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episode thirteen - the powerful part four

I was in the hallway at Cedar Cliff recently. My dad wasn't there. I was on my own, so it's not like staff would have been too helpful if they'd noticed me. I was heading for my mom's room. I wanted to talk to her about some things. I rounded one corner as i got close to her room. I'd glanced around to see that no one was there first, but was still being rather cautious, moving slow, tiptoeing, keeping quiet. So, I rounded this one corner, and you could understand my shock when I bumped right into someone. And you could understand my further shock, upon backing up, my mind racing for some excuse to give the guy for me wandering the halls alone, when I saw it wasn't some doctor or orderly or anyone else that might have kept me from seeing my mother, but rather, it was none other than Enoch. Of all possible people, there was Enoch, alleged angel. I didn't know why he might be there, and to be honest, I didn't much care.

"Excuse me," he said before he even realized who he'd bumped into. Then, seeing me, he smiled. "Travis, hello."

He spoke to me as if everything was as normal as could be between us. When I'd first encountered him, he'd claimed to be an angel, and it was hard, for some unexplained reason, to disbelieve him. When I had seen him later, after Olivia was gone, I'd accused him of causing her death. You'd think he would have bothered to hold that against me, or that he'd at least care that I didn't believe he was anymore an angel than I was a . . . well, a saint.

I sneered.

"Is something wrong, son?"

"I'm not your son."

"Well, who's son would you rather be? The son of a mad woman? The son of a rapist? Or, the son of an--"

"You're not an angel."

Enoch just looked at me.

"And, my mother's not a madwoman."

His head slanted a little to the side. He waited for me to say something. I didn't.

"But," he said, "your father IS a rapist."

I pushed past Enoch at this point. I didn't care to continue this conversation. It wasn't that I disagreed necessarily with what he was saying. It was just, well, this subject had been discussed to death. I was tired of it. I'd been tired of it ever since finally getting my father to admit to his part in things.

I'd been by the Cross' house. I'd talked with, or been talked to by anyway, Phyllis Cross. She didn't know anything for sure, I suppose, but she'd seemed pretty convinced that my father had a bigger part in what had happened between Olivia and her father. If he hadn't actually taken part in things--and, I was hesitant to believe my father was capable of such a thing--he'd at least known what had happened, known a lot more than he had admitted to me. I knew my father was a liar. I knew my father was a manipulator--getting large groups in to visit my mother was only one small example of what my father was capable; it sometimes surprised me, the dichotomy between my father's connections around town, his ability to talk people into doing whatever he wanted them to do, and, well, our lack of money. If I had my father's ability to handle people, I'd like to think I'd put it to better use. I'd make sure my kids had the finer things available to them. I'd make sure my family had money, that my family wasn't looked down upon by everyone else in town. The Adams family wasn't the lowest of the low around Reverence, but occasionally it seemed like we might be. Well, all but Ruby, who'd had the initiative to get married into the McMasters family, and Sam, who was fixing to get a full scholarship to college based on a recent audition. And, since I'm mentioning that audition, you should know that she flew alone back east, visited several schools, auditioned over several days, and returned home alone. Our father hadn't gone with her. Sure, he'd paid for her flights and her food and her lodging, but he'd stuck around in Reverence, working. He picked what was obviously more important to him. Needless to say, I was disappointed in his choice. Sam, though she wouldn't dare say as much, was also a bit disappointed. It didn't help that he'd done very little in the way of congratulating her on how well those auditions had gone. And, believe me, though people all over town knew about them, it was NOT our father that had spread the news. It was Ruby, and it was Evelyn maybe, and a large part of it was Doreen Robinson, so proud that she had started Sam's violin lessons she couldn't help but spout to anyone that listened that one of her students was going to make something of herself. If only our father would say things like that about any of us. If only our father would be proud of anything we do.

Instead, he buys us with just enough money to get by. He guilts us into thinking we owe him something that we know damn well he'd never even notice if we gave it to him, He broods about how horrible it was to put his wife in a hospital, nevermind that he made that decision, it wasn't made for him. He avoids us. He sits silently in the house so that it's hard to tell when he's home and when he's not. As I've mentioned before, except for when we ate dinner together, it sometimes was like we didn't even exist in his world, and he might as well have not existed in ours. And, you'd think all this would upset me. But, knowing what I know now about my father, I'm glad that he and I never got too close. I'm glad that something came between us long ago, a promise broken, a white lie that ruined everything. And, I'm glad that bigger things have made it all but impossible that we'd be together as father and son ever again.

Allow me to digress here. I want you to know about that promise he broke, that little lie he told me long ago. I want you to see where everything that could have been a great father son relationship twisted down a much different path. Appropriately enough, as such things were a big part of my mother's delusions and part of my illusions, his promise involved a saint.

Saint Nicholas.

Don't laugh.

What can I say? I was young.

My father promised every year that Saint Nick would bring us presents. There would be an extra present, in addition to any from him or my mother or any of my sisters or various other relatives that may have sent some or brought some with them. These extra presents always had distinctive wrapping paper. These were the presents from Saint Nick.

As my father told it, Saint Nick was never Santa Claus. And, he wasn't some jolly old man in red, with a long flowing beard. Well, actually, I think he must've had a beard, cause in my father's telling of it, Saint Nick would have been far too busy passing out presents to get around to shaving much. Of course, he was also so busy passing out presents to let himself go, like Santa has. There was no fat on Saint Nick. He was big and strong. He wasn't big and fat. And, far from being jolly, he was a little scary. You see, my father's Saint Nick had his lists of which boys and girls were naughty and which boys and girls were nice. But, he didn't leave lumps of coal, or whatever it is that Santa leaves, for the naughty ones. Saint Nick left nothing at all, and often there were promises of beatings, or "a hundred lashings." I remember at first I didn't even know what lashings were. But, the way my father told it, I could tell they weren't fun. And, the idea of Saint Nick coming to give them to me in the middle of the night was rather frightening.

Of course, like with any kid, that didn't keep me from being naughty all the time. When it came to December, as Christmas neared, I would do my best to be nice. I'd make sure my father would notice. And, when Christmas morning came, sure enough, there's be an extra present for me, that distinctive wrapping paper showing that Saint Nick had brought it by. There would be no lashings for me.

But, Christmas when I was seven was a little different. Just a few days before, Haley and I had our first kiss. We'd been over by Icles Creek, behind a big oak tree--that tree is still right there and it since has had our initials carved into it--and we'd been playing and talking as we usually would be. And, like the silly little kids we were, somehow a little too attentive to the possibilities of things like love in our future, we found ourselves separated from the rest of our friends, ducking behind that big oak tree, kissing. It was not, objectively speaking, the best of kisses. We were seven. It's not like we were experienced. But, as it was the first, it will always stand out in my memory, just like the first kiss after she got her retainer, the feel of that wire brushing my lip.

Memories of such things can drown out the whole world sometimes.

Anyway, where was I?

After our kiss, we'd emerged from our makeshift hiding place to find our friends had all gone on without us. It was getting dark and we were a little late home already. And, unlike a few years later, our parents weren't too eager to have us wandering around town without any supervision or without any large group. And, there we were, the two of us, me and Haley, late getting home as the sun was going down. We took only a minute looking around for our friends, thinking maybe they'd noticed we'd disappeared and had reciprocated by hiding themselves. We didn't find them. They hadn't leapt out, laughing. They had actually continued home without us. Realizing this, Haley and I looked at each other, wordlessly agreed that we were in big trouble if we didn't either catch up with the rest of them or get home before they'd had the chance to get to their respective houses, their parents alerting our parents that we were still out there somewhere. And, we ran.

By the time we got home, to her house anyway, it was dark. Her mother was waiting, anxious. She picked up Haley in her arms, hugged her like she'd thought she might never see her again, then put her down and yelled--well, really, Noelle Manning never yells, but she DID raise her voice--at her for being late, for getting separated from everyone else. Then, Mrs Manning looked at me, said something about my parents being worried, then led me out to her car and drove me home. My parents divided up those same two reactions Mrs Manning had between them. My mother grabbed me and hugged me. My father swatted me with his hand, yelled at me--and my father, unlike Noelle Manning, DID yell.

The next day, my father mentioned that he had reason to believe Saint Nick wasn't getting me a present this year, that I should be expecting one hundred lashings for being naughty. Knowing what I know now about what would happen to my mother, what was probably already going on in her head even then, knowing how it effected my father, and how hard it must've been--I believe it was hard, even if I think he lied about just how hard--I expect that my mother's stress over thinking I had gone missing, that I might be hurt, had been harder on my father than his own stress had been. I expect that she was crazy--in a much different sense, of course, than she would turn out to be later--that night, and he blamed me for it. I think, even then, I understood some of this. My father wasn't mad because I had been late, or because I had gotten separated from my group of friends, something I'd specifically been told not to do, but because he'd had to deal with my mother. And, somewhere inside my head, I even think he blamed me for making him the bad guy, making him swat me like he had, you know like abusive husbands that blame their wives for making them do the things they do, nevermind any self control they might be able to have if they're at all human. My father was angry with me, and he had made sure Saint Nick knew I'd been bad. At least, on one level, that's how I saw it. On another level, I suppose I knew by then that Saint Nick was as made up as Santa Claus and any lack of a present was purely because my father was mad at me.

Of course, when it came to Christmas Eve, I got to wondering about my hundred lashings. My father had promised Saint Nick would be there to give them to me. Part of me expected Saint Nick to actually show up and give me lashings, whatever lashings turned out to be. Part of me expected my father to do it himself, to admit once and for all that there was no Saint Nick, those extra presents were from him, and so would be my lashings. And, still another part of me expected nothing. If not for this third part, I might not have gotten any sleep.

I didn't get much sleep, though. A noise woke me in the middle of the night. I sat upright in my bed, expecting Saint Nick to be standing there, expecting my father, expecting something. But there was only my room, only darkness. Then, there was another noise. It came from downstairs. Part of me thought it was just my dad putting out the presents under the tree. Part of me hoped it was Santa Claus or Saint Nick or anyone magical like that. This part got me running out of my room, down the stairs, into the living room. And, there was my father, on the couch. Sitting next to him, her shirt unbuttoned, was Hannah Payne. She was a waitress at the Felix Diner. Still is. I make excuses all the time about why I won't go to the Felix Diner. Well, there you have something of the real reason. Hannah Payne, who I found on our couch with my father, works there. I didn't know why she was there. I didn't immediately have any idea of what she and my father might be doing. It wouldn't really occur to me until much later what might've been going on there, or what might've been about to happen if I hadn't walked in. And, all this with my mother asleep in my parents' bedroom. The strange thing was, not quite understanding what was going on before me, I was mad that I hadn't gotten my lashings. Good or bad, painful or not, I wanted my hundred lashings more than anything in the world right then. I wanted Saint Nick to take me aside and give them to me. I wanted my father to get off that couch and give them to me. Strange, isn't it? I wanted to be abused, as my father has promised I would be. But, there were no lashings. There was just my father on the couch with Hannah Payne.

I never told my mother about that. It's one of the things I wanted to talk to her about recently, when I ran into Enoch in the hallway at Cedar Cliff, but I'll get to that later. What is important here is long before I even understood what was happening, my relationship with my father was falling apart. He'd promised me something, albeit something bad, and I hadn't gotten it. I'd gotten him and a woman who was not my mother, arm in arm on our couch. I'd gotten a ruined Christmas morning. I'd gotten my first real clue that my father was a liar.

And, six years later, though I was hesitant to think him capable of really being involved in Olivia's rape, it wouldn't have surprised me too much, as I knew the things he HAD told me were not the truth, not the whole truth anyway. My father had been a liar when I was seven, lying about Saint Nick, lying to my mother I'm sure about Hannah Payne, lying about God knows what else. And, he was still a liar. He was a good one, too. His gift, his great ability to handle people, was probably in a very big way, nothing more than a gift for lies. And, if that was all it was, I really didn't want any part of it, even if I could come up with some better way of using it. I wanted no good use for lies. I wanted only the truth, even if it meant our family would remain outcasts, looked down upon, even if it meant my father was a rapist.

I got home, ready to confront my father again. I wanted to catch him off guard, so I walked through my mom's garden, long unattended, to the side door into the kitchen. I went in that way, passed my sister Carrie, on the phone like she had been far too often for years, and entered the living room behind my father. He was sitting in an easychair, watching television. He didn't see me coming.

The remote to the tv was on the arm of his chair. I grabbed it and shut off the tv. Before he could have much of any reaction, I got his attention a much better way.

"You lied to me," I said.

"What? What are you talking about. Give me that."

I surprised him. I handed over the remote the first time he asked. But, I told him, "don't turn that back on. You lied to me."

"Lied to you about what?"

"Well, at this point, I'm wondering what you ever didn't lie about. If I hadn't seen mom on one of her bad days with my own eyes, I'd probably be wondering if you hadn't made up that whole insanity thing just so you could get her out of the way."

"How dare you say--"

"Shut up." He did so, too surprised by my audacity to not do so. "If you'd gotten together with Hannah, I'd think you planned the whole thing, that it was all one big lie, mom being crazy, so you could get out of being married without any formal divorce. But, why would you do that? What's so wrong with divorce?"

"I didn't--"

"Didn't what? You didn't get out of being married without a divorce? You didn't do anything with Hannah Payne? You didn't send your wife, my mother, away? You didn't lie about Saint Nick? You didn't lie about my hundred lashings? You didn't lie about Frank Cross raping his daughter? You weren't there?"

"What? Who told you that?"

"Who told me what?"

"What gave you any idea I was there when Olivia was raped?"

"Out of all the things I just mentioned, you're worried about that one above the rest? You sent my mother away. You stole a piece of my life, a piece of me, and you locked it away at Cedar Cliff. You ruined my life." I was silent for a moment, letting my words sink in. Also, I suppose I was deciding for sure if I meant them all as they had come out. I wasn't about to take them back just then, but I wanted to keep track of what I said, wanted to be sure of all the details.

"I know Olivia was important to you, Travis. I know, it's probably something to do with Olivia that's got you here talking like this again. And, I know you don't believe I made up your mom's condition to get rid of her."

I noticed he made no mention of my comments about Saint Nick or my hundred lashings.

"Now, what gave you the idea I was there when Frank . . . did what he did? Or, should I ask WHO gave you the idea?" He knew who. I could tell. He made it incontrovertible. "What did Phyllis say," he asked me.

"You don't get to hear her version first. I want yours."

Without any hesitation, he started with, "I wasn't there. I didn't even know. At least, I didn't want to believe any--"

"You didn't want to believe any of the things you suspected," I finished. "You have this speech memorized? Did you write it all out and memorize it so you could tell it to the cops that night? You were there, weren't you? And, you kept them from arresting Frank Cross. You were there and you were drunk and you nearly let him get away with it."

My father just looked at me. He didn't try any excuses. He didn't even try any explanations. I was right. Phyllis was right. Except, she wasn't. There was something missing. There was something wrong with the way my father was looking at me, something like sadness and infinite grief in his eyes, infinite grief or maybe guilt. There was more to this.

"There's more, isn't there," I said. It wasn't really a question. "You WERE there."

He nodded.

"You WERE drunk."

He nodded again.

"But, you didn't just watch. You didn't pass out and realize afterwards what had happened. You didn't just talk the cops out of doing anything that night because you were looking out for your buddy."

My father nodded.

I hesitated before I said what I said next. I wasn't eager to say it, wasn't eager to hear the words out loud, as that made things far more real than the thoughts in my head. Finally, I skipped past saying it outright, and only hinted at the truth I needed to hear, no matter how much I didn't want to.

"Hannah Payne wasn't the only person you cheated on mom with, was she?"

My father closed his eyes. He looked like he might burst into tears. But, I wasn't going to let him.

"Who else did you have sex with? Who else was there? How many women? How many little girls? How the hell could you do that to Olivia?"

He covered his face with his hands. I reached out and pulled them away.

"Answer me, damn it. You were there, and you didn't just watch. You raped her too. Didn't you?"

He didn't nod. He didn't reply. He didn't have to. I knew I was right. As Enoch would say later, my father WAS a rapist. I'd thought he was bad for taking my mother away from me. But, he was so much worse.