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.