. It didn’t take long to trip him up, and the more he tried to wiggle, the more he tripped up. He was fabricating lies on the spot.

George was more open about it. According to his version of events, it all started with Kathy and Maury’s party this year. Ever since they had moved to Virginia, they had held what they called a 3 day “Drugs ‘n’ Drinkin Blowout” during the summer. He tried never to miss it because he claimed it was one helluva party.

This year, Kathy had gone off with this guy that was there.

“She said she was jest gonna drive him ta his place so he could change.” he told me over the phone. “But Maury followed em.”

And caught them in flagrante delicto

“So; there was a 28 year old?”

“Oh yeah. Name’s Don.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I tawked wit him.”

“Where?”

“She was in a motel wit him. She called me up, an she put him on afta awhile.”

“What did he say?”

“Aw, he started ta give me some sh*t at first…Till I told him I was gonna come down nere an kick da sh*t outta him.”

“Then what?”

“Oh, den it was all ‘Yes sir’, and ‘No, sir’…Hey, I figga Maury probably smacked her a few times. And she probably deserved it.”

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