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episode eleven - the powerful part two
Things moved along pretty quickly. By that very afternoon, about seventeen hours or so after Olivia had appeared in my room, along with Saint McMasters, I was checking out Sam Carson, watching him at work at the gas station, looking for some sign that he was an abuser. What the sign would be, I have no idea. Maybe I expected him to just notice me watching him and drop down on his knees and confess, beg me to forgive him, he'd never go near Jaimie or any other little girl ever again. When I thought of him doing that, I tried describing the image to Saint, but he just shushed me. For some reason, I went ahead and shut up, like maybe I thought Saint had a better idea of what we were looking for here, and he needed to concentrate.
I hadn't yet figured out that Saint just didn't talk much. It's a little strange actually, how little he talks. In class, he's always talking, whether he's cracking wise with the troublemakers or excitedly answering the teachers' questions before anyone else can, you just can't get him to shut up long enough. Outside of school though, I began to see after a bit why it was that despite all his popularity and despite everyone in town loving him, he didn't have any real friends. He was shy, maybe, or he just had nothing to say. Either way, he was pretty damn quiet. Too quiet.
Sitting there on our makeshift stakeout, with no conversation possible, I started living, even more than usual, inside my head rather than outside of it. I think it was then, even before I knew how things would end up, how all this would weigh in on things between Haley and I, that I decided that I wanted to tell this story. And, I started putting some things in order, figuring out how events fit together.
See, things were very disjointed in my mind. There was Saint asking me about Olivia on our walk over to the gas station. "How can she not know if her little sister's being hurt or not," he kept asking. "I don't know," I told him. "She didn't explain the rules of being a ghost to me. Who's to say she even knows 'em." I went on to say something about Olivia dying and being handed a rulebook--you can't spy on people in the privacy of closed rooms, you CAN look through windows, you CAN even pass right through windows and through locked doors, but you CANNOT spy on people in private, or something like that--and Saint stopped listening so I stopped talking. Right next to that conversation, which was barely even in the past, was that snake popping its head out of Miller's Pond, Olivia telling all of us, "you might want to get out of the water." Next to that, Jaimie grinning after brushing some sand off herself, saying, "I gotta do that again." Next to that, the eight of diamonds. Next to that, Jaimie falling off the bars, me catching her. Next to that, Haley kissing me once upon a time at Betty Cooper's house. Next to that, the word fantabulous. Next to that, Enoch's story about that little girl and her dying father. Next to that, my mother pushing me against the wall. Next to that, Olivia's scars, her telling me, "If I didn't want anyone to see them, I'd wear long sleeves all the time. I don't care if everyone knows. Let them think I'm weak or whatever they want to think. I know who I am. I don't need their approval. I don't need everyone to tell me anything. I'm fine without them."
Things were mixed up, out of order. Cause didn't always come before effect in my head. Olivia's death didn't always come after Haley fell off King's Fate. My mother didn't always go insane while I was still a child. I didn't always have that talk with my father about Frank Cross after Olivia was already dead and it wasn't too late for it to effect anything, if it even could . . .
That was two nights after Olivia's funeral. Phyllis Cross had given me a few of those bordering on hateful looks at the funeral. And, I'd been thinking plenty about Olivia's father anyway, for obvious reasons. And, that particular night, my father was sitting in the living room watching tv. A commercial was on, and it occurred to me that the best source I had for the information I wanted was sitting right there in our living room. So, I asked him outright, a bit of the Olivia in me making me bold, what he had to do with Frank Cross.
"Frank and I were friends," he told me. And, I think he thought that was enough, that the conversation would be over and I'd leave the room. But, I wasn't gonna leave it at that.
"Was he one of your drinking buddies?" I'd known, even back then, when mom was still around the house and I was too young to know what it meant, that my father had drinking buddies. He'd gone out maybe a few nights a week to get drunk with some friends. I don't know if I thought they were bad people or not, but I guess maybe in a way, I did, and Olivia's father being one of them made some sense.
My father tried a noncommittal answer, another attempt to leave me hanging, giving me just enough information that I might give up this conversation. "We had some drinks together," he said.
A series of questions came to me, and before I had organized them in my head, I was listing them out loud. "Just the two of you? How many drinks? How often? Did mom know? Did Phyllis Cross know? Didn't it matter to you that you had kids at home? Didn't it matter to you that he did? Did you know what he was doing to Olivia? Did you know he was molesting her? Did you know he raped her? Were you there?"
That last one got my father's attention if none of the others did. He got up from his chair, and I was convinced, moreso than I've been convinced of plenty of things in my life, that he was gonna hit me. But, he didn't. He just looked at me, a wounded look but also something else, like even behind the hurt of me asking those things, he still knew he was my father and I loved him and was afraid of him--I'm sure you know that look. He seemed to want to say something, to defend himself, maybe even to defend Frank Cross, or maybe just to tell me to go to my room, it was none of my business, but he couldn't speak right then. He just looked at me. He sat back down, and finally got something out. "What do you know about it," he asked me. There was no anger in his voice, no sadness, no inflection at all that I noticed. The words just sorta came out.
I told him what I knew. I told him about Olivia's father raping her, about her mother not wanting me to be her friend. I think I may have even mentioned something about her repeated suicide attempts, those deep scars on her wrists and all those shallower ones up her arms. I'm not sure what all I said, except that I know I had the presence of mind not to mention Enoch. I didn't like Enoch, I didn't like what he'd done--later when Jaimie, on several occasions, would ask me to go with her to the old church to look for him cause she was mad at him too, I was more than happy to go--and I certainly did NOT believe he was an angel, but so soon after that surreal day we'd met him, something in me was protecting the whole experience.
My father went on to tell me about how back when he was working as a mechanic, he had worked alongside Frank Cross, how they had been close friends and, as I had guessed, drinking buddies. He didn't know what Frank had been doing, he told me. If he'd known, he would have done something about it. "Don't you think I would have done something about that, Travis?"
I had to be honest. "I don't know. I would think that as her father, he wouldn't be doing those things to her. But, he was, wasn't he?"
"And, you think I'd not only be friends with someone like that if I knew, but also let it keep happening?" He didn't sound as hurt as the words imply, believe me. And, there was something wrong there. And, for some reason, his whole speech about my mother being better off at Cedar Cliff came back to me, his whole thing about how he'd believed they'd be together forever when they fell in love, his whole thing about how hard it was being powerless, and suddenly, none of it sounded too true anymore. I'd believed him when he'd told me mom was better off in the hospital. I'd believed him when he had told me she'd be home someday, all better, cured, back to normal. But, she was still up there at Cedar Cliff, wasn't she? She was still crazy. Maybe he didn't know it, maybe it wasn't entirely conscious, but my father was a liar. I knew that. In that moment, I knew that. And, as much as I didn't want to believe my father, or anyone for that matter, would allow a man to go on molesting his daughter if they knew about it, I wasn't too sure that that wasn't what had happened.
"You threatened to kick Ruby out of the house that time she spent the night with Jake McCutcheon," I said, not too sure why I was saying it. "You hit Carrie that time she took one of your beers from the fridge." A whole string of horrible incidents was coming to my mind, and I did my best to just let the string come, to let it fly on by and not even register in my head, but a few just leapt out through my mouth. I couldn't stop them. "You got into that fight with Jimmy Faraday that night he came to see Evelyn. Half your size, and you punched him." My father, I could tell, wanted to tell me to shut up, to go to my room, to do something other than talk about any of this, but no words came out when he tried to speak, not until I hit the most sensitive subject I could with him. "You put your own wife in a hospital, for God's sake," I said.
"That was for her own good," he said. Then, he said it again, more conviction this time, "that was for her own good."
"Yeah, I've heard that all before," I said. "But, was it? It's not like she's getting any better. It's not like those doctors or any of that medication has helped her. She could have been here with us, being our mother, being your wife. Remember how much you wished you could spend every moment with her, how in love you were once? What the hell happened to that? You put her in a hospital. And, not just any hospital. One far enough away that it just isn't practical for us to visit her more than once every couple months. What is that about? She's your wife, damn it. She's my mother. And, you locked her up. And you expect me to just assume that you're some great person or something, just cause you're my father? I don't think so. So, instead of answering my questions with more questions that tell me nothing at all, why don't you just answer me?"
He looked hurt again. And, maybe it shouldn't have, but it felt good. Here was my father, the guy that supported not just me but four of my five sisters as well, and had been doing so for years, and I had hurt him. Me, ten years old, and exhausted mentally and physically still from the grief of Olivia killing herself--I'd hurt him. He was quiet again. So, I asked him the one of all my questions that seemed most important right then. "Did you know what he was doing to Olivia?" Maybe I regretted hurting my father right then, maybe I thought there was a little too much forcefulness in my voice with that question, as I quickly backed down a little, adding, "please, just answer me that much."
"I didn't know," he said after a painful silence. "I didn't know. At least, I didn't want to believe any of the things I suspected. I had never seen anything, nothing conclusive. But, I admit, there were little things, things Frank would say about 'Livia, the way he'd talk about her--I don't know how to describe it, but it was just different than how I'd talk about my girls. But, even in those moments that I suspected there was something wrong, I don't think I even wanted to imagine what it might be. I didn't know. I didn't know."
"Why does Phyllis Cross hate you, then?"
"She thinks I knew. She thinks I should have known. She thinks that all us guys just must have known something was up. Like we went out drinking and Frank bragged about it or something."
"No. God, no. I told you, he talked about his daughter, sure. But, he never said anything that would have made us believe he was . . . " My father took a deep breath before finishing that sentence. " . . . molesting her. Do you really think I could have . . . how could I have let that go on if I'd known about it?"
"How DID you let it go on?"
"You think I knew?"
Did I? I don't know. But, it was so hard to believe him. Maybe I was looking for someone to blame for Olivia's death, maybe I just wanted to understand--I don't know. I just had to get more answers, better answers. "What should I think? Do you think Olivia thought her father would hurt her? Do you think she thought her life would sink into the hell it did because of the man that was supposed to love her more than anyone else in the world? Do you think she thought he'd betray her like that? What am I supposed to think? I've seen some of your friends when they're drunk. Jerry Sedgwick has done some pretty crazy things when he's drunk. Yelled at people for no reason, picked fights, told secrets"--one of these secrets was an affair Kevin Faraday was having with a cheerleader, a high school cheerleader--"confessed a lot of shit about himself too. Why should I think Frank Cross was any different? You said yourself he talked about Olivia. You said yourself you suspected something was wrong. So, why should I believe you really didn't have an idea of what he was doing? And, if you DID have an idea, why the hell didn't you do something about it? God, I can see why Phyllis Cross hates you."
There were so many places in there I could have paused to let him reply. There were so many ways I could have said all those things better. But, good excuse or not, I was only ten, and I was angry and I was sad, and I was exhausted. If I wanted to pinpoint the moment that my relationship with my father broke down, it actually would be a long time before that, a long time, surprisingly enough, before he even put my mother in Cedar Cliff, but that's a whole other thing, a small promise he made, a promise he broke, back when promises given by my father were still huge things in my world. The thing is, this conversation was rather quickly killing any chance we might have of repairing the damage. Whether he could answer me satisfactorily or not, there was no way our relationship could come out of this unscathed. And, I guess he knew that, and I guess I knew that, but it just didn't matter if we knew it. I'd taken us right on past the point of no return.
He was quiet for a long time, but I could just tell that he WAS going to answer, so I waited. When he spoke finally, he didn't talk immediately about Olivia or about Frank, and I almost started attacking him again with more questions, to make him get to the point I wanted him to make rather than making one of his own. But, I held back, let him talk.
"Long before I ever thought of Cedar Cliff, long before I ever even thought there was something seriously wrong with your mother, she told me one night that Saint Peter had promised her that our marriage would last forever. She knew how much 'til death do us part' meant to me, and she promised me that it would happen, that we'd get what we wanted. I didn't suspect at all that she actually believed she'd talked to Saint Peter, of course. I just assumed it was some bizarre figure of speech, or a joke if nothing else. I thought nothing of it.
"Jump ahead a few years, and there's your mother in the bathtub, cutting her wrists--yes, she did that too. Olivia Cross is not the only suicidal person on Earth."
I didn't think she was, but he kept talking before I could say as much.
"There were so many signs of something wrong with her by the time she tried to kill herself. But, I just couldn't believe that she was sick, that she was hurting, that something was wrong with her. I loved her so much, I just couldn't bear the idea of it. But, that didn't change the truth of it. She WAS sick. She WAS hurting. There WAS something wrong with her. Whether I wanted to or was able to believe it or not, Diana was losing her mind. Could I have prevented it if I'd let myself believe something was wrong before that? I doubt it. From what the doctors told me later, I'm sure there was nothing we could have done. She could have been medicated earlier, hospitalized earlier, taken from me earlier, but she still would have gotten worse, she still would have gotten how she's gotten."
I thought of her looking at Olivia, asking her, "you're not Isabella, are you?"
My father continued: "I'm not saying there was no way to keep Frank Cross from doing what he did to 'Livia, and I'm not saying I was as blind to what was wrong there as I was with your mother, but it is like that in a way. Did I ever suspect something was wrong? Sure I did. Could I have done more to find out if Frank was doing something to 'Livia? Sure I could have. Should I have? Maybe."
He was quiet, and I thought maybe he was done, that he would just leave it at that. Aside from not telling me anything I wanted to hear, like maybe that he had never even had a clue, that no one could have prevented Frank Cross from molesting then raping his seven year old daughter, he was gonna end his speech badly. But, then, just as I was trying to think of some more questions, better ways to ask the ones I'd already asked, he spoke again.
"But, I didn't," he said. "I didn't do anything. I never said anything to Frank. I never said anything to the police. I never said anything to Phyllis. Not until it was too late, not until the whole thing was already in court and the girl's testimony was enough to get the jury to convict. There are plenty of things I regret in my life, Travis. I regret that I can't spend the time I always wanted to with your mother. I regret every time I've yelled at any of you kids. I regret hitting Carrie that time. I regret fighting with Jimmy. I regret lots of things I've done when I was drinking. AND, I regret not doing something about Frank Cross. If I could go back and change things, I would. Believe me, I would. But, I can't. No matter what I can do in my head to figure things out sooner back then, to talk to someone, to act before it got as far as it got, Frank Cross will always rape his daughter. No matter how many times I go over my life in my head, I will always have to put your mother in Cedar Cliff, I will always yells at my kids sometimes when I shouldn't, I will always hit Carrie, I will always fight with Jimmy, and I will always do nothing to stop Frank Cross from raping his little girl.
"But, you see, the thing is, I will also always fall in love with your mother. I will always marry her. We will always have six wonderful kids. The good things and the bad, they are always there. If things could be changed, I'd get rid of the bad, but things can't be changed. They just can't. They just can't."
He should have been crying or something as he finished that. But, he wasn't. I should have been moved. I should have believed he'd done all he could back then. But, I wasn't. I didn't.