About a month later, my sister Laura woke up when she heard moaning. Paula was sitting up, a restless dark shape in the bed across the room. Laura called out, “Paula… Paula?” After no response Laura turned on the light. Paula was burning up and moaning. Laura tried to rouse her, but Paula was too out of it, incoherent and wheezing as she sat in a pool of sweat. Laura, who had asthma, thought Paula was having an attack, she was all too familiar with. My mom said Paula had a fever and filled an ice bag for her forehead. Paula’s eyes were dilated and wild as she continued to sweat despite the ice. Cramps caused her to curl up as she clutched her stomach. She grunted and babbled, unable to answer clearly to “What’s wrong?” directed her way every few minutes. This continued for another hour as my mom became increasingly worried. Dad peeled off the soaked sheets and carried her out to the car.
At the hospital, the doctor was very concerned about her condition and was unable, at first, to diagnose the problem. Paula was in a lot of pain and had broken into a rash. Her temperature was through the roof and she was given oxygen. They cooled her down with more ice and her thrashing subsided enough that she could be moved to a room for further tests and observation. When they lifted her in the transfer, Paula screamed when her leg was touched. On a hunch, the doctor rolled her over and found a telltale swollen, red area on the back of her leg.
“Looks like something bit her. We need to find out what!” the doctor said.
My dad drove back home to inspect the sheets. Crumpled in the folds of the sheets was a dead black spider with an hourglass red spot on its abdomen. Paula recovered in a few days, but slept uneasily for quite a long time; scared she’d have another unwelcome poisonous visitor.
Paper, Rock, Scissors
My mother was hanging up my dad’s jacket and discovered a note in his pocket. She sat on the bed; her shoulders slumped as she wept. The contents of this little scrap of paper were a bitter confirmation of the suspicion and fear she carried deep in her gut, and had chosen to deny. But the diagnosis was in, and it was bad news. It was cancerous, a contagion that in the end would be catastrophic. Unknown to my siblings and I, we too would eventually be sickened and never fully recover from the tragic consequences of the betrayals.
Dad often returned home late from work. It had been busy at the base, demanding schedules, and, uh, they were understaffed. He was stressed out, under a lot of pressure and had, on occasion, stopped by a bar to get a drink. This went on for a while. It was all part of a carefully planned deception.
My mom actually knew the woman pretty well, my dad, very well obviously. She had been in and out of our home many times. Mom babysat her twins, so she could have time to do other things. She was a divorcee and engaged to another man while screwing around with my father. My mother, despite being coöperative to a reasonable point, wasn’t enough for Dad’s insatiable appetite. She rebuffed his suggestion that they “swap” with another couple.
“…Everybody was doing it.”
Not a good Catholic girl with six kids!
Sometimes it would be quite late, in the early morning hours, when Dad crept back into the house like a guiltless thief. He had indeed stolen something precious and cast it aside in the crime. Without trust their marriage was as doomed as the girl I described earlier, tied under the boulder waiting for the crushing blow.
Months previous, while getting her hair cut, my mother heard of my father’s recent indiscretions from the hairdresser. Saying, she knew of him from the bar up the street. Mom denied it of course, and may have voiced it out loud, “…that it just wasn’t so, couldn’t be, please don’t let it be.” But she knew the malignant truth and felt it eating away at her on the inside. As with any martyr, my Mother closed her eyes and accepted the torment that that came with the fate.