My mama’s name was Mary and my pa’s was Joseph, but I don’t believe my conception would’ve been immaculate. When I think about it, I imagine that there was some screamin’ and some cryin’. There may have even been a little blood. It’s not healthy for a grown man to think too much about the day he was made, but I admit that I think on it a fair bit and a good deal more than I’d like. In fact, when I consider my parents, or even my childhood, I’m always drawn to that event, an event of which I have no recollection and for which I may or may not have actually been present. Voltaire said that “madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast or of one thing exclusively.” I think that’s ‘bout right. Of course, he also said that “every man is guilty of all the good he did not do” and that’s a load of bullshit. It’d be more accurate to say that every man is guilty of all the good he thought he was doin’. Now, that’s a lesson it might take a man his whole sorry lifetime to learn.
Years back I had a wife, Lois, and two kids, Mikey and Rebecca Ann, and I loved ‘em more than I loved my own life. But I was dogged by somethin’ inside and drinkin’ hard to shut it out. One weekend I was coming back from a run to Clearwater, makin’ good time ‘cause I was poppin’ black beauties to stay awake. I made it into town just after midnight and stopped by the bar to have a few drinks before headin’ home. I remember leavin’ the bar after it closed and climbing into my rig, but I don’t recall much else ‘til I stumbled into the bedroom and saw my old lady in the sack with some other fella. I started yellin’ and screamin’ and Lois started yellin’ back, tellin’ me that I was a drunk and why didn’t I go back to town and find one of my whores. I tell her I’m going to kill the prick she’s with and then I'll slit her throat from ear to ear with my pocket knife. She opens the drawer on the night table, takes out her pistol, and shoots me in the left shoulder. The bullet went in one side, out the other, and into the wall. I remember lyin’ on the floor bleedin’ and watchin’ that other guy, his pants half on, tryin’ to crawl into the closet. See, me and Lois, we was a lot alike, and neither of us would back down from a fight. If I’da been that guy, I’da stood my ground and protected the woman I was with—I’d done so before. Thinkin’ of Lois with a coward like that hurt me more than the hole in my shoulder, and I moaned, “Aw, baby, why?” just before everything went black.
Well, I got fixed up but had to stay away for awhile. It was then that I made a decision. I was finally gonna do somethin’ good, somethin’ that'd hurt me but save the people I loved. I had a friend of mine get ahold of Lois and ask her to meet me at the food court at the Eastbridge Mall. She agreed and on the day we were to meet I put on my best clothes, shaved, and combed my hair just right. I was doing somethin’ important, more important than getting’ a loan at the bank or goin’ to a funeral. This was my family.
We met outside Burger Time and I could tell Lois was excited to see me. She asked me why I was so dressed up, then started talkin’ a mile a minute about what the kids was up to and how her boss was pissin’ her off again. It made the tears well in my eyes to hear her go on like that. Then she started talkin’ 'bout us takin’ the kids campin’ soon. Finally, I had to say, “Lois, I’m not comin’ back.” She put her hand to her mouth. “We’re not buildin’ no kinda life for our kids and they gotta have a chance. I know it’s me that’s the problem. I believe it's best if I go.” Lois started to cry. “But the kids need you,” she said, frowning. “I need you. I know we had some bad times, and this last was the worst yet. But we can work it out. We can be good to each other, maybe get someone to help us. I want you to come home.” She pounded the table with her tiny fist: “I want you to come home now!” I shook my head. “Baby, I’m sorry. I love you and the kids but I just think it’d be best if I wasn’t around.” I started to stand up. “Bastard!” she hissed. “You selfish bastard.” I was afraid she was gonna make a scene and I started to back away from the table. But she didn’t get up, just looked at me, her make-up running down her cheeks. I couldn’t read what was in her eyes: sorrow, fury, fear, hate, or love. As I walked across that hot parking lot outside the mall I thought I’d just done the most noble, strong-hearted thing of my life. I figured that must be true because I hurt so bad I felt like I was gonna die. For a second I turned and looked toward the mall; Lois hadn’t come out yet. I almost went back inside but instead I got in my truck and drove away.
Five years later I was a different man. Things had gotten rough and I’d learned a good deal. I‘d fought myself some and studied on the battles of other men. Finally, I thought I’d earned some love and came seeking the forgiveness of my family. I didn’t know that what I’d need—what I’d spend the rest of my life lookin’ for—would be forgiveness from myself. (CONTINUED)