My mother saw it coming and warned me. But I thought I knew better. I hoped and prayed that Brad would stop drinking. When he was sober, he was the person I loved. Love still. He was everything to me. But my love seemed to weigh him down. I gave into him when I should have run. I forgave him rather than leave him. But when I reached the end of my rope, I slipped the knot and let Brad take the fall.
Standing up to Brad was never easy. I never felt like I was on firm ground. At one point, I believed he could destroy everything. I was even afraid he could have me deported back to Flores, Guatemala.
When I was one year old, my family came to the U.S. My father, Vicente Flores, had been a jailer with the Policia Nacional. He’d gone to the School of the Americas and then went to Georgia for advanced training. He promised my mother he'd find a way to take us all to America. My father made good on this promise. In ten years, my parents were U.S. citizens. But I was too young to understand or remember.
I did not do well in school. I was too shy to ask questions when I didn’t understand. And most of the time, I didn’t understand. But I lived for the holidays and festivals. I begged my mother for a Quinceanera on my 15th birthday. She agreed but only if I promised to elope. She couldn’t afford a fancy wedding after putting on such a grand party for family and friends.
My Quinceanera was grand. I had a beautiful pink dress, flowers and presents. Everyone shared in a feast of my favorite foods prepared with much love by my mother and Claudia, my sister. Tapas, panuchos, paella and bolillos, chipotle, and topped off with almendrado. My cousins put on deer capes and danced to flutes and maracas. Then a marimba band played. My brothers, Leon, Rio and Juan, each danced with me. Then my father gingerly guided me around the floor. He was already feeling the effects of the emphysema that would kill him. He didn’t live to walk his daughters down the aisle. But I have that beautiful night to remember always.
After my junior year in high school, my family moved to Seattle. I found a job working with my cousin in a fish cannery and did not enroll to finish high school. The lovely senorita I was became a scarecrow smelling of fish guts. After a year and a half of hard work, I had a respectable savings account, enough to pay for a small wedding. But there was no groom to be found in the cannery.
A coworker came to my rescue; she sold a lotion that took away the fishy smell from the skin. I bought a bottle and it actually worked. At least my mother said she could stand to sit next to me at the dinner table. I took a chance and began looking for another job.
My brother, Juan, worked as a roofer for the Bay Construction Company. He told me the company needed a receptionist/file clerk. He chatted up the payroll clerk, whose name was Cathy, and she agreed to give me an interview. My interview was mainly questions about my brother. Was he married? Did he have a girlfriend? My only qualifications for the job were a pretty face and being a dependable worker. Cathy said she would take me on and see how I worked out. I took a pay cut, but I didn’t care. At least I could wear makeup and pretty clothes to work.
I moved away from home for the first time in my life. Juan needed help paying his rent so I moved into his spare bedroom and paid a third. I kept house for him, did his laundry and made his meals when he was around, which wasn’t often. It was so lonely after living with a big family.
On Fridays, I helped Cathy hand out paychecks. A lot of the fellows would hit on me. Some were just joking around but others made me feel cheap and vulnerable. I hated them for it. But one fellow grabbed my attention right from the first. When he caught my eye, his smile melted my heart. Brad was always so sweet when he came in. He was muscular and relaxed. His hazel eyes missed nothing. He would stand to the side and openly watch me hand out checks to the others. It was obvious he didn’t have to chase after a woman. He could stand back and a woman would either come to him or he’d smile at a new one.
One Friday Brad came in late to get his check. I was putting my coat on to leave. I took pity on him, unlocked the pay drawer and found his check. When I handed it to him, he asked. “Are you hungry? I’m staved. You deserve dinner for sparing me from a penniless weekend.”
I smiled. “I’m hungry but not for Mexican food. How about Italian?”
Over the next year, Brad came late about once a month and each time he asked me out to eat. We became good friends. Brad was obsessed with NASCAR. So soon I had the bug too. NASCAR fans knew how to party and I liked that.
Brad occasionally sprang his aging grandfather from the nursing home to go to the sports bar with us. On the way over, the old Sicilian would fret and check his pockets. He groaned and said he had forgotten his lucky coin.
“You haven’t forgotten it, Nonno.” Brad said. “You gave it to me for safe keeping and I have it right here.” He patted his pocket.
“Grazie a Dio.” He sighed. “Nipote don’t ever lose it. It will open the desire of your heart.” As he said this he patted my knee and smiled at me. I blushed and smiled back at him. Nonno liked me a lot because I was an immigrant like him.
I guess Nonno told Brad’s Mom about me. The next Friday, Brad asked me if I’d like to go to dinner on Sunday and meet his family. I said yes and was a bundle of nerves for the next two days.
Nonno was there and I sat next to him. The food was fantastic. Brad’s Mom was talkative and funny. She introduced me to everyone and told embarrassing stories. When she started telling me stories about Brad, he looked at his watch and said he had to get me home. But you can’t get away from a big family that easily. We spent another half hour saying goodbye and explaining why we had to go. Then his Mom walked us to Brad’s truck and waved as we pulled away.
“Your family is wonderful. Do you think they liked me?”
“I think they did. You’ve bought me a spell of peace. Mom will quit asking me when I’m going to find a nice girl.” Brad seemed distracted by the traffic and uncomfortable.
This is the first time I remember feeling off-balance and unsure of myself around Brad. I couldn’t tell how he felt about me and our relationship, such as it was. I thought meeting his family was a step forward but it seemed he though it only got his Mom off his back.
“My mother has been asking me when she would be able to meet you.”
“Oh Sisy, please spare me. Today’s family event will last me for quite a while. How about Christmas?”
“Okay.” Well maybe we had a bit of a future after all. Christmas was eight months away.
“I’m sorry to cut short our visit. My back is killing me again. I need to get out and walk. Would you like to walk or go home?”
“I’d like to walk.” We stopped at a park and circled an old lighthouse. Several couples were walking arm in arm but Brad and I kept a friendly distance. We sat on a bench and watched the ducks. It was so lovely with the Cascades framing the horizon.
My brother occasionally dated Cathy. I guess he thought it would help his prospects at BCC. I could tell Cathy was crazy about Juan. But I knew my brother had several casual girlfriends and a serious relationship with a woman who had moved to Portland. He went to see her as often as he could get away. I didn’t say anything to Cathy because my brother might get tired of the commute.
One day Cathy took me aside. “Let’s go to lunch. It’s on me.”
We sat at a sidewalk table and ordered soup and salad. Cathy said she had a plan that could change our lives. She had heard a radio call-in show about all the things women do that turn men off. She was sure I could get Brad to pay attention and think of marriage. And she just knew that she was going to become my sister-in-law.
I looked at her notes. At the top of the page she'd written “Becoming Mrs. Right.” After I read it, I gave the notes back to Cathy. “I don’t believe in this self help stuff. I want a man who loves me for who I am.” I thought I actually believed it.
“Grow up, Sisy. There isn’t a man alive who knows what he really wants. Women have a duty to help them find their way.”
“What are you getting at, Cathy?”
“Well how about each of us taking a suggestion that we think we can do well. We try it for a month. Then, we get back together and tell each other how well it worked. Read down through the list, see if there’s one you want to try.”
“Cathy most of these I do by default. I don’t call Brad and he doesn’t call me. You see how we make dates – spur of the moment, face to face on Friday. He takes the lead and I don’t tell him what to do. And sadly, there hasn’t been any intimacy to rush into. He still treats me like his sister.”
“That’s worse than I thought. I’ll work on these with your brother but you need something much more potent. You have done some macramé haven’t you?”
“Yes.” I laughed. “But, after you have made something for each of your friends and family you have to stop. So, I stopped.”
“I have a friend who owns the Rope and Bead Shop. But she has some merchandise that she only sells to special customers. I am a special customer. Interested?”
“Sure, but aren’t you just being mysterious?”
“Yes." Cathy laughed. "I’m practicing before trying it on your brother.”
On Friday, Brad came for his check during lunch hour. I was gone taking care of a few errands. Cathy told Brad why I wasn’t there and asked if he wanted to leave me a message. Brad nodded. “Tell her I’ll call her tonight.”
When I returned, Cathy told me what Brad had said and then she took me in hand. “You are not going to be there when he calls. You and I are going out tonight.”
After work we went to supper, then to the movies. It was still early so we went to the Rope and Bead Shop. The shop was closed but the door in the back was lit up with a sign that said ‘Classes Tonight.’ We went in and looked around until Rosa came through a side door.
“Cathy. Where have you been?” Rosa roared. Everyone looked up and smiled at Cathy. Then Rosa and Cathy embraced long enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Cathy introduced me and said. “This woman needs some of your metallic beads.”
“Oh?” Rosa raised her eyebrows and looked at me with interest. “I was just sorting through some in the back room. Come along. Take your coats off while I put the drawers of beads onto the table.” Rosa got out three drawers. “You know how things work Cathy so I will leave you two. I’m wrapping up a class.”
“There are three types of beads.” Cathy began. “This drawer has plain metal. They have different weight, luster, shape and color. The second drawer has an additional quality. The beads are engraved with letters, pictures, or runes. Beads in the third drawer are metallic and have electromagnets in them. I don’t really understand how they work – but they are fantastic. I suggest you look at the third drawer.”
I liked the look of the metal beads. Some were very shiny, almost like mirrors. “How expensive are these Kathy? They don’t seem to be magnetic.”
“Oh ye of little faith. Hold two of them in your hand until they get warm.” Kathy said. “The beads in the second drawer are actually the most expensive. But the metal beads in the third drawer have medical qualities. Are the ones you are holding warm yet?”
“I’m not sure but I think I feel them vibrating and I can’t pull them apart.”
“Ever notice that Brad tends to rub his lower back. He needs a way to reduce the tension in those muscles.” She winked at me. “But until then, these beads can help. That’s where you come in. You could macramé a cover for his truck seat. I’ll show you how to set the beads so they can move through the weave. The road vibration and his body heat will generate a small electric current that will set up a magnetic field. The beads will move to where it hurts and massage that area.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” I snipped.
“Try it for yourself. You have complained about your back after a long day. Make one to drape over the back of your office chair.”
“Okay. All I need are the beads. I still have enough twine remnants. How many beads do you think I should use and what sizes?”
“That’s why I’m here.” Cathy bragged. “In me, you have an in-house expert.”
She chose the beads and sketched a pattern. Rosa came in and filled the order. I used my credit card. I hadn’t cashed my check yet.
Cathy drove me back to my car. She warned me not to return Brad’s call if he left a message on my answering machine. And when he calls back, she suggested I be too busy to accept a spur of the moment date.
At home, the light was flashing on the answering machine. I put things away and found paper and pencil to write down the messages. The first message was from my sister, Claudia. I called her immediately.
“Where have you been?” She demanded. “Isn’t this kind of late for you?”
“I was out with a girlfriend.”
“Oh, too bad. Did you dump Brad?”
“No, we don’t go out that much.”
“Well, I’m coming into Seattle tomorrow. Want to go shopping?”
“Sure, what’s the occasion?”
“I’m getting married. Rudy popped the question. I have to open gift registries with all the big stores.” She said excitedly.
“Oh Claudia. I’m so happy. I have tears running down my cheeks. Let me get a tissue. What time will you get here?”
“I’ll be there about 10:00 A.M. Gotta go. See you tomorrow.”
Oh my God, another family wedding. I went to my room and found my photo album. I lay on the bed and looked at the pictures of my brothers’ weddings. Leon was so much like my father, tall and handsome. Rio was shorter, a poet and my favorite brother. Such happy memories. Father was still alive then and still a smooth operator at age 60. After an hour, I put the album away and got ready for bed. It would be a big day tomorrow.
Claudia arrived early and caught me still in bed. She nagged until I was dressed and ready to go. Once on the road, I think we visited every shop that had home furnishings, china, crystal, trousseau, wedding gowns or invitations. In an upscale bridal shop, I was stopped in my tracks by a wedding suit that took my breath away. It was made of white linen that emphasized a tiny waist. The jacket had no collar but was embroidered with seed pearls. I was smitten with the idea of walking down an aisle in it. Claudia told me to get real and drug me on to the next store.
Finally we returned home at about 6:00 P.M. I was beat and I didn’t even think about the phone. Claudia pushed the play back on the phone and there was Brad’s voice. “Give me a call if you’d like to go to dinner tonight.”
“Which night, Brad?” Claudia tapped on the phone. “Sisy you have got to train him better.”
“It was from last night. I was out. Remember?”
“Oh, playing hard to get. “Well, it worked for me. Might work for you. You can’t let them think you have nothing better to do. Well, I have a long drive. I better get out of here. Tell Juan ‘Hello’ if you see him.”
About an hour after Claudia left, the phone rang. It would be just like Claudia to have a flat tire and want me to bail her out. I picked up the receiver and without saying Hello, I said. “Don’t tell me you have a flat.”
“No flat, not me. Is this Sisy or a wrong number?”
“It’s me. Sorry I didn’t call you back, Brad. It’s been a hectic couple of days.”
“My sister just announced she’s getting married. We spent the whole day shopping. I’m beat. I’ve learned a lesson though. I’m going to take my mother’s advice and elope.”
“Is your elopement going to be any time soon?”
“No, I’m still playing the field.”
“Then there is still hope for me?” Brad said and I nearly dropped the phone. I was so shocked I couldn’t think of anything to say. “Are you there Sisy?”
“Yes, Brad, I am.” I said trying to sound calm.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, would you like to spend some time at the park?”
“I would love to be out in the fresh air. It sounds wonderful.”
“I’ll pick you up at 3:00 o’clock. Bring some dry bread for the ducks.”
“Okay, see you then. Bye.”
I looked around the apartment. Juan had been home several days during the week and it was a disaster. I spent the evening cleaning up.
Sunday afternoon turned cloudy and chilly. Brad and I walked fast and even ran when the wind gusted. We fed the ducks. The poor things were hungry in the cold. The sun came out for a short while. We sat on the bench with a view of the lighthouse and watched the boats in the sound. Then it clouded up again and the wind began to blow. I shivered and pulled my jacket around me. Brad moved over and put his arm around me.
“That better?” His smile warmed my heart.
“Much better.” I snuggled close.
“We’ll be warmer if we walk.” We stood and I slipped my arm around his back.
“We fit well together. Don't you think?” I blushed and looked away so he wouldn’t see.
“Let’s get something to eat and warm up.”
We warmed up with Chili Rellienos at a little café with a roaring fire in its hearth. Then we lingered over cups of coffee and Brad told me funny stories about his brothers.
It had gotten dark while we were eating and there had been a downpour. A huge puddle hide the curb and sidewalk where I lived. Brad parked and said. “Wait for me.”
He came around and opened my door. “Stand on the running board and put your hands on my shoulders.” I did and he lifted me over the puddle, but didn’t put me down. Instead he kissed me with my feet dangling in the air.
“Put me down, Brad. All the neighbors will be looking.” He put me down on a dry spot, closed the truck door and took my hand. When we reached the porch, I searched for my key.
“Who’d you drag home?” The question came from the dark corner of the porch along with the smell of cigarette smoke. I jumped and Brad took a step back trying to see into the darkness.
“Oh Juan, why are you lurking on the porch? You scared me.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Juan said as he walked slowly toward us. Brad stepped back again.
“Let me open the door and get the light.”
Juan was standing next to Brad when the light came on and he said. “You some kind of fuckin Sir Walter Raleigh?”
“Juan and Brad come inside like civilized people.”
“Yeah, the basketball game is on.” Juan forgot about Brad and headed for the TV.
The sound of the TV threatened to drown me out so I yelled. “Brad, this is my brother Juan Flores. He’s a roofer for BCC. Juan, this is Brad Duello. He’s a painter. Maybe you’ve seen each other on pay day.” They finally really looked at each other instead of at the TV and shook their heads. Then, the game had their undivided attention again.
“Juan, why were you out on the porch?”
“You locked me out of my own home. Why are you locking the damn doors?”
“I always keep things locked up when you’re gone.”
“Hey Duello, you want a beer and watch what’s left of the game?”
“Sure would.” Brad said and sat on the other side of the couch from Juan.
“Sisy, get us some beer. And make me a sandwich, I’m staved.”
I could see I was going to be the go-fer if I watched the game with them. I got a couple of cans and a bag of chips. Juan grunted when I gave him his. Brad looked up at me, smiled and said. “Thanks.” I put the open bag of chips between them.
As I left I heard my brother say. “You’re goin have to do better than that, Painter. You the dego who’s been walking her through the park?”
Juan liked his sandwiches an inch thick with meat and cheese slathered with mustard. But that night, I gave him two pieces of dry white bread with one slice of ham. When I handed it to him, his jaw dropped. “Jesu Cristi, Sisy, I guess I know when I’m not wanted. It’ll only take me a few minutes to make this into a real sandwich, so behave yourselves.” Juan went to the kitchen.
I sat down on the arm of the couch. “Brad, something must be wrong between Juan and his girl. He never gets back to town this early on Sunday. When he’s like this, he’s unbearable. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want but I have to do laundry and get things ready for work tomorrow.”
“Okay,” he said a little disappointed. “I’ll call you.” When I stood up, he caught my wrist, raised his eyebrows and put his finger on his chin. I leaned down and kissed him.
When I walked into the kitchen, Juan looked over at me while getting another beer from the fridge. “You better be careful little sister or you’ll end up with a nest full of bambinos.”
I felt giddy and excited. Cathy noticed right away on Monday. “Are you working on your macramé?”
“Yes, I laid everything out this weekend. It shouldn’t take too long to knot.”
“Good you are in just the right mood to tie the knots. What happened?”
“I went shopping with my sister for her wedding trousseau.”
“Oh, that’s good. What does Juan think?”
“He was in such a bad mood when he came home on Sunday, I didn’t even tell him. So, he doesn’t know yet.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I really don’t know. These are things he doesn’t talk about. But I would guess he had a falling out with a girl.” I said this before I thought to stop.
“Ohhh.” She crooned. “That’s interesting.”
Monday night, I finished the macramé. Tuesday it was draped on my chair. Cathy came over and admired the workmanship. “I’m jealous. I can never get the spacing right. At the end of the day you are going to be so surprised. Now sit down and tell me what you feel.”
“One or two of the beads seem to be vibrating.” I said after a few minutes.
“That’s what is supposed to happen.” Cathy smiled knowingly.
Soon the phones were ringing and they rang all day. The managers were setting up the annual employee picnic. Vendors wanted to set up booths for food, beverages, safety equipment, insurance, the latest construction materials and machines. It was endless. When a BCC manger decided to duck a vendor, he told me to get rid of him. It was the most stressful day I’d had since starting.
About 5:30 P.M., the phones stopped. At 5:50, Cathy came over. “Well it’s show time. Let’s see what happened to your weave.”
I stood and looked at my chair. Some of the beads had moved toward the center. The new design was symmetrical and attractive. “You are right, Cathy. I am surprised.”
“How do you feel?”
“I’m frazzled. It was a long day. But my back feels fine.”
“What are you looking at?” Someone asked. Both Cathy and I turned to see Brad. We hadn’t heard him come in.
Cathy took over. “We are looking at Sisy’s latest creation. It’s a combination of weave and magnetic beads that is designed to soothe aching back muscles. Sisy has just had a very stressful day and she says her back feels just fine. Look at how clever she is Brad. The weave allows the beads to move to where they are most needed.”
Brad looked at the weave for quite a while before saying he could see how it worked and he was impressed. I saw real admiration in his eyes. Cathy winked at me and headed back to her desk.
“I could use something like this. Do you let these things out for a test drive?”
“I’m still playing with the design. Want to be my guinea pig?”
“Sure. I came by to see if you wanted to take a walk.”
“I’d like that. Maybe I’ll get the ringing phones out of my head.” I put on my coat, pulled my tennis shoes and the bag of dry bread out of the drawer, and picked up the macramé. “Have beads will travel.”
When we got to his truck, I asked him where his back hurt. He rubbed his lower right side. With the help of the head rest, I suspended the weave so the beads would center on his right side. We got into the truck and soon Brad asked. “What’s the vibrating?”
“The beads are electromagnets that are turned on by your body heat. That’s how the beads move through the weave.”
At the park, Brad got out and we looked at what the beads had done. They were no longer in the design my back had created but were lined up top to bottom. I touched the beads and the lower ones were still vibrating.
We walked, hand in hand, for about an hour talking about office gossip. Then Brad stopped and said. “Last weekend did not go the way I’d planned. Will you give me a second chance?”
I smiled at him but had no idea what his plan had been. I thought of Cathy and decided not to ask.
We walked on in silence and came back to the pond. “Want to sit down and watch the ducks? Your brother was pretty gruff Sunday night. Is he always like that?”
“No. He’s usually happy and cracking jokes. He’s the kind of person who would do anything he could for his friends and family. His problem is that the woman he loves has moved away and he can’t decide what to do.”
“So you don’t think he’s trying to protect his little sister. I did that when my sisters brought their boyfriends home. No guy is ever good enough for your sister.”
“Juan didn’t say anything to me. He’s tied up in his own problems.”
“Sisy, I’m 25 years old and I have no idea how old you are.” Brad gulped.
“I’m 18, a New Year baby. January 1, 1974.”
He made a quick calculation and asked. “How do you feel about dating someone seven years older than you?”
“I am very happy being with you Brad. But, can I ask you a question? A very personal question? Why haven’t you married? Most Catholics are hitched and having babies before they’re 20.”
Brad looked out at the ducks and was quiet for a very long time. “When I was 19, I fell in love and she said she loved me. We talked about setting a date, but she wanted to go to college. So she suggested a four-year engagement. It was a good idea. I worked hard and saved for a down payment on a house. She was on her way to becoming a nurse. But, in her senior year, she met someone else, someone who fit in with her new ideas and education. A medical student. They got married a year ago. We are friends but it was hard to get her out of my system.” Then he stopped and I said nothing.
After awhile he added. “I’m used to living solo. I’d sworn off women. That is until I saw you in the office. You made me feel lonely again. I tried to ignore you – not complicate my life. But it didn't work.”
There it was again. I felt off-balance and unsure. What does he mean that I made him feel lonely, would complicate his life? I found the bag of dried bread, stood up and walked to the water’s edge. The duck’s gathered noisily even before I threw anything to them. Brad walked up behind me and put his arms around my waist. I put my arms on his and rested my head on his chest. We stood looking at the Cascades on the horizon and watching the ducks. Finally the ducks swam away taking my doubts with them.
Brad drove me back to the office to get my car. We sat in the truck awhile and Brad told me what he liked about the macramé. He said he could feel his back relaxing. Then he asked me how much it would cost to make one about twice as large. I had to guess but I said it could be as much as $40. He said he’d bring me the money tomorrow and I could buy the materials. Then he got out to give me the macramé. The beads had migrated again into a tight oval right where his ache was greatest. I gathered my things and we walked to my car. He bent down and kissed me in a way I have never been kissed before. At first I resisted him but then I dropped my bags and wrapped my arms around his neck.
Brad smoothed my hair and looked into my eyes. “You are going to have to decide how you feel about me, Sisy. I’m falling hard for you. If you don’t feel the same, please say so.”
“I feel the same. You are all I think about.”
He hugged me hard. Then he noticed my things had fallen to the ground. “Here let me help you with these.”
We put the bags into my car. He followed me home then waved as he drove on. The lights were on in the apartment. Juan was home.
“Sis, where you been? I’m starved. Is there anything good to eat in the house?” Juan asked as he followed me into the kitchen.
“I’m not really hungry, but I'll mix up an omelet after I change. Then, you should go shopping.”
“Aw, Sis I hate to shop.” He opened a beer and sat down at the kitchen table.
When I returned, Juan looked like a forlorn, hungry puppy. I fried bacon and hash browns then whipped up the omelets with salsa and cheese. I put bread in the toaster and we had dinner.
Juan inhaled and the food vanished. “I’m thinking about moving to Portland, Sis. I’m going to talk to some roofing companies on Friday. I should know in a couple of weeks.” He looked up to see how I was taking the news. “Do you think you can handle the rent? Maybe if you get a roommate.”
“I couldn’t make the rent by myself. I guess I could go back home or find a roommate like you say.” I looked at Juan. “Did I tell you Claudia is getting married? And how about you? Are you going to take the plunge?”
“I talked to Claudia tonight. She isn’t getting any bargain in that Rudy.” He dodged my question. “Sis, are you getting serious about this painter? I been asking around. There’s some buzz about him being a binge drinker, maybe an alcoholic. A lady friend said she heard his engagement fell apart because he roughed up his fiancée after a bender. What do you know about this guy?”
“I met him after I started at BCC. We’ve only gone out occasionally. Brad doesn’t seem like a person who would hurt anyone. Up until this week, I would have said we were just friends. But I’ve met his family and I do like spending time with him. He’s always treated me like a lady.”
“Why don’t you try dating some other guys too? I have guys begging me to introduce you to them. There are two in particular who have good jobs. Solid, steady guys who would make good brother-in-laws.” He smiled as I moaned. “One is even handsome. I can ask them over to watch the game Thursday. If you don’t like them, you can disappear to your room and that will be that. I’ll tell them not to bother you.”
“That sounds okay.” I said only half listening to his chatter. “Are you going to be gone all weekend?”
“Yes, when I get back on Sunday, I’ll be able to tell you if I’m going to take the plunge.” He teased. “And, if you like one of my friends, you’ll have the privacy to get to know him.”
“I’m so happy for you Juan. I hope everything works out. But you’re sure going to break Cathy’s heart.”
The Thursday night party was a lot of fun. Juan's two friends were both very sweet just like he promised. The handsome one, Ron, was interested in the game but during the lulls he was talkative and what pretty eyes he had.
Garland, the plain one, followed me around like a puppy every time I went to the kitchen. He told me all about himself and asked me lots of questions. He even had some suggestions on sauce for the buffalo wings and said he liked to cook.
Just before the fourth quarter started, I stood behind Juan’s chair with my hands on his shoulders. I leaned down and told him I had some things to do.
Juan caught my hand and sighed. “Aw Sis. Sit and watch the rest of the game with us.”
Ron said. “Please stay. It’s a great game.”
Garland said. “Can I help you clear things up?”
“Oh thank you but no, Juan and I will take care of it. I’m glad to have met you both.” Then I leaned over and gave Juan a peck on his cheek and whispered. “You promised, Juan.” Juan patted my hand. I could see he was disappointed. The fourth quarter started and I slipped out of the room unnoticed.
After the game was over and the fellows gone, I cleaned up the mess. Then the phone rang. “Would you get that Juan? My hands are wet.” I called from the kitchen.
“It’s Claudia, Sis.” Juan yelled. I hurried down the hall, drying my hands and took the phone from him.
“Hi. Claudia. What’s up?”
“Sisy. My beautiful wedding is off.”
“Oh Claudia. Did Rudy get cold feet? Did you get cold feet?”
“No our feet are way too warm. That’s the trouble. I’m pregnant. Rudy and I have been talking all day trying to decide what to do. Rudy likes the idea of going to Las Vegas in a few weeks and getting married there.”
“But you’ve always wanted a church wedding, Claudia. What will mother say? Being married by a priest is important.” I reminded her.
“I think I’ve found a way to do both.” She schemed. “I think I can book a Catholic Church and priest in Las Vegas. It’s a wedding mill like the others but no cheesy chapel or Elvis impersonators.”
“Well, I guess there are Catholic Churches in Las Vegas.”
“Sisy, I want you to be my Maid of Honor.” She said breathlessly. “We’ll have such a good time in Las Vegas.”
“Of course, I will. I’m so happy for you and Rudy and your bundle of joy. I’m going to put Juan on the phone. He may have some good news too.” I put the phone to my chest and yelled. “Juan.”
I was filing my last letters on Friday afternoon when I looked up and saw Brad come through the door. He looked sullen and did not smile. I walked to my desk and picked up his check to hand to him. He didn’t take it. So I asked. “Is something wrong?”
“I heard about last night.” He thumped his forefinger on his chest.
“You heard about my sister?” I was shocked. “Who told you?” .
He took the check from me and turned to leave. I grabbed my jacket and followed him out the door. “Brad, please wait.” He stopped. “I wanted to ask you over for a home cooked meal tonight. I have all the twine and beads to make your back rest. We can work on it together.”
“Thanks but I have other plans. I don’t like looking like a fool.” He started again toward his truck. I walked after him and slid into the passenger side.
“Okay so Claudia is pregnant.” I blurted out. “She and Rudy have changed their plans and are getting married in Las Vegas in a few weeks. I’m going as her Maid of Honor. But, how does that make you look like a fool? If anything, it makes my family look like a bunch of saps.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Brad snipped.
“Well I don’t know what you’re angry about.”
We sat for a long time and said nothing. A cool breeze blew through the truck. The fight had lost its steam.
“Should I follow you to your apartment?”
“Yes, I’m going to make fired chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner. I hope you’ll help me eat it.” I left him, started my car and drove home. When I arrived, Brad wasn’t behind me. I decided to take a chance that he’d show and started cooking.
Everything was almost ready when I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and saw Brad holding red roses. He looked like he was going to a funeral. “These are for me?” I smiled at him, gave him a quick kiss, took the roses and rummaged around for a vase.
That was the high point of the evening. There was an elephant in the room. But I couldn’t see it much less drive it out. I talked while Brad said very little. I filled him in on the love lives of the Flores family. I told him that if Juan moved, I’d probably have to go back to my mother's home. It would be a long commute. Then I told him all the gossip and how the plans for the company picnic were going.
We cleared the table and I laid out the makings for the macramé. Brad still didn’t have much to say but at least he’d lost his surly attitude. He was fascinated by the weave we were creating. It almost had the quality of breathing. Then we added the beads so that the strands that held them allowed them to move within the weave. We worked until two in the morning.
I stood and stretched. Then I rummaged around for a flash light and found diaper pins.
“What are you doing?” Brad asked.
“I want to see how this thing looks. We’ve put our heart and soul into it. I can’t wait until tomorrow.” Then I held up the flash light. “If I remember right, your interior light has burned out.”
“Hm.” Brad nodded and gathered up our woven bundle from the table.
At the truck, Brad secured the macramé using the headrest. Then I used the diaper pins so the top edges wouldn’t flop over. “I don’t like the diaper pins.” Brad mumbled as he pressed his back into the beads.
“Well find something else to hold up the edges and bring the pins back to me. Claudia will need them.”
“It feels good already. Thanks. And the chicken was great. Just like I like it.” He actually smiled at me.
“And thank you for the beautiful roses. Are you going to leave without telling me what you are mad about?”
He frowned and clenched his jaw. “I’d better just go on home.”
I got out of the truck and waved. “Adios.” I said still disgusted with him.
As I walked back to the apartment, I wondered if maybe Juan was right about Brad.
It was a lonely weekend. I had a lot of time to find out how much I could miss Brad. The idea of him walking out of my life was unbearable. It finally dawned on me that Brad was upset about the party Thursday night. Juan probably talked one of the fellows into telling Brad about spending the evening with me.
Sunday night, the phone rang and it was Brad. “Hi Sisy. Look, just let me get this out in one chunk. I’ve been a fool but I did it to myself. I listened to some jerk say things about you that weren’t true. I don’t know why I believed him. I should have just listened to what you were telling me. For two weeks now I have been trying to ask you if you wanted to get married. Now I suppose your answer would be no.”
“No, it would be yes.” I said trying to interrupt.
“And you would be right to turn me down. I’ve really blown it. Acted like an idiot.” He stopped, then said. “What did you say?”
“I said yes.”
“Yes, I botched things up?”
“You didn’t botch up anything. I want to marry you.” I hesitated. “I love you, you fool.”
With that we stepped into a whirlwind. We went shopping for wedding rings. I splurged on the beautiful wedding suit. We got blood tests and applied for the license. Then, on a whim, we decided on a double wedding in Las Vegas with Claudia and Rudy.
Claudia bought a suit similar to mine that hid her condition nicely. We all had to arrange for vacation time. Cathy gave me a shower and the fellows had a blow out bachelor party before we left for Vegas.
On the way down, we stopped over in Portland to be at Juan’s wedding. It was held at the Courthouse – in a small chamber. Our family would not have fit. But we’d all have to answer to mother when she learned Juan was married by a Justice of the Peace.
When we arrived in Las Vegas, a suite of rooms awaited us thanks to Claudia. We unpacked, explored the Las Vegas Strip and found the Church. Wedding parties had come early for their ceremonies and were in the church watching the couple currently being married. The pews were filled with brides, ring bearers, flower girls, grooms, best men, mothers and mothers-in-law. It was all so chaotic and wonderful. Our wedding would be a candle lit service at 6:00 P.M. the next evening. It would take all of 30 minutes. We spoke with a receptionist who had our paperwork ready. Claudia checked it over to see that everything was right. Claudia also nabbed the photographer between weddings and told him what she wanted. She was satisfied that he could get it right.
“Okay.” Claudia announced. “There’s nothing to do now but party.” And we did – gambling, drinking and dancing until the early hours of the morning. Back at the hotel, Claudia and I shared a bedroom for the last time. Claudia was slushy from the booze.
“Are you scared, Sisy?”
“Yes, a little.” I worried. “We should have lit a candle at the church.”
“We’ll do it tomorrow.” She promised and fell asleep.
At 11:00 A.M., we faced lunch complete with hangovers. Brad and I slipped out of town to a beautiful park. We walked, enjoyed the quiet, and watched the wild donkeys. Then at three we returned and found Claudia frantic because she couldn’t find her ‘something blue.’
“Calm down. Your garter is in the box with mine.”
We all showered, primped and dressed, then arrived at the church at 5:00 P.M. There were two wedding parties ahead of us. The church was a din of noise. The organ music signaled that husband and wife would leave the church by the north door, as the next bride came down the aisle and the groom joined her. What a wonderful racket.
Two priests alternated between ceremonies. Our priest came to talk with us. He began with the fellows. Then they went off to pay the fees. The priest wanted my baptismal name. “No nicknames on your big day.” He teased.
Finally, it was our turn. Claudia and I went down the aisle together. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched the two of us. Waiting at the altar were Brad and Rudy. They were both so incredibly handsome. First Rudy and Claudia said their “I dos” and exchanged rings. They kissed as husband and wife then stepped back. Brad and I moved together and stood before the priest.
“Bradley Alen Duello.” Brad straightened as the priest’s voice boomed out his name to the congregation. “Do you take Maria Cecilia Flores as your lawfully wedded wife?” Brad looked stunned and didn’t say anything. The priest looked questioningly at Brad. I looked up at the priest then at Brad. Brad was blinking his eyes. He looked tongue-tied and confused. The church went totally silent. Everyone in the sanctuary was holding their breath waiting to see if Brad would leave me at the altar.
Leave it to Claudia to understand the problem. In a loud whisper she said. “That’s Sisy, Brad. Maria Cecilia is my sister, Sisy.” Brad looked at Claudia and finally seemed to catch her meaning.
“Ah.” The priest nodded. “Let me start again.” Brad smiled and squeezed my hand. We both started breathing again.
“Bradley Alen Duello. Do you take Maria Cecilia Flores, also called Sisy, as your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I d-do.” Brad stammered. The people in the pews sighed and nodded in approval. All the mothers in the congregation dabbed their eyes. Brad and I continued saying our vows without a hitch and exchanged rings.
As the organ played and we moved toward the door, the crowd in the church stood up and cheered. When we were outside, the designated rice throwers seemed to target our ears. The receptionist handed each bride a framed print of Jesus at the Wedding in Canaan. She showed us how our Certificate of Matrimony fit into a compartment in the back.
After the ceremony, we posed for pictures. We were all starving because we’d been too nervous to eat before the wedding. A limo took us to the best steakhouse on the Strip.
The waiter brought us Champaign before the food and it went straight to my head. Our toasts were more and more risqué. Now the waiter was back with a platter of appetizers, on the house, in hopes he wouldn’t have to call the bouncer. We attacked the food and quieted down to everyone’s relief. The restaurant had a small dance floor and combo. After we ate dinner, we danced and made room for desert. The desert was cherry’s jubilee complete with flames. Then we danced until the band took a break.
Brad called for the limo and paid our bill. “What is your pleasure? Dancing, gambling or bed?”
“Bed!” We said in unison. The folks around us turned and snickered.
Back at the hotel, I was still tipsy and tripped at the curb. Brad picked me up and carried me through the lobby and down the hall to our room. He followed Claudia and Rudy into their half of the suite, then through the connecting door and put me down in our room. He turned to close the door and said. “Keep it down in there. See you in the morning.”
Brad was looking around in the clutter of men’s things, when there was a knock at the door. Brad opened it a little, saw Claudia’s baby doll pajamas and asked. “Are you decent?”
“Open the door Bro.” She came in with an armful of my clothes and said to me. “Sisy run over and get your overnight bag." Then she said to Brad. "Help me find Rudy’s things.”
As Claudia picked up things masculine, Brad followed behind her snatching his things away from her. “Rudy!” she yelled. “Where’s your ditty bag?”
“It’s in the bathroom.” Brad said. “I’ll get it.”
Soon I was back with my overnight bag and more of my clothes. Brad balanced Rudy’s bag on top Claudia’s load and ushered her through the door. “Everything else can wait until morning.”
Brad dropped the things he had scavenged from Claudia, all except for a wrapped box. He pushed things aside to make a place beside him on the couch. “Mrs. Duello. Come sit with me on the couch.”
I looked up with a start expecting to see Brad’s Mom. Then I started to giggle. I went over and sat next to him. He took my shoulder length veil off my head and put it on the arm of the couch. “I have something for you.” He handed me the gift.
I untied the bow, took off the paper and opened the lid. Something of white satin and lace was in the box. I lifted it up and saw a very skimpy pair of panties. I looked in the box again.
“That’s all there is.” Brad smirked. “Turn it around.”
On the back in black letters it said, “ROOKIE.” I must have had a question on my face.
“You’ve seen the rookie stripe on a rear bumper of some cars in a NASCAR race. It alerts the veteran drivers that a new kid is on the track.” Brad said with a grin.
“Oh Brad.” I blushed. “I love it. Thank you.” I kissed him tenderly. When he reached for me, I slipped away and said. “Caution flag -- don’t pass the pace car. I going in for a pit stop.”
I could hear Brad clear clothes and things off the bed and pull down the covers. I knew the sheets were satin, cool to the touch and lightly scented with sandalwood. Then Brad turned on some romantic music and turned out lights. Brad stripped down to the shorts that were included in the wedding package from the hotel. They had red intertwined hearts.
When I came out the bathroom door, I could see I pleased him. I had on a sheer net nightie that revealed my gift. I walked to the bottom of the bed and turned around so Brad could see the rookie label. I might even have shaken it at him; I was still giddy. Then I turned back around and showed him my eyebrow pencil. “It’s my turn.”
“Bring it on in.” Brad said. “But before you start your engine, I need a pit stop too.”
“No you don’t, turn onto your stomach.” On the elastic of his shorts I wrote “ROPE MASTER.” I snapped the elastic. “You have a hot pass.”
Brad got up trying to see what I wrote. Then he walked through the door and turned his back to the bathroom mirror. “You and me are driving on the rail tonight, sweetheart.” He laughed at his Cary Grant imitation and closed the door.
When Brad came out, he sat on the edge of the bed, opened the Champaign and filled the glasses. He slipped under the sheets, pushed the pillows behind his back and offered me a glass of Champagne decorated with ribbons and flowers. Then he held up his glass. “To my wife, Mrs. Duello, and a nest full of bambinos.” He smiled and melted my heart. We each took a sip. I didn’t know he had heard my brother’s warning. But with all my heart I hoped it would come true.
“To my beautiful man.” I toasted him.
We set our glasses aside and snuggled up. He kissed my forehead and smoothed my hair. I kissed his lips and stroked his back. He helped me out of my nightie, pushed off his gift and sent it sailing across the room. Then he kissed my breast and his tongue caressed my body. His hand found my sweet spot and I moaned with pleasure. He moved me into position and pushed hard against me, once, twice. Instinctively I rose to meet him and he found a tight entry. Suddenly, the stickers went flying and lane lights were flashing. He picked his mark and drove in deep. Then, he dropped the window net and took a victory lap.
Soon we were asleep and the sun had only just gone down. After sleeping two hours, I was wide awake. I crawled out of bed and drank some water. Then, I filled the tub and sank down into it to soak away the blood and soreness. I fell back asleep until the water cooled and the chill woke me up. I got out, dried off and smoothed lotion on my puckered skin.
When we returned from Las Vegas, we were greeted by an apartment nearly empty of furniture. It looked like a tornado had ripped through it. Juan had come to get his things. Brad brought his clothes and TV from his place. Luckily, my room still had my furniture, so we basically lived there and ate take-out for the first week.
It took several days to clean things up and make a list of what we needed most. Then we made the rounds of family. Two of my brothers had never met Brad and I hadn’t met Brad’s oldest sister. The family was generous in helping us set up housekeeping. Each looked at the list and contributed at least one or two things. Soon we had enough furniture to be comfortable and I was able to cook a meal. The thing we lacked was a coffee maker. So we went shopping for a pot Brad could set up the night before and wake up to the smell of fresh brewed coffee.
Brad’s mother and my mother hit it off when they finally met. They both scolded me for not introducing them earlier. Then they began to organize our life. Each urged me to stop working. But how could I. There was so much we needed to buy for the apartment. I promised I’d quit when I got pregnant. Their thoughtfulness made me a nervous wreck and I had my first migraine. Brad was upset that he couldn’t coax me out of a darkened room for two days. When I felt better, we realized that when it came to mothers we had to stand up for ourselves. I had a long talk with my mother and Brad with his. Finally, both agreed to let us plan our life and make our own mistakes.
Our first year of marriage was normal enough except that I didn’t get pregnant. I knew there was a big problem when Brad asked suspiciously if I was on the pill. He hated that he couldn’t do what Rudy had done so unexpectedly. He was gloomy every time our new nephew and God-son was the center of attention at family gatherings. I was devastated too. I wanted my doctor to help but he said we had to try for a year or maybe two before he’d okay any fertility treatments. So we tried the herbal remedies Brad’s Nonna bought for us from the old country.
During 1993, Brad and I went through fertility tests which we passed with flying colors. So we experimented with positions and I kept a temperature chart. We tried massage so I could relax. The doctor gave me anti-anxiety pills. I began to lose weight and the doctor told me to drink milk shakes with every meal. He claimed that some fat was needed on my hips in order to conceive.
Brad stopped talking about a family. He spent more time with his buddies and I was lonely, frustrated and unhappy. I talked to Brad about adopting but he didn’t like the prying social workers and the amount of money it would take.
Finally, my doctor said I was eligible for fertility drugs. He laid out the pros and cons to us. Brad dug in his heels. He didn’t think we could handle the cost or the multiple births. He wanted his babies one at a time so he could enjoy them and provide for them properly.
Then that terrible day in 1994 when he told me he had a job with a Canadian construction firm and he was going overseas. He told me how much more he would make. That we’d have enough to put together an unconventional family if that’s what I wanted. But I knew what he really wanted -- a break from me and disappointment.
Brad left about mid summer. I was glad I had my job to keep me busy. Brad was good about calling once a week, sending me postcards and photos, writing letters about what he was doing, and sending back souvenirs. After about a month, I noticed I was gaining weight, I felt calmer, more like myself. I didn’t have even one migraine the whole time Brad was gone.
When the Persian rug came, I pushed aside our few pieces of living room furniture and unrolled it. It was so incredibly lovely. Brad and I had vowed we wouldn’t buy anything new unless we could pay cash. I wondered how much the rug had cost.
Next to the rug everything else looked shabby. At the very least, I had to get new drapes. When I bought the drapes and put them up, the rug looked even better but now the couch and chair were impossible. In short, I kept on until I had created a comfortable and beautiful living room. I bought it all on credit and my old anxieties came back to haunt me.
A month after the rug arrived, Brad hurt his ankle. I was never quite sure what had happened. It wasn’t work related but had something to do with some Russian thug. Brad switched to work that he could handle until his ankle healed. I wanted him to come home to see some real doctors. But Brad assured me there were no broken bones and all he had to do was rest the ankle and keep it iced when he wasn’t working.
One night the ringing phone woke me up at 3:44 am. I was running on adrenaline by the time I put the receiver to my ear. “Sisy, Sisy? Are you there?” The line was full of static.
“Yes Brad, What’s wrong?”
“I can’t hear you very well. So just listen. I’m coming home. Do you have a pencil? I’ll give you the details.”
I found pencil and paper and yelled. “Okay.” Brad listed the starts, stops and layovers of his flights. He’d be home in two days. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks.
“Can you come to Vancouver to get me? Maybe Bruno can come if you can’t.”
“Oh yes, yes, I can come.” I shouted. Nothing would keep me from being there.
“Don’t make plans, no homecoming parties. I’ll only be home for a few weeks until my ankle heals.”
“I’ll meet you at the gate. I love you. I’m so happy Brad.”
“Can’t hear you Sisy. I’ll sign off now. Bye.” Click and he was gone.
The drive to Vancouver was beautiful after leaving the border. I’m always so nervous that my Guatemalan birth certificate will just lead to trouble. But this time, the border guard just wanted to see my driver’s license.
The airport was a mob of people. I couldn’t go to the gates for the International fights. I was shoulder to shoulder with people holding signs to help them find the new arrivals. I’d brought a navy blue baseball cap with NASCAR 45. Brad wouldn’t miss it even in this crowd. It was a souvenir cap from Jess Gardner’s win in August.
People with luggage streamed into the terminal. Other people yelled and waved. A tall man stepped in front of me. “Hey!” I yelled.
He, no it was a she, looked back at me and said. “Oh sorry. Here stand in front of me.” She continued to scan the crowd and hold a sign above our heads that said “Proud Out Loud.”
I didn’t see Brad come out because he was riding on a shuttle. A very sweet young man wearing a flannel shirt and jeans came up to me and said. “My name’s Jess too.” He pointed to my cap. “And I have your lame excuse for a husband.” He turned and pointed. “We’re going to have to fight our way through the crowd to the shuttle.” Of course, I should have known Brad couldn’t walk through the terminal.
Brad sat next to the driver so I climbed in behind with Jess. I gave Brad the cap and kissed him. “Welcome home.”
He put on the cap. “Thanks, this is really great. Jess here is stranded. Can I take him home with me?”
“He means the University of Washington.” Jess chimed in thinking about the Proud Out Loud sign.
With Jess’s help, we soon had the luggage packed into the trunk of my car. Brad drove out of Vancouver. At the border, the cars were backed up and idling. But I lucked out again, the guard only wanted to see our driver’s licenses.
Jess and I gabbed the whole way home. I teased him about his Seattle tuxedo and told him he would fit right in at any occasion. I wanted to know everything about Hawaii. Then Jess started talking computers and there was no getting him off that topic again. We found Jess’s dorm and he thanked us for the ride. He told Brad to call him when he had his computer.
“Are you buying a computer?” I asked worrying about the cost of the living room furniture.
“Yes, tomorrow. I’ll use my bonus money.” He said and then we drove on in silence.
“You’ve been so quiet. Is something wrong?”
“Yes, my ankle is throbbing. I should have let you drive, but it’s been awhile since I‘ve been behind the wheel. I missed it.”
Then out of the blue he said. “Sisy, I’d like to sleep in the spare bedroom. I don’t want you to kick this ankle in the night.”
“I have a sack of ice in the freezer. Maybe that will help.”
“That and a couple of beers will help a lot. Thanks.”
When Brad hobbled through the door into the living room, he smiled at the way the carpet looked. He never said a thing about the new things I had bought. I got him a cold beer and a cold pack. He sat on the couch with his ankle up and iced. I turned on the TV but Brad didn’t really watch it. He said he was out of the habit. He was deep in thought as he stared at the rug.
And that’s how it happened. He’d brought his injured body home to me but, his heart, he left in Iran. He turned to beer, not to me, to fill his lonely days.
I felt more like a servant than a wife. Brad’s Mom threw a homecoming party and he blamed me for not stopping her. Then, Brad bought his computer and spent hours learning how to run it. If he wasn’t locked in the spare bedroom, he was at the University getting help from Jess. I tried to appreciate his new project. I hoped Brad would sign up for college classes, maybe get a degree and become a Softie. But instead, he and Jess became drinking buddies. I told Brad that I didn’t think Jess was old enough for all that carousing. Brad told me to mind my own business.
I’ll never forget that awful night Brad asked me for a divorce. He was drunk so I didn’t know if he meant it. I said nothing hoping he’d let it go. But, he became more enraged than I’ve ever seen him. I was afraid of him and relieved when he left. He was gone several days and I began to worry. Then, he reappeared and asked me to walk with him. Just like when we were dating. I could see that his ankle was healing. He walked well with a cane.
Of course, I hoped he would come back home but, instead, he dashed my hopes by banging my head against the truck window. I couldn’t blame his outburst on the beer. He seemed deadly sober. He yelled that he wanted out of our marriage so he could get back to Iran. His threats were worse than his violence. He claimed he could have me deported. I was terrified.
I spent several sleepless nights until I asked my mother. She told me to come over and look at her citizenship papers. My name was listed on the certificate, as were the names of all of her children. We became citizens when she did.
I thought Brad couldn’t do anything worse, but I was wrong. He called me from Las Vegas and claimed we had not been married in the Roman Catholic Church. In a panic, I called Claudia. I wouldn’t have thought it possible but Claudia became more hysterical than I was. The next day, Claudia confirmed that Brad was right. Rudy and she immediately made arrangements to renew their vows before an ordained priest. Claudia advised me to get a lawyer.
I didn’t follow her advice. I did tell Brad’s Mom that we weren’t married in the eyes of the church. She was so upset and wanted to see Brad but I told her I didn’t know where he was.
When Brad finally talked to his Mom, things improved a little. He needed her help to store a shipment of rope from Iran. Then he asked me if he could move back into our spare bedroom. Right there I should have said no. But something new and hopeful happened. For the first time in our marriage, the two of us set down and discussed our goals and finances. Brad laid out his hopes for getting out of debt by selling the rope. I told him about the credit card debt I had run up and he factored it in with no complaint. I promised to work with him to clear what we owed.
Selling rope turned out to be easy. Seattle was putting up climbing walls in its parks. Everyone liked to rappel. I made a few contacts and sold almost a fourth of the shipment. My profits went to pay off the living room.
Brad’s mood improved so much that I dared to believe in our marriage again. Then without warning, Brad fell apart. I was so scared. I was afraid he was having a nervous breakdown and called his brother. Bruno reassured me. He said Brad always had a tendency to sulk when he was growing up. He said it was kind of like my migraines except without the headache. Somehow this made sense to me.
Bruno was right. Within a day or two Brad was up and busy looking for a job. He found a good one with BCC’s competitor. But a week later, he dashed all my hopes by saying he still wanted a divorce. He’d hired a lawyer and moved out again. I was so discouraged. I hired a woman lawyer that Cathy suggested. The two lawyers bickered back and forth for months. I did not hear from Brad. He was back living with his Mom and she let me know what he was up to. Mostly he seemed to be working lots of overtime.
I spent my third wedding anniversary with my mother. She was miffed with both me and Brad. But she took it out on Brad.
“Tell me Sisy, what is Brad best at?” I said nothing. “No let me tell you.” She continued shaking her finger in my face. “Brad is best at turning beer into piss. But the problem is, his body can’t keep it up for much longer. When you understand that, you will know how to be married to him.”
“Don’t be so crude, Mom. Why can’t you say something helpful?”
“I am saying something helpful.” She insisted. “You aren’t listening. How old is Brad?”
“He’s 28.” I said confidently.
“Then he has one or two more years before you will see what I’m talking about. His body will lose out and the beer will change him. If it hasn’t already. It sure looks like his good judgment is getting more like stinking thinking. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Beer can gnaw away a man’s soul.”
“Oh Mother. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I rolled my eyes.
“If he stays with you, you’ll find out what I know.” She countered. “I can hold out only one hope for your marriage, feed Brad well. No junk food. Proper meals.”
I couldn’t tell her that I haven’t fed Brad anything for months now. I couldn’t even admit to her that our divorce will be final in a few months.
Several weeks went by. I was at work helping Cathy with a database problem when she suddenly moved close to me and said. “My God, Sisy, Brad just came in.” I looked around and there he was, his hair styled and all dressed up in a new suit with a red rose in his lapel. He looked like Hollywood’s version of a Mafia Don.
“Hi Cathy. Hi Sisy.” He smiled at me. Now everyone in the office had stopped what they were doing and stared at Brad. They couldn’t tell if something good or bad was about to happen. Everyone knew our divorce would be final soon.
“Cathy, can Sisy take off early today? She and I missed celebrating our anniversary. It was all my fault. I’m hoping she will forgive me.” He said as he looked into my eyes. His smile melted my heart.
“Of course Brad. If Sisy wants to. It’s her vacation time.” I heard Cathy whisper. “Sisy, what do you want to do?”
As long as Brad held my gaze, I felt like a bird charmed by a snake. Then Brad winked at me and let me breathe again. “Thanks Cathy. Let me get my purse.” Brad walked me out to a shiny new pickup truck. He opened the door and I got in.
He started the engine and turned on the air conditioning. “How do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful. I love the metallic blue finish. And it’s so comfortable, almost like a car.” I had a million questions but just looked at him. He was so incredibly handsome.
“It will look even better when I have the name of my new business stenciled onto the doors.” He said with pride. “But right now I want to run you home so you can get ready for dinner at Serafina’s. If your white suit still fits, I’d like you to wear it. If not, surprise me. I have to run some errands. I’ll come back in an hour. Is that enough time?” I nodded. When he dropped me off, I hurried toward the door.
Brad returned with red roses. I felt like crying but didn’t want to ruin my makeup. He gave me the roses and said. “You are even more beautiful than the day we got married. I’m a lucky man.”
“Thank you, Brad. You are so good to me. The roses are beautiful. Let me find a vase.”
It was a fairytale evening. Good food, good music, good news. First, Brad begged me to forgive him. He said there was no excuse for what had happened. Something about hurting his ankle had sent him off the deep end emotionally. He was glad I had kept my cool and waited for him to snap out of it. Then he said the most remarkable thing. He didn’t want to live at the apartment. It always felt like Juan would walk in. Brad wanted to buy a house. Of all the things that had happened, this shocked me the most. We were out of debt and Brad had been working a lot of overtime, or so my lawyer had figured when she calculated alimony.
Brad must have read my mind. “Of course, we’re going to have to call off the lawyers tomorrow. They won’t care as long as they get paid.” There was so much I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t want to take a chance on ruining the evening. Maybe he was off his crazy roller coaster, but I wasn’t too sure.
After dinner, we went dancing. It was very late when we got home and I said. “I hope you are going to stay or I’ll wake up tomorrow and think this was all a dream.” He kissed my forehead and started taking off my clothes. I shivered with excitement and Brad thought I was cold. He led me into the bedroom.
“You’d better help. I’m out of practice.” He teased me when he couldn’t unhook my bra. Soon we were skin to skin under the sheets. Brad was so gentle with me as if he were afraid I would vanish. When he came, he held me so tight I could barely breathe. After a while, he buried his face into my neck and began to sob, deep racking sobs. Emotionally he was a mess even though he thought he was okay. I was afraid of what was happening. There was too much I didn’t understand.
In the morning we woke to the smell of coffee brewing. I threw the covers off and sat up but Brad pulled me back to him. “Let’s not go to work. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
I snuggled up to him. “Sounds like a good idea.” Brad slowly made love to me as if he were trying to erase last night from my mind. It worked, I felt like a newly wed, even better.
I showered then made breakfast while Brad showered. He came into the kitchen naked rubbing his head with the towel. He wrapped the towel around his waist and sat down to a leisurely breakfast with me. I cleared away the dishes and we began planning in earnest. Soon, I had several pages of things that had to be done: a list for this morning, this afternoon, the rest of the week, the weekend, the rest of the month.
“Put on the list for next week that I will be quitting my job.” He smiled at the shock on my face. “Don’t worry, you’ll soon get it.” He tapped the page to show me where to write. “Then, in a month, you’ll be quitting too.” Shaking, I wrote it down. Then he took my hand and kissed it.
“Oh Brad, we forgot to call in. Let me call Cathy.” I slipped my hand from his and went to the phone.
When I returned, Brad called his boss. Then he said. “We need to get dressed; we have an appointment in an hour. We're going to the Start-up Incubator at the University’s School of Business.” I put on a simple blue summer dress. All Brad had to wear was his new suit.
Brad drove to a small building at the edge of campus. When we walked in the front door, a young woman said. “Hello Mr. Duello. Mr. Craig is waiting in his office.”
“Mrs. Pala this is my wife, Sisy Duello.” Brad said with a bit of pride in his voice. I shook hands with the receptionist.
“I’m pleased to meet you Mrs. Duello. Please, both of you, call me Donna.”
“Brad, come into my office. This must be Sisy. I’m so glad to meet you. Please, call me Doug.” Doug Craig squeezed my hand and showed me where to sit. He offered us coffee and laid out a surprising plan for us.
“Brad wants to call the business Highwire Painters.” Brad looked delighted and I smiled in bewilderment. Doug had everything – a business plan, financial analysis, break-even estimates, application for a business name, business license application, income tax ID, worker’s compensation insurance application, logo for business cards and stationary. My head was spinning.
We’d been at this for an hour and a half when Doug said. “I am excited about Highwire Painters because of the exceptional assets you bring. Brad, you have experience and specialized skills that are hard to find. You also have the desire and financial backing to start your own business. But you have something few start-ups have – a trusted and skilled person who understands the procedures involved in running an office.” He smiled at me. “And even better yet, Sisy, you also understand a payroll. What a bonus. I am excited to welcome you both to our incubator.”
When we left, I had a stack of documents, plans, and information about the Start Up Incubator. I put them between us on the truck seat and wondered how long it would take to read it all. “Pretty exciting. Isn’t it Sisy?” Brad beamed.
“I’m overwhelmed. But I think Doug is right. You’d make a wonderful boss.” I stopped. “Brad you oversold me. I’m a receptionist like Donna.”
“Well let’s hope so. Donna can do everything that Doug thinks you can do. She helps all the incubator businesses get started. She trains the employees in the latest techniques. You know more than you think you do, Sisy. You have good business sense. And what you don’t know, Donna will teach you.”
Back home, I made lunch while Brad made phone calls and checked his e-mail. He called his divorce lawyer, fired him and told him to send a bill. This made him so happy; he called my lawyer and tried to bully her. “Sisy, can you get the phone. Your lawyer doesn’t want to talk to me.”
It took about 20 minutes to explain what had happened. She wanted me to come to her office before I made a final decision. “No, please just send your bill. I never wanted this divorce.”
At lunch, I finally asked about the money. “Brad, several months ago you set me down at this table and told me we were in trouble financially because of the rope you bought. We worked hard, worked together and made enough to get out of debt. But . . . ” I lost my nerve.
“Well, I was wondering when you were going to ask. Stop worrying. I didn’t rob a bank. I won the lottery. In Vegas. Won. Lottery. Sisy, now’s the time you’re supposed to jump up and down. Scream for joy. Give me a hug and a kiss.” But I just stared at him. I didn’t believe him and I couldn’t fake being happy.
“Well you can believe it or not. Suit yourself. But if anyone asks, the answer is: ‘Lucky Duello won the lottery.’ That will be the party line. You got it Sisy?”
“Yes. The lottery.”
The phone rang. I answered it while Brad cleared the table. It was his Mom. “Sisy, I’m so worried. Brad isn’t at work and he didn’t come home last night. I called you at work. Your boss said you had gone off with Brad. I didn’t know if they were just teasing me or what.”
“Oh Mom, it’s okay. Brad is here.” Brad walked up and took the phone.
“Mom. Mom. Hey listen, Mom. We’ll talk when I get there. Okay? Bye.”
“I have to go ‘explain myself’ and get my things. I can’t live in this suit forever.” Brad put his arm around my shoulder and we walked back into the kitchen.
“Sisy, I want you to find a realtor, then find a nice house to live in. If you love me, you’ll get me out of here. I’m thinking about a three bedroom on a quiet street. A ranch style with a basement would be nice. Somewhere between BCC’s office and the University would be a good place to start. Find three places you love and I’ll pick the one I like best.”
He made home buying sound so easy. But I got busy. By late afternoon I had already walked through a house that fit Brad’s criteria.
Over dinner we compared our progress. Brad had made things right with his Mom with a big splurge. He promised to pay off her mortgage. She didn’t owe a huge amount, but being free of the monthly payments would be a big relief for her. “You know what she was doing when I left?” He laughed as I shook my head. “Planning a mortgage burning party.”
After dinner, Brad worked on his business plan. He told me. “I need to rent a large storage building. It has to be heated so I can store paint, equipment and supplies. It also needs an office and a comfortable room for meetings. Since the office will be where you will work, I want you to be happy with it.”
I couldn't help teasing him. “You should find three that you love, then I’ll pick one.”
“I love the way you think.” Brad said and we both laughed.
I told Brad about the realtor I had chosen. Brad was happy that we might be able to buy something and move in next month. There were a lot of houses on the market and the sellers were eager to deal.
During the next week I juggled work and house hunting. Cathy tagged along a few times. She wanted to know every detail of what she called our ‘relapse.’ When I told her about the lottery, she couldn’t believe it. She decided on an explanation. “He’s Italian, a damn lucky stiff.”
Brad did better than I. He found two locations that suited him. One was in a run down Seattle industrial park. I knew I wouldn’t feel safe there by myself. But the other building had a good feel. It was south of the airport. The view out the office window was of a small park with a children’s playground. It would be a nice place to take breaks. I told Brad he should lease it.
I was completely confused by all the houses I looked at. The realtor said I was confused because I hadn’t seen the one I wanted. We kept looking. Then she asked if she could show me a house in Federal Way that had set empty for a month. It had some problems she said but she had a feeling I’d like it. And it was priced to sell.
When we turned onto the street, I fell in love with the neighborhood. There were small, but well kept houses with mature trees. It was a working class neighborhood with kids shooting hoops in the driveway. The house for sale was a two-story Victorian on a small lot. You’ll have to get along with your neighbors in order to enjoy this house. While walking through, I decided I loved the way the rooms were laid out. The kitchen was small but everything was so conveniently placed.
Suddenly a dark haired, young woman came in the door. “Hi, I am Nora Narus. I live next door. I so hope you are going to buy this. I hate that this house is empty.” Then she gave us a full history of the neighborhood. Even though she had a case of motor-mouth, I couldn’t help but like her. But Brad will have to meet this woman before we decide to buy.
When we left, the realtor gave me the house key. “Bring Brad and spend some time looking through the house. Then we’ll talk.”
After dinner, I told Brad about the house. “Only one?” He looked disappointed.
“The house is south of Seattle in Federal Way. It’s been empty for a month. I want to take the Persian rug over and see if it looks at home.”
And we did. When we drove up, Brad looked at the outside and said. “Well it’s not a ranch style. You sure you want a two story house?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Help me carry the rug in.” When we rolled the rug out on the floor, it seemed to glow in the evening twilight. It looked completely at home. Then we explored the house. Brad liked what he saw.
The door bell rang and I looked at Brad. “Well the main drawback has arrived.” I let Nora in, introduced her and told Brad about her computer business. She smiled at Brad and seemed tongue-tied. All Nora said was that she hoped we liked the house well enough to buy it. Then she left. What a change from the afternoon. Brad said he thought she’d make a good neighbor. He liked the idea of having a computer expert close by.
So, the next day we made an offer on the house. The owners took it and let us move in while the paperwork was being finalized. On the day we closed, Brad wrote out a check for the entire amount. He was so happy to get out of Juan’s place. But I was still worried and wished I knew where the money had come from.
I juggled my job and all the things that had to be done to make a comfortable home. I painted rooms and Brad painted the outside. The yard was small but the yard work seemed endless. Brad paid the neighbor boys to help.
After two months of home ownership, we threw a party for family and friends. Our guests toured both the house and the Highwire Painter’s building. Everyone was delighted with our good fortune. When family and friends asked how we had done it, I told them. “Ask Brad.”
I quit BCC and joined Highwire Painters when Brad was ready to hire full time employees. For a little over a year he had worked solo, winning bids on small jobs that he could handle with the help of a day laborer. One of these fellows, named Sands, developed a feel for mixing the paint, prepping the sprayers and keeping things in order. He seemed to know just the right amount of solvent to add to the paint so it flowed evenly no matter how the temperature and humidity changed during the day. There was hardly any downtime when he helped Brad. So Brad hired him as our first full time employee.
I was the second full time employee. Donna trained me on the latest methods of hiring, preparing payroll, and tracking employee benefits. I liked the work and learned quickly. I requested bids for the office equipment we needed and Nora underbid everyone. She also offered a service contract. It was wonderful to have her drop by each month to keep the equipment working smoothly and answer my questions.
Donna insisted I sign up for the GED to get my high school certificate. So I picked up the materials and started studying. When she found me pouring over the geography text, she scolded. “Sisy, just take the test. You might pass it the first time. If you don’t, they’ll tell you what you need to study.”
Donna was right again. I passed all the sections except history. So I focused. Every evening after dinner, I sat at the table and studied world or U.S. history. I was fascinated at what I learned.
Once when Brad came in to get a beer I said. “Brad did you know that the Mayan and the Roman empires existed at the same time? Did you know the Mayans had a better mathematics and calendar?”
Brad held up his hand as if swearing an oath. “Leave me out of this. The next thing I know you’ll be asking me about the Roman legions. None of that was my fault.” I watched him go back to the T.V. and wondered how much beer he’d had.
Two weeks later, I passed the history exam. Start Up threw a graduation party for me and invited the owners of the other businesses they were helping. Many were just like Brad and me.
Brad continued to bid small jobs as he hired and trained his painters. When he was ready to bid on the larger jobs, he asked me to take the training with him so I could put the bid packages together. My experience at BCC had prepared me for learning the personnel job but I had never helped with bid preparation. And, I had no interest in it. Brad didn’t push me and continued to depend on Donna for a while longer.
As we went into our third year, Brad was keeping two crews busy. We paid ourselves a modest salary and the business broke even. His employees were friends. Each Friday afternoon Brad had a tub of ice filled with beer and pop in our meeting room. The fellows could unwind from the week’s work while I handed out paychecks.
We had hit a plateau. If Brad wanted to grow the business he had to either bid the larger jobs or set up subcontractor agreements with the big construction firms. Brad did some subcontracting but he thought it was like being an employee without the benefits. He didn’t want to expand that way.
Brad needed a good bid clerk but we couldn’t afford to pay one. Either he had to tie himself to the desk job and give up the outdoor work he loved or he had to get me to complete the training. I was already his receptionist, secretary and personnel clerk. He badgered me about it and I began to feel as tormented as I had when he was demanding a divorce. When I tried to stand my ground, Brad became sullen.
Brad set up his desk across from mine in the office. He could do anything he set his mind to. Soon he scored larger jobs with a good profit margin. After six months, Brad told me he wanted to add another crew.
We looked so successful but the success was taking a huge toll on Brad. He loved his beer – always did. The weekend binges began to spill over into the week too. Brad was getting flabby and growing the beer belly of a middle-aged man. Then the sleeplessness started.
The insomnia frightened me more than anything else that had happened during our marriage. I’d wake up because I was cold. The clock would say two maybe three in the morning. Brad was gone. I'd wander to the bathroom then down the hall. From the top of the stairs, I could see Brad sitting on the Persian rug. His arms cradling his knees to his chest; his head slightly turned and resting on his arms; rocking ever so slightly. Beer cans were lined up at his side reeking of misery and hopelessness.
I felt a stab of guilt. This was my fault. I wanted to make it right, to hold him. The stairs creaked as I started down.
“Go away.” The venom in Brad’s voice froze me mid-step.
“Brad?” I begged, desperately wanting him to let me come to him.
“Go away.” He hissed with hatred. I burst into tears and ran back to the bedroom. I trembled. What was I going to do if Brad wanted a divorce again? I was terrified. I didn’t want to lose what we had built and I didn’t want to lose him.
I cried myself to sleep and didn’t hear Brad come back to bed. When I went down next morning, I cleared away the beer cans and pulled the coffee table back onto the carpet. At breakfast, Brad complained about his hangover but said nothing at all about being unable to sleep. He noticed my dread and told me, “It’s just a hangover, Sisy. I’ve had them before. Come on we have a busy day ahead of us.”
We never spoke of the insomnia even though it happened once, sometimes twice a week. Then one morning we overslept and I didn’t touch anything in the living room. It was just as Brad had left it. When he came down the stairs, I came to the kitchen door. I could see he was puzzled by the clutter of furniture and beer cans. He looked at me as if I knew the answer. I said. “Breakfast is ready.” Then I ducked back into the kitchen.
Brad hired more painters and worked them with the established crews until trained. We still needed the ground crew consisting of a gofer and someone to prep and take care of equipment.
Mr. Craig from Start Up had an idea for the gofer. The state Juvenile Disciplinary Office wanted to place their delinquents in summer jobs. The office had a grant that covered salary and benefits. In return we would provide training and experience. It sounded like a perfect match for us.
On Migel’s first day, he was shy and nervous. I asked him to fill out all our paperwork so he’d have the experience of doing this dreary but important job. In talking with him, I learned he was 17 and an orphan. He was two years old when his parents came to the U.S. on work permits. Sometime after, they were both killed in an automobile accident. He'd been passed around among relatives and always felt unwanted. A gang swallowed him up and soon he was in trouble with the police.
Migel turned out to be a fast learner and dependable. Brad took a fatherly interest and Migel opened up into a happy, confident young man.
It’s hard to know how we could be so successful one week and ruined the next. In late August, a week before Migel was to leave us and go back to school, an official looking man in a blue suit knocked on my door. I asked him in and he introduced himself as Rich Spear and apologized for not calling for an appointment.
“I’m about to take a break, would you like to join me? I have some cold pop.”
“Thanks, I would. It’s hot today.” We sat at the meeting room table. “I work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Seattle. Here’s my card. I’m helping the Immigration and Naturalization Service check on businesses, like yours, who use 'green card' workers.”
Every fiber of my Guatemalan body wanted to run. I looked at his card, sipped the pop and tried to calm down. “We haven’t been in business very long. During our first year, one or two day laborers had green cards. I have personally completed an INS-EEV form on each of our permanent employees. That includes me.”
“Wonderful. All I need is the INS verification code for each one. How many employees do you have?”
“There are nineteen, including me. “Would you like another pop while I make you the list?”
When I was finished, Spear was preparing to leave. I handed him the list. He quickly counted the numbers and looked at me. “There are only eighteen.”
“Yes, we have a trainee but he isn’t on our payroll. He is paid through a grant from the State of Washington Juvenile Disciplinary Office.”
“Oh, helping the crooked go straight.” He smirked. “Can you give me his name and I’ll check with the state office?”
“His name is Migel Sanchez. He’ll be going back to school next week.”
“Well, I’ll get out of your hair. It’s been nice to meet you, Mrs. Duello.”
I still was a nervous wreck when I told Brad what had happened. He understood why it scared me and thought I'd handled it okay. But he wondered why I hadn’t run an INS-EEV form on Migel.
“Migel isn't our employee.”
“No but he’s working on my work site.” Brad said and I could tell he was worried too. He called Mr. Craig and filled him in on what had happened.
The INS raid came on Tuesday. Agents, including Spear, showed up at the municipal water tower where our crew was painting. They served a warrant on the crew boss and checked the identification of all the crew. They arrested Migel and one of the painters then took the two to the INS detention center. Even the Juvenile Disciplinary Office couldn’t spring Migel. The feds were going to send him to his birth place in Mexico. They didn’t care that it was a country and language completely foreign to Migel. All his relatives lived here and were U.S. citizens.
The detained painter was accused of altering records. Rather than being 21, he was actually 19. He pleaded guilty, was fined and released.
But the warrant was against Highwire Painters for hiring workers who did not have proper documentation. Use of labor through a contract was the same as hiring and a violation of the law. The INS gave us ten working days to show cause why Highwire Painters should not be prosecuted and, if found guilty, fined not more than $20,000.
Brad read the warrant and handed it to me. The crew that Migel worked with had come into the office. Brad took them into the meeting room and they talked things over. Since they were already preparing for Migel to leave for school, they could continue without him until Brad found a replacement. They agreed to go back to work. Brad left to go talk to the other two crews before the gossip mill got to them.
I was alone and too numb to think. I locked up the office and went home. Well not home. I went to Nora’s. She at least understood. She held me and let me cry. Nora knew the terror that every foreign-born person feels for the INS. I’d never forgive myself for what was happening to Migel.
I sank into a deep depression and everything fell onto Brad's shoulders. I spent most of my time with either Nora or my mother. Lawyers from the Juvenile Disciplinary Office prepared a response to the warrant. But as legal things do, the case drug on for months. In the meantime, they deported Migel.
Maybe I did know that Brad was drinking even more but I just didn’t care. We were living our lives as if the other didn’t exist. I made no effort to go to the office with Brad. Donna was helping him again.
One evening after supper, he sat beside me on the couch. “I can’t run the business without you, Sisy. I’ve stopped bidding for jobs. We’ll finish the work we have and I’ll lay off the crews.” He was quiet for a long while. “The INS fined us $500. I’ll be damned if I’m going to create jobs just so the government can play gotcha.” Then he took my hand in his. “I heard from Migel. The fellas and I have been sending him money.”
I gasped and started to sob. “How is he? Oh Brad, I’m so sorry.”
“Sisy, you have to forgive yourself. There is a whole nation of people who brought this on. It’s not your fault. If anyone should have known better, it was Start Up. They promised to train us on new regulations. And more important, they knew the state agencies were defying the INS requirements. Someone should have told us.”
Brad put his arm around me and said. “Now listen. It’s not so bad. Migel is trained, has money from us gringos, and can live on his good looks. He says he’s met a wonderful girl and he loves her. She comes from a good family with connections. He’s happier now than he’s ever been. The scamp has actually put together a paint crew. Can you believe it? He may do better than we have. At least he doesn’t have to worry about drybacks.”
“Oh Brad.” I punched him on the arm and had to smile. “Thank you for telling me.” I snuggled up to him and stopped crying.
It took a couple more weeks before I was feeling like my old self. Then I helped Brad close the business. We completed the paperwork. Paid bills and tallied up the profit. Gave each painter a bonus and glowing letters of recommendation. The last thing was to sell the equipment and supplies and move out.
“I feel great.” Brad said when we got home. “Maybe I won’t have to go through a six pack so I can sleep tonight. Maybe you’d like to help instead. I have to get back in shape. Look at this flab, look at this belly.”
Brad meant it and started exercising regularly. He was very loving and wouldn’t let me brood. He even went back to work as a painter, working on a crew with his ex-employees. He tried to cut back to drinking only on the weekends. But he didn’t cut back. I could see that he didn’t have any control over it anymore. It controlled him.
Our tragedy started so innocently just before Thanksgiving. We had gone to a sports bar to watch the last NASCAR race of the season. Brad hoped that Jess Gardner would win in season points. But Gardner spun out and did not finish the race. I patted Brad’s shirt pocket and asked him. “Where's your lucky coin?”
Brad stood up abruptly. He thumped his chest with his finger and snarled. “I make my own luck. If you don’t like it you know what you can do.” Then he walked to an empty chair closer to the TV and sat with his back to me.
The commentators were speculating that Gardner’s over-the-wall crew was going to quit. Brad was drinking heavily and shouting about all the bastards. Then he tried to pick a fight with a good friend. His friend had enough sense to just keep backing away from Brad saying he wouldn’t fight.
Brad was told to leave. I left right behind him, caught up and steadied him as best I could. Thank God he let me drive. All the way home, he was spitting mad about bastards, some dirty Russian and English lessons. Then something about foreigners who wanted to pass as Americans and Russians infiltrating our universities.
I struggled to get Brad into the house and up the stairs. Then he wouldn’t go any further. He was washed out and crumpled against the wall. When he spoke, he sounded almost sober. “Sisy, when he comes, you must call the FBI. Don’t wait to see what he wants.”
I coaxed him to move down the hall by inching away from him. Rather than following, he reached out and grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him. “He’ll come, he will come. He’ll kill me. Don’t let him in.”
I tried to get him to let go. He was hurting me. “Who Brad?”
He stood up by pulling on my wrist. “The filthy bomber will try to get even.” Then he staggered and lost his balance. I grabbed him with my free hand and we both teetered at the top of the stairs.
I don’t know what happened. When I woke up, I was in bed in a strange room. My mother was sitting next to me crying. A priest was comforting her. I took a breath to ask what was wrong and felt a stabbing pain in my chest. They both looked at me with a start.
“Oh Sisy. Thank God.” She took my hand and I winced. That hurt too. “Don’t talk, you have three bruised ribs. You’ve been in surgery. They were afraid one of the ribs was broken but, thank God, it wasn’t. Sisy, Father Beacon is with us.”
“I’m glad to meet you Sisy. Rest easy. We know your injuries are painful. We’ll try to help you understand what happened.” His voice was so soothing. I smiled at him.
“Sisy” My mother said. “Brad is okay. He wasn’t hurt badly. He called 911 then passed out. He’s in the Addiction Ward. His doctor and Father Beacon are asking him to stay and dry out.” She stopped trying not to cry. “Before the booze kills him.”
“Sisy.” Father Beacon took my hand and I sleepily moved my eyes from Mom to him. “There’s no easy way to ask this. Did you know you were pregnant?”
It took a long time to focus on his question. “No.” I whispered.
“The infant did not survive. When you are feeling better, you and Brad can decide.” His voice trailed off. “Our parish has a Mass to Bless the Parents who have suffered miscarriages. It is very sad that, each year, we have several couples who need this blessing.”
“Thank you, Father.” He made no sense. Did Claudia have a miscarriage?
The next morning, the Social Worker came to see me as I was waking up from the sedative. “Good morning, Sisy. Please, call me Sara. We’re all on a first name basis here. I’ll be your case worker. You are in the Serenity Ward. Visitors are restricted here. No one under suspicion of abusive behavior is allowed to enter. For you, that means your husband cannot come to see you. If you want to see him, you’ll have to leave the ward. He can write, of course, or he can call you.”
“I have a schedule of activities that I hope you will join us in.” She continued. “The women in the ward get together to give each other support and talk about strategies to change their lives for the better. Your roommate is Millie. She’ll be back from X-ray soon. You two have a good deal in common and she’s very sweet.”
My hospital stay was a blur. When Sara said Brad couldn’t come see me, I worried that he was hurt worse than I was. My mother soon straightened me out. “They told him about the miscarriage and how badly hurt you are. Then he threw a fit because they wouldn’t let him see you. He left the hospital against the advice of his doctor. Signed himself out."
Brad's mother said he went back to work. She asked Bruno to find him. Then my mother rolled her eyes. “Bruno found him alright. They both went out and got drunk. I’ll never forgive them as long as I live.”
“Sisy, I want you to listen to your case worker.” My mother urged. “I had a long talk with her and she knows what she’s doing.”
In the afternoon, the nurses put me into a wheel chair and I sat in on my first session. We were a strange group. Cut and bruised. Some with casts. Everyone hollow-eyed with worry. We heard about restraining orders, safe houses, stalking, going into hiding, and establishing a new identity. I was confused and exhausted when I returned.
I took a nap. Millie came in quietly. When I woke up, we talked of this and that until supper. Millie’s cast got in the way of opening one of her containers. She asked if I could manage it. I could and noticed the pain in my chest was still bad but tolerable. I asked Millie. “How do we get out of here?”
“You can sign yourself out anytime. But don’t do that, Sisy. You’ll be walking away from the help they are offering.”
“The best thing is to listen. You don’t have to agree. Just hear them out. They will ask you to fill out all kinds of forms. If you won’t do it, they will find excuses to keep you here longer. Fill out their forms and your stay will be shorter.”
“Thanks Millie. I’ll do that. What’s in store for us tomorrow?”
She found her schedule. “Oh dear, Bloody Statistics.”
“Do they really call it that?”
“No, I call it that. I’ve heard it before and it ain’t pretty.”
Millie was right. The session was awful. I came back drained and exhausted. I had written and underlined three facts on my notepad.
Abuse is not just getting beat up, it’s profanity and getting yelled at, it’s emotional blackmail.
Every nine seconds a woman is physically abused by her husband.
42% of women who are murdered are killed by men who claim to love them.
The next day Millie and I sat at a table and filled out our petitions for Temporary Order for Protection. It was painful to think that mine meant that Brad would not be home to help me. I didn’t want to do this. But at least, Mother and Nora would be there to look in on me.
I sat with Sara and put together my plan. After I’d healed, I’d go back to work. Probably at BCC. This was all I could see in my crystal ball. Sara insisted that I also put down that I would call my lawyer and ask to make the Temporary Order, Permanent. Then Sara insisted that I ask my lawyer to seek separation or divorce. Sara told me the dates for group therapy sessions and Alanon. And she made an appointment for herself so we could talk about my progress.
I felt like saying, “No, No, and No.” But, Millie had warned me not to. Sara told me that the protection order had been served on Brad. The officer waited while Brad removed his things from the house and left.
I was glad to finally get out of the hospital after a week of recovery. Or was it a week of brain washing or terror revisited. Group sessions and visitors had made the time pass quickly. But I was exhausted and in need of a little privacy. I was healing physically but it was going to take time to put together what happened.
Mom took me home. Brad had left a mess but it was mostly clutter. The dishes were washed and in the drainer. Mom stacked some dishes on the table so I could get them without reaching up.
When Mother left, I called Brad’s Mom. She burst into tears and told me how sorry she was. I asked about Brad. Through tears, she said she’d turned him away because he insisted he wasn’t an alcoholic. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m praying he will go back to the hospital and get help.” I tried to reassure her that she had done the right thing. Then we hung up.
Nora tapped on the back door and came in. “Oh Nora, I’m so glad you’re here. Come in. But don’t hug me and don’t make me laugh.” I warned her. It was wonderful to see her. She chattered away as she made us tea and sandwiches. We spent several hours together and I almost forgot my troubles. She said that Brad had called her and told her to look under the welcome mat for the house key. She had come over and tidied up the kitchen for me.
I tried not to laugh. “Don’t tell my mother, Nora. The clean dishes really raised her opinion of Brad. Lord knows, he’s going to need a lot of help to ever get back into her good graces.”
When Nora was about to leave, she kissed me on my forehead instead of hugging me. I was so glad she had come over. She was such a dear, dear friend. I knew I could face anything if she was here.
In the evening, Bruno called. “How are you doing Sisy? Everyone is so sorry about what happened. We all missed you at Thanksgiving. I have someone here who isn’t allowed to talk to you. But he’s real worried. I wanted you to know that I’ll keep an eye on him. If there’s anything you want to let him know, I’ll tell him.”
“Thanks Bruno. Tell Brad that I know it was an accident. And tell him I didn’t want to file the protection order. The case worker pushed it on me. I’m still so confused. I need some time to understand what’s happened.” Then I paused. “Tell Brad I’m feeling a lot better and I love him.” Then I hung up without saying goodbye. I hugged my ribs and cried.
As I recovered at home, Seattle exploded in protest against the meeting of the World Trade Organization. The confrontation with the police and National Guard meant I missed my group therapy meetings on domestic violence and the ALANON meetings.
Finally the tear gas cleared and Seattle repaired the damage. Soon my bruises faded and finally I could walk normally. I called Cathy and asked if she had an opening. She was so glad to hear from me. “Yes, I have an opening and I’ve been thinking you’d be perfect for it.” She crowed. “I’ve been promoted to Financial Officer. I’m in management now. Can you believe it?”
“Yes, I can believe it. It should have happened long ago. What is your opening”
“My old job.” She said. “I hear you are well trained in Payroll. If you will say yes, I can start you out at double your old salary. Come in and fill out the paperwork and you can start next week. I really need you. I’m holding down two jobs.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks Cathy.”
Brad called me every evening after Bruno’s call. He was full of guilt and longing. He promised he’d never get drunk like that again. There was so much he couldn’t remember. I told him that I knew about his blackouts and how the beer was attacking his body. Every time I talked this way, Brad went sullen and defensive. We couldn’t seem to work our way out of our rut.
After three weeks, I asked Brad if he wanted to come home. He said he was tired of Bruno and would be right over. Soon he was at the door, with red roses.
“Come in but you can’t hug me. I’m still a little sore.” He handed me the roses then clasped his hands behind his back and kissed me. “The roses are beautiful, thank you Brad. Bring in your things while I put these in water.”
I put the vase of flowers behind my lighted Chichi candles that begged the Sun to relent and return to us. Then I filled some glasses with tonic water and put lemon slices on the rim.
Brad came down the stairs and sat next to me on the couch. He looked at the tonic water and frowned. Then he looked at me. “You are beautiful -- all I want to do is look at you. I’ve missed you so much.” He moved his fingers along the traces of the bruises on my face. “I wish I could take them back.”
“Are you healing?” I asked.
“I didn’t hurt anything much. I guess a drunk can tumble without getting hurt. But I’ve cut way down on the beer. I’m not going to be that drunk again, I promise. I’ve learned a lesson.” He paused and his eyes grew moist. “Sisy, tell me about the baby.”
“I don’t know much more than you do, Brad.” I shook my head. “I never suspected I was pregnant. My periods are so irregular that I don't pay attention if one is late. But, the doctor said I miscarried.”
“I was so angry.” Brad said. “Angry that they wouldn’t let me see you. We needed to be together so we could make sense of what had happened. Instead the psychs wanted to tell me all about living with alcoholism. It took every ounce of will power to get out of there without tearing their hospital apart.”
“When you talk like that and act like that, Brad, you only prove them right.” I said hoping he’d accept the truth. He stiffened as if he wanted to defend himself but decided to let it ride.
“Sisy, how do you feel about the baby, about losing it?” Brad searched my eyes for forgiveness.
“That’s the strange thing. How can you lose something you didn’t know you had? The baby is more an idea than a reality to me. And, I am so very happy about the idea. After all this time, I got pregnant.” I smiled at him. “If we did it once, we can do it again. Does any of this make sense?”
“Yes. When Father Beacon told me, I felt hopeful too, just like you. Then it all crashed in on me and I felt so ashamed that the miscarriage made me feel hopeful.” Brad was wringing his hands and I touched them. He smiled shyly. “I’d really like to have a son.”
“It will be a little while before we can put that plan into action.” I teased him. “My ribs need another month to heal.”
“I can wait. I’m just so glad you let me come home.”
The next day, I canceled my appointment with Sara. She was so disgusted with me. “Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones and Brad will give up drinking. Why don’t you two go to a few sessions with a marriage counselor? It could help. Remember, Sisy, you can always call me if you need to.”
The sun returned and the weather warmed into a beautiful spring. Brad and I did see a marriage counselor. We only had two problems. Brad couldn’t totally give up the beer and, after a year, I didn’t get pregnant again. But, we had one very good bit of news. Migel sent us an invitation to his June wedding in Morelia, Mexico. Most of the Highwire painters that Migel worked with were going to make the trip in a motor coach.
Brad bought tickets so we could fly, stay several weeks and visit Flores Guatemala. He’d made reservations at the Flores Hotel on Lake Santa Elena. I was so excited about seeing Migel married. And, I had never seen the town where I was born or my family who still lived there.
In mid May, Brad came into my office at closing time. “Want to go for a walk?”
“Yes, I’m ready for the weekend. Let’s go to the park.” I suggested. “My bread crumbs are getting moldy. But the ducks might like that.”
We walked around the pond and soaked up the warm sun. Brad held my hand as if he did not have a care in the world. He was talkative and all smiles. I fed the ducks then we sat on our park bench -- a spot filled with both wonderful and terrible memories. I wondered why we were here.
“Migel sent me an e-mail with a link to the bulletin of the Roman Catholic Church where he's getting married. I thought you’d like to see it.” He fished the paper out of his pocket, unfolded it and handed it to me. It was in Spanish.
Catedral de Morelia
Proclama de Matrimonia
June 23, 2001
Migel Eduardo Sanchez y Maria Candelaria Del Rio
June 26, 2001
Bradley Alen Duello y Maria Cecilia Flores
“I don’t understand.” I searched Brad’s face. He was smiling back at me. The corners of his eyes were blood shot and tiny spider veins showed through the pale skin on his face. I touched his temple trying to make the veins disappear.
He caught my hand in his, slid off the bench, and knelt before me on one knee. “Will you marry me – before God and an ordained Roman Catholic Priest? The church in Morelia is publishing our Marriage Banns. We’ll be married on our anniversary so I won’t get confused.”
I didn’t fully understand but I leaned forward and said. “I will marry you.” I kissed him. We both stood and Brad hugged me tight. I had to take shallow breaths because my ribs were still sore.
We started walking again. “So you’ve been making plans.” I said. Brad was as happy as I've seen him. He told me we had to take marriage classes with Father Beacon. Father was working with the priest in Morelia and the woman setting up Migel’s wedding was arranging ours.
“I have to get square with God.” Brad said with a sigh. “Your Father Beacon will do that. Oh, our trip to Flores will be our honeymoon. Do you still have family there?”
It all was beginning to sink in and my heart was pounding with happiness. “Oh yes.”
Migel’s wedding was as grand as a wealthy family could finance. The bride’s side of the church overflowed into the groom’s. Candi wore a lace gown with a long train carried by her younger sister. Migel looked so proud. His crew boss stood in as his best man. At the wedding dance, the men danced with Candi and pinned hundred dollar bills to the delicate lace of her dress. What a beautiful night.
Our simple wedding was as beautiful as Brad imagined it. His Mom and Bruno came but my mother stayed home. Claudia and Rudy brought their children. The two-year-old was the flower girl. Rudy proudly carried her while she pitched the petals onto the aisle. Claudia was matron of honor and Bruno, best man. My eight-year-old nephew, Nicky, the one who instigated our failed Las Vegas wedding, walked me down the aisle.
Brad wore a new suit. His wedding duds no longer fit around his waist. But, I wore my wedding suit. It still fit. Brad placed a beautiful wedding ring on my finger. It was handcrafted, delicate strands of gold and platinum woven into a design called Eternity.
The wedding party enjoyed a catered dinner as a guitarist strummed and sang romantic ballads. At sunset, the guitarist played for us as we joined the traditional promenade in the town square. Town people greeted us, offering blessings and good wishes. It was magical.
The next day we said goodbye to our family at the airport. They flew home and we were off to Flores, Guatemala. The first thing we did was look up my cousins and feast on local foods. With accented English, they welcomed us warmly and flooded us with questions.
Brad came down with Montezuma’s revenge and hung out all morning under the mosquito net. So my very ancient tio, my father's brother, offered to show me the sights. Our first stop was my father’s boyhood home. It was a large, well-kept and stately house. Then tio took me to see the house where I was born. “I think your madre still owns this house.”
The boarded-up, two-story, stone house stood in the middle of a large overgrown yard. A high, vine-covered wall and a heavy, iron gate kept the place private. Tio crossed himself and said. “The town folk think it’s haunted but they are simple, superstitious folk.” To me, the house looked inviting but so very, very sad.
Then tio took me to the Courthouse in the square. It housed the old jail where father had worked. “Your padre was somebody, my sobrina. He kept us all safe and we revere his memory. Want to see his office?” I nodded yes. Centuries of history and footsteps had worn down the stone steps. Everything was so old and smelled of mold and rats. Nothing reminded me of my father and I was glad when we left.
Brad was feeling much better when I returned. I sat on the balcony and watched the tropical birds while he got ready. In the afternoon heat, we silly gringos caught the minibus to the Mayan ruins at Mt. Tikal. What a paradise. I soaked up the Mayan culture from my guide. The history books said the Maya died out before the Aztec. But today I learned that Flores was a Mayan community until 1697.
At the ruins, Brad spent his time at the ball courts. There were replicas of the rubber balls (some weighing 20 pounds), knee and arm guards, kilts, yokes, and the gaudy headbands that the ball players wore. Brad asked the guide to tell him the rules of the game. It delighted him that the game played out the Mayan creation story. "Man, Catholicism should be like that. Why should Protestants war with Catholics?” He asked. “They should play ball and then kill the losing team's captain.”
The inscribed stones made Brad uneasy. The panels showing how prisoners were killed put him into a cold sweat. “No wonder your brother gives me the creeps, Sisy. He’s as bloodthirsty as these guys.” Brad grew serious. “Promise me you won’t ever turn on me.”
“Oh Brad, don’t be silly. Everything’s wonderful, don’t draw down evil. Why would I turn on you?” I wanted this happiness to last forever. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Brad was the first to notice the bruises on my arm. “Stop it, Sisy. Look at the bruises you’re raising.” And that was how it started. The bruises would destroy our marriage.
When we returned home, I got a complete checkup. The doctors ruled out the dire, tropical diseases and said the bruising was the curse of the Spanish nobility. It sometimes appeared in older women carrying the gene for hemophilia. The bleeding under the skin looked like bruises. The doctor told me not to worry it was only cosmetic but that stress would make made it come on.
When the bright red splotches appeared, there were always questions from family and co-workers. I explained but they didn’t believe me. They all blamed Brad.
The summer of 2001 was the happiest of my life. Brad was not drinking or not drinking much. My job was challenging and enjoyable. I loved working for Cathy again. Brad and I built a backyard patio and barbeque that were sheltered from Tacoma’s liquid sunshine. It was such a lovely place to sit in the evening. Nora came over often. She wasn’t so shy around Brad anymore.
The morning of September 11 was just like any other for Brad and me. I was in the shower when I heard the phone ring. Then I could hear the TV. I dried off and put on my robe. At the top of the stairs, I saw Brad below standing in front of the TV, his fingers laced behind his neck as he swayed from one foot to the other.
I came down and stood beside him. “What is it?”
Brad seemed startled as if he had not heard me come down. He put his arm around me. “Something is happening in New York. One of the twin towers is burning.”
As we stood there, the announcer was warning that another airliner was in view. Then we saw it hit the other tower and burst into flames. Brad gasped and pulled me to him as if to protect me from the explosion. “Oh my God!” We said at the same time.
In a few minutes, there was a knock at the back door and I heard Nora call my name. I went to the kitchen and she just stood there, pale and frightened. She threw her arms around me and cried. “Sisy, do you know about the planes? My aunt and two cousins flew out of Boston this morning. I’m so frightened and all alone. Can you come over? Please. I need to stay by the phone.”
“I'll get dressed and be over to make breakfast for all of us.” I said and Nora slipped out the back door.
"Brad, I’m going over to Nora’s. She’s afraid some of her family might have been on one of the planes – an aunt and cousins. Come over in about 30 minutes.”
He looked shaken and nodded.
As I walked to Nora’s, the third plane hit the Pentagon. Nora tried to tell me but she couldn’t get the words out. I put my arms around her. “Are you praying, Nora? There’s nothing else we can do.”
Finally, Nora stopped crying. “I’ll make us some coffee.” I had the coffee perking and was hunting for cereal and milk, when Nora came back into the kitchen. “Sisy, one of the towers has collapsed. It just fell into a mound of rubble.” I went back to the TV with her, my arm around her waist and my hand holding hers. They showed the collapse over and over. My mind reeled. It had to be a cruel hoax.
I turned to see Brad come through the kitchen door, looking even paler. Then Nora cried out and called Brad into the living room. The announcer was describing a fourth plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania. Brad stood on the other side of Nora and took her hand. “There are a lot of planes that fly out of Boston, Nora. Chances are your aunt and cousins are over the Atlantic completely unaware of any of this. But you aren’t going to know that they’re okay until their plane lands in London. Right now, no news is good news.” Nora nodded but kept trembling.
“Come on. Let’s turn this off and have some breakfast.” Brad put his arm around Nora and guided her to the table. I gave each of them a bowl and spoon. We passed the milk in silence. The coffee was ready and I brought over the coffee pot and mugs.
When we finished, Brad said. “We can’t let these terrorists beat us. They want to destroy our lives. Make us crazy. The best thing we can do is go to work. Do all the things today that we would have done.” Brad was looking for Nora’s agreement and then the phone rang.
We all jumped and Nora ran to the phone. Brad and I looked at each other as if together we could stave off bad news. Nora was gone for only a few minutes. She came back wiping her eyes and wearing a guarded smile. “That was my uncle. He has learned the flight numbers of the planes that went down. None of them was the plane carrying my aunt.” Brad and I went to Nora and hugged her between us. Nora leaned into me and looked at Brad. “You’re right, Brad, we must not let them beat us.”
As the country went to war in Afghanistan, Brad became unhappy and irritable. He found a map and put pins where the fighting was reported. He took a subscription to the Times and clipped articles describing battles and bombing sites. He spent hours on his computer in what he called ‘chat rooms.’ He was actually talking to soldiers. Enduring Freedom became his obsession. But the worst was, his drinking escalated right along with the war.
When Herat fell to the Northern Alliance, Brad started bringing home Soldier of Fortune and Mercenary magazines. Among his things, I found a visa application for Turkmenistan. Every time I tried to get him to talk about it, he became sullen, picked a fight and left the house. He wouldn’t come back until early morning and he’d be drunk. At breakfast, he’d complain about his hangover. But, he didn’t seem to remember the night before.
I was getting worried and told his Mom how erratic Brad was acting. She gave him a call and asked him to help her clean out the gutters. He went to see his Mom the next day. Later she said. “I couldn’t get him to talk about himself. Nothing. I’m not sure, Sisy, but I think he’s okay. He looks so haggard, almost haunted. But, Sisy, so many people look just like that now.”
And then just like she predicted, Brad snapped out of it. He let the Times lapse, the map and pins disappeared, and the magazines piled up in the corner, unread. Christmas was in the air and everyone seemed happier and even hopeful. But after the new year, my migraine headaches started again. I was missing work and spending too much time shut away in the spare bedroom.
One morning I looked in the mirror and saw a wine red blotch on my right temple running to the corner of my eye. I felt completely defeated. I didn’t want to explain this to people who would only think I was lying. I called Cathy and told her I had to quit BCC. I offered to come in after hours until she found someone to replace me. Within a month, she had my replacement.
Brad was glad I’d quit. He hoped the skin problem would now improve. Brad said he loved me and didn’t mind me being so colorful. He brought home macramé makings. He and I spent two or three nights a week working on intricate weaves and designs. Brad thought there might be a home business in our tinkering.
I started spending a lot of time at Nora’s. I filled in when she was on her service calls. I answered the phone, took orders, and listened to customers describe malfunctioning equipment. Half the time the customer was malfunctioning. I often found the problem by walking the customer through the machine’s troubleshooting list. This meant that Nora had fewer service calls and her customers were impressed that she had an assistant.
As my life became less stressful, I began to look like a normal person again. But one morning I was achy from having slept in one position too long. When I got up, I found a bruise developing on my hip. I pushed on the bruise with my fingertips. Blood red splotches rose up immediately where I had pressed. I shuddered and vowed never to do that again.
Sweet Nora didn't ask about these blemishes that appeared then cleared up in a few weeks. I’d told her what was wrong with me. She’d listened politely, but like everyone else, I knew she didn’t believe me.
Early in May, I suffered a migraine that laid me low for a week. It was so unfair. The weather was dry, warm and sunny. I didn’t really see Brad at all during that time. I heard the shower in the morning and the TV in the evening. He pushed notes under the door if he wanted to tell me of family news or something good on TV.
On Saturday evening, I felt well enough to eat a real meal. Brad wasn’t home. He left a note that he’d be at Bruno’s watching the basketball game. I went upstairs, opened the windows to let in the fresh air. Then I showered and was shocked to see the new blotches on my arms and legs. I looked at my face in the mirror and saw one developing on my right jaw. I felt so depressed. I watched some TV then took a sedative and crawled back into bed in the spare room. I didn’t want Brad to see how I looked.
I was having a very odd dream. People were coming up the stairs. Brad was whispering. “Quiet, don’t wake Sisy. Shhhhh! She has migraines.” I dropped back into a deep sleep but was soon jerked out of it by a hacking cough.
I stood up, a bit wobbly from the sedative, and put on my robe. “Brad, are you sick?” I worried. Our bedroom door was ajar and the light was on. I pushed the door open. “Brad?”
I stared at the bed trying to understand what I was seeing. I blinked several times until the woman came into focus. No, a girl in my bed. She coughed several times and spit something up. She wiped her mouth on my pillow. The bile rose in my throat and I screamed, “Get out! Get out!” I kept screaming as I lurched to the bed and ripped the sheet off her. Then I staggered back from the stink of her nude body. My screams petered out to a quiet, “Oh” as I brought my hand to my nose.
Awake now, the girl opened her eyes wide. They were bloodshot and her skin had a sickly yellow cast. She dropped her jaw then snapped, “Oh, fuck me lady. Who did that to you?” Before I could grab her and rip out her hair, she scooped up her clothes, ran to the bathroom and locked the door.
I heard raspy breathing behind me and turned to see Brad passed-out in the chair. He still had all his clothes on except for one shoe that had dropped from his limp hand. I screamed. “You bastard. You stupid bastard.” Then I lurched over to him and hit him up side the head as hard as I could. “How many times have you done this?”
Brad pitched sideways from my blow, put his hand over his ear, and tried to get his bearings. Then he rolled back, put his finger to his lips and said. “Shhhh, you’ll wake Sisy.”
The bathroom door opened a crack. I grabbed up Brad’s shoe. I'd kill her if I could. But there she stood, a punk teenager, clothes askew and waving my tooth brush with her needle scarred arm. “Now you calm down right now!” She demanded. “I’m not going to charge your brother. Look, the old man passed out!” She spit toothpaste toward Brad. It landed on the carpet. “They can’t get it up when the booze takes them.” Then she stuck my toothbrush back into her mouth. I hurled Brad’s shoe at her head with all my might. She pushed the door closed just as the shoe smashed into it.
I moved back to the bed, picked up the pillow and gasped. She is spitting up blood. I ran to Brad and leaned in close to his ear. “She’s diseased! Dying from the smell of her!” I wailed and turned toward the bathroom door. “How will I get this stink out of my house?” Then the horror of it all hit me. “AIDS!” I howled in agony.
Brad stirred. He leaned forward and shouted. “Shut up! Just shut up will you?” Then he snatched the pillow from me and bent it over his head to block out my screams. I could see the blood stains near his puffy mouth.
“Don’t Brad.” I whispered as I bent over him and tugged at the pillow trying to pull the contagion away. Then I heard someone running down the stairs. I reeled into the hall only to hear the front door open and shut. At the top of the stairs, I sat down on the step trying to clear my head so I could make sense out of what had just happened. Was it only a horrible nightmare?
Brad staggered down the hall and saw me sitting there. He looked at me warily and squeezed past. His ear was swollen and red where I’d hit him. He leaned on the wall to steady himself as he inched down the stairs. Then he staggered across the living room and into the kitchen. I heard him open the fridge and open a can of beer. It was a nightmare but no dream. I screamed like a wounded animal and buried my head in my hands.
Suddenly there were people in the living room asking Brad questions. Someone came up the stairs to me. “I’m Officer Lara Dardeen with the Domestic Disturbance Team. Are you all right?” When I looked up, she gasped. “Are the paramedics on the way?” She yelled at the officers below.
Brad started struggling with the cop who had snatched his beer. Then he spouted off. “She’s okay. Look she’s really just fine. Tell them Sisy.”
Then Officer Dardeen looked at me. “Are you willing to file charges?”
“Yes! Get him out of here.”
The paramedics came in and rushed up the stairs to me. After a quick once over, they saw my frightful blotches showed no swelling and my skin was cool. Then they checked Brad making him sit down. A paramedic told the arresting officer. “If you’re taking him to the holding tank, keep him under observation. Medically, he’s in bad shape.”
The officer said “Gotcha” and moved to help Brad to his feet. Brad sprang up, spun away from the officer and lurched to the bottom of the stairs.
“Sisy!” He looked up into my eyes. “D-don’t turn on me.”
I locked eyes with him and clinched my jaw.
The officers manhandled him into handcuffs and read him his rights. All the while, Brad held my gaze with his bloodshot eyes. I opened my mouth. I suddenly wanted them to leave him alone but the words didn’t come. Officer Dardeen, seeing that I was about to weaken, broke the spell by stepping between us. I looked up at her, she smiled and I forgot what I was going to say.
When the officers took Brad out, Nora slipped in the door. She ran up the stairs, sat next to me and held my hand. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Did you call 911?” Officer Dardeen asked Nora.
“Yes. When I heard Sisy scream, I was afraid he’d kill her.”
The paramedics had packed their things. Then one said. “Let’s spend a few minutes at the kitchen table before we go.” Nora put her arm around me and we walked to the kitchen. Then Nora got busy making tea.
Officer Dardeen was surprised to hear what the paramedic said. “Mrs. Duello, we don’t think you need to go to the emergency room. Your bruises look a lot worse than they are. I think you know that.” Then he looked at Officer Dardeen. “Assault and battery may not be the charge to file against Mr. Duello. Maybe Mrs. Duello but not him. We’ll leave you to decide what needs to be done.” Nora watched them go with a shocked look on her face.
Officer Dardeen walked the paramedics out. Then she called the arresting officer. “Don’t book Duello. Just hold him until someone can come get him.”
She listened than said. “I wish it were that simple. No, she likely waled on him.” Dardeen explained.
When she came into the kitchen, Officer Dardeen took Nora’s statement, thanked her for being civic-minded and helpful, then sent her home. Now it was my turn. “So you wacked him in the head. Why?”
“A prostitute.” I whimpered. “He brought a prostitute here.” Now dry sobs shook me. “To my home.” Officer Dardeen rubbed my shoulders and let me recover.
I used a tissue on my nose. “He was so drunk he couldn’t see she was underage, a drug user and very sick. She could have had hepatitis, T.B. or even AIDS. There wasn’t any sign that she knew anything about safe sex.”
“Are there body fluids?” She asked me gently.
“Yes there’s blood on a pillow, she spit on the carpet and she used my toothbrush.” I saw Officer Dardeen cringe.
“I’ll take that in as evidence. Perhaps it will help us get the young woman off the streets.” She sipped her tea and filled out forms. Then she said. “We won’t file charges, but you need to protect yourself from your husband’s drunkenness and bad judgment.”
“I filed a complaint on him once before. Do you have the forms with you?”
“You didn’t make that temporary protection order permanent, did you?” She asked as she handed me the forms from her briefcase. “Mrs. Duello, you must go to the hearing when it’s scheduled and make the order permanent.”
While I filled out the forms, Officer Dardeen examined the bedroom and collected the pillow, toothbrush, wrappers from cough drops, and a towel smeared with dirt. When she returned she said. “We’ll probably get some good prints off of these. If the girl’s ever been arrested, we’ll know who she is by morning. Don’t clean or go into the rooms tonight. We may want to dust it for prints. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know.”
She put my petition for temporary protection into her briefcase. “We’ll serve the papers on your husband tomorrow. Pack up his things then go visit Nora or your mother. An officer will bring your husband to get his things.”
By the time I was used to Brad being out of the house, my days formed a predictable routine. To keep loneliness at bay, I let the TV play all the time. The endless chatter kept me from dwelling on my problems. The big story was revolution in Nepal.
I had scrubbed the bathroom with disinfectant a dozen times. Shampooed the carpet twice. Got rid of the chair and mattress. Thrown out the soiled sheets. Bought a new foam mattress and new sheets. The new mattress did wonders for my skin problem. There were no pressure points to bring on the blotches.
The Seattle police picked up the woman who had invaded my home. She was 18 and the court easily pressured her into accepting a rehab program over jail time. Officer Dardeen called to tell me that the young woman didn’t have any of the dire diseases I’d feared. That was a relief.
Most afternoons, I helped Nora by selling equipment to her customers on commission. It didn’t amount to much but it helped. I felt in control for the first time in a long time. My blemishes were clearing up and the migraines were shorter and less intense.
I was beginning to feel hopeful about my life. Then one afternoon, I was at Nora’s while she was out on a service call. The phone rang and I answered. “Cedarland Business Machines.”
“Is this Mrs. Duello?” The voice was both sinister and vaguely familiar.
“Yes, can I help you?” I tried to sound competent and cheerful.
“Mrs. Duello, we met four years ago. My name is Rich Spear. I work with the FBI.” My heart froze. “The FBI is closing the Highwire case and I have a few questions. Can we meet?”
I wanted to scream “No! You fucking bastard” and slam down the phone. But I bit the inside of my lip and tried not to let him know how much he rattled me.
“Mr. Spear, surely you know how I feel about you and the FBI. I do not want to talk to you. Highwire Painters is out of business thanks to you.”
“How about Cedarland?” I let his simple, sinister question hang in the air and acted as if I had not heard him.
“What is your interest in Highwire Painters, Mr. Spear?”
“I want to meet with you. Just ask a few questions. Are you free tomorrow morning? I could come to your home.”
My skin crawled. I’d rather have the whore back in my house than him. “Any meeting between you and me will take place in your office at the Federal Building. You do have an office there. Don’t you Mr. Spear?”
After a long pause, he said. “I can arrange a meeting room for 10:00 A.M. tomorrow. I’ll meet you at the main reception desk. I look forward to seeing you again, Mrs. Duello.” Now I did slam down the phone. I was shaking with rage that formed into a tantalizing thought. “Bucket bombs and torches.” I whispered. Didn’t I hear that on the TV this morning? Terrorists in Nepal trying to bring down their government with bucket bombs and torches. If only I had the guts to try.
A cool, mountain breeze whipped my skirt around my legs as I walked in high heels up the sidewalk to the Federal Building. I pushed through the doors and looked around for Agent Spear. He wasn’t there so I signed in and chatted with the receptionist about the sudden change in the weather. I noticed the security camera mounted just above the clock and the TV monitors that showed who was going in and out the front door. I wonder if it had filmed me.
Finally a young woman approached, introduced herself and showed me to a room on the third floor. It was small with only a table and chairs for furniture. There were no windows, mirrors or cameras. The air was stale with the faint smell of sweat. I assumed it was an interrogation room. I felt my left cheek tingle in the way it does before the redness appears. Then an odd idea occurred to me. A blemish, used right, could be as effective as a bucket bomb. I sat down with my back to the door and noticed my fingers felt icy cold.
I waited for ten minutes and was about to leave when Rich Spear rushed into the room. He was breathing hard as if he had climbed stairs. “Sorry, Mrs. Duello, I’m running a little late today.”
He frowned and looked at me as if I were sitting in his chair. Then he walked over and sat down opposite me. He took out several file folders and looked through one of them. “Now you were going to tell me about Cedarland.” He said tipping his hand.
“No, I wasn’t.” I stood up abruptly. My chair tipped over backwards and hit the floor with a sharp smack. We both jumped. I started to cry and between sobs said. “You had questions about Highwire Painters. I have nothing to say about anything else.”
Spear stood scraping his chair back along the tile floor. He came over and picked up my chair and put it back behind my knees. I swayed a little and he grabbed my right arm to steady me. I looked at his hand and judged he was applying enough pressure to make the skin discolor.
“Sit down. Sit down.” He urged and pushed down on my arm. When I didn’t comply, he lost his temper and commanded sharply. “Sit down!” I just continued to look at his hand on my arm.
“You’re hurting me.” Instantly, he released his hold on my arm and walked back to his chair.
Spear took some deep breaths and tried again. “Please, Mrs. Duello, sit down.”
I did and looked around the room. “What is this room? Are you taping me?”
Spear sat down and said. “Yes, everything is recorded in this room.” He said eyeing me closely. “I apologize. I should have told you from the start.” He pushed the Highwire Painters file folder off to the side. Our business card was stapled to the outside of the file. The file in front of him said Cedarland Business Machines. He opened it. “Mrs. Duello, I am investigating Cedarland. You are in a unique position to provide information that would be invaluable to my investigation.”
He continued as if we were old friends. “I was hoping you would work with us as your father did. Vicente Flores was a valuable asset to this country. In fact, my supervisor knew your father and thought highly of him.”
My mind reeled at what this bastard was implying. “You are a liar. My father would never work with scum like you.” How dare this man slander my father’s memory?
“Have it your way Mrs. Duello. But you will help us.” Spear sneered at me.
“I do know a great deal about Cedarland Business Machines. I know that it is a legal, well-run business that contributes to the strength of the U.S. economy. Interview any Cedarland customer and you will get a glowing report about the service provided at a reasonable cost.” My head began to pound. I had to keep my voice from faltering.
I was terrified that this man would try to ruin Nora. Deport her or worse. My mind raced. Wasn’t there something else this man could ruin? Could I offer something so juicy and raw that the animal crouching behind Spear's eyes would snatch it?
“Aren’t you sworn to protect this country from enemies foreign and domestic?” I attacked, thinking the history books finally were going to help me. “Well, you have an enemy, domestic, that you refuse to see.” He blinked trying to follow my sudden shift.
“You investigated everyone at Highwire Painters except the owner.” I accused him. “Didn’t you look at that business card? Don’t you see the bucket and torch?” I pointed at the discarded file. “It’s just like a flashing neon light to a terrorist saying ‘I’m your contact. Call this number.’” Spear eyed me with disgust and deep suspicion. He didn’t look at the card but examined me closely. Probably trying to decide if I was sane. Was I? Well if insanity would protect Nora – I'll be a raving lunatic.
I fired accusations at him. I said anything that entered my mind. “Did you look into the consignments he sent from Arak, Iran? Do you know what was in them? Did the crates come in legally or were they smuggled? Did you know he was working with all kinds of foreign agents? Some at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Did you know he helped foreigners prepare for jobs in the U.S.? Helped them to speak like an American and blend in. Did you track down where he got the money to start Highwire Painters and buy his home free and clear? Do you know what painters can do to buildings, up high like that, where no one can see? Do you know what they can see from up there? Do you know the connections? The threat to national security?” Spear started scribbling notes. Something had caught his interest. But I wasn’t finished.
“Have you checked his bank accounts? How much does he have stashed in foreign countries? How about his phone calls and e-mail? What’s he taking back and forth across the border as we speak? Why is he making plans to go to Turkmenistan?” Now I was foundering, running out of steam. The throbbing in my head increased. I stopped and prayed that Spear had forgotten Cedarland forever.
“You hate your husband Mrs. Duello?” Spear asked tapping his pen suspiciously.
“He needs to be sent away for a long time.” I said flatly.
“You’ve made some provocative allegations. I will check them out. Can we talk again in about two weeks?”
“I’ll be out of town on vacation.” I locked his eyes in an icy stare. “I don’t ever want to see you again, Spear.”
“Well that’s going to depend on what I find.” Spear countered.
“No, I want you to listen carefully. If you bother me again, I’ll press charges against you for not advising me that I had the right to a lawyer. For luring me here under false pretense. For coercing me to answer your questions.” I was making it up. Hoping it sounded right.
“I never touched you.” He stood in order to get a better look at the red splotch growing on my cheek.
“You grabbed my arm, slapped me in the face, and knocked me off my chair.” I stood and held up my arm so he could see the red stain that looked like his hand print. “Shall we go see your supervisor?” The venom dripped from my voice. “My father’s friend.”
Spear flushed red with anger. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. “Get out of here, you bitch. You’re as vicious as your old man.” He was sputtering. “I don’t ever want to see you again.” A bit of his spit landed on my red cheek. He was appalled as I wiped the spit away; pressing just hard enough to make the skin change color to a bright blood red. I stood up and watched his face go ashen.
When I left Spear, he had his handkerchief out mopping his forehead, looking dazed and terrorized. I was sure, he would get rid of the tape and never contact me again.
I didn’t meet anyone in the hall, but stayed close to the wall as if I needed it for support. The elevator had a camera, so I gave a rendition of a frightened, abused woman. At the front door, I stopped at the receptionist’s desk and signed out. I tilted my head to the camera and passed my fingers lightly over my forearm to call attention to it. According to the clock, everything had taken less than 30 minutes. I shuttered and sniffled a little. The receptionist looked up from her magazine and I saw pity, then real alarm register on her face. She would remember that I had not looked this way when I went up. As I left, she spun the register around, made a note and grabbed her phone.
Across the street was a small shop that advertized Passport Photos. I walked in and asked “Can you make a photo with the time and date on it? Can you enhance the red color?”
“Sure, that’s easy." The clerk said. "I’ll remove the filter I use to tone down the red.”
In 15 minutes, I had an envelope with my photos in hand. I drove to Nora’s house and handed her the envelope. “This is insurance, Nora. Keep it in a safe place.” If Agent Spear forced my hand, I would explain the significance to both Nora and to Spear’s supervisor. But for now it was easier to let Nora think it had something to do with Brad.
“Nora, I’m going to leave town for a while. Probably about two weeks.” Again Nora assumed I was running from Brad.
Nora got her cell phone from her purse and put it in my hand. “Here, use this to call me. Promise me you’ll let me know how you are.”
All I knew was to go to family. Mother jumped at the chance to see her grandchildren and went with me. The tour took us to the dryside: Spokane, Boise then Portland. I called Nora once at each stop. The trip was exactly what I needed. I loved seeing my nieces and nephews. All together, I had 15 with one on the way. They helped me forget my troubles.
In Spokane we visited Leon, my oldest brother, and his wife. They have five sons and a daughter – most grown and out of the house. There were three grandkids and more on the way.
The evening before we left Spokane, my mother made everyone vanish so Leon could talk to me. Being the man of the family now, Mother expected Leon to tell me what I must do. We sat on the patio under the stars.
If Mother had instructed Leon, he ignored her. We talked about Flores. Leon wanted to hear how it had changed and how it had stayed the same. After I told him about seeing the jail where father worked, I asked Leon what he remembered.
“Well Sisy, I spent a lot of time there. But I know almost nothing about it. It sounds like it hasn’t changed too much. The old stone building that faced the square held the police court and offices. The jail was newer and built onto the back. Our father was El Hombre in that place – you would not have recognized him Sisy.”
“His office was on the ground floor near three doors: one to the jail, the exit to the parking lot and the cellar steps leading down to an old, heavy wooden door. When it was hot, I’d go there after school. It was cool sitting on the cellar steps, reading or doing homework. In fact, it was the coolest place in town. I could see the prisoners coming in. It’s funny but I don’t remember seeing prisoners leave.”
“El Hombre warned me never to go past the cellar door.” Leon shuddered. “I might have disobeyed father but El Hombre, never. He said there was a maze of tunnels and chambers built by the Maya. He said I’d get lost, or worse, blunder into the tomb of an ancient Mayan priest who would cut out a boy's heart. I had heard tales whispered around town that the mythical priest depended on jailers to bring him sacrifices.”
About then, the family returned and I slipped off to bed. But it was very hard to sleep. How could a loving father also be El Hombre with a reputation that would make a prisoner confess to anything?
I was groggy the next morning when Mother shook me awake and said we needed to get an early start. At Boise, Rio welcomed us and I could tell he was glad we had come. He had recently separated from his wife but his two sons were living with him. The boys were both in high school and heavy into sports. They were Brad’s favorite nephews and each one wanted to know how he was and what he was up to. It was odd talking about Brad as if nothing were wrong.
Rio’s daughters came by later. They lived with their mother. The Flores women prepared Rio’s favorite foods for dinner. We joked and laughed into the evening. My nieces cleaned up then joined Mother for her favorite show, the Sopranos. The boys excused themselves and drove off to meet friends. Rio and I held down the kitchen table.
I looked at Rio and said. “So what are you and I going to do, Rio?”
“I was hoping you’d have an idea or two, Sisy. This is my first time separated.”
“Let’s go for a walk. I’ve been too long in the car.” We put on jackets and told the girls where we were going. Rio’s neighborhood was quiet and delightful.
“You know it’s going to get around that I was seen with a beautiful young woman. It will make Karen jealous until she puts two and two together.” Rio speculated. “Here take my arm, Sisy. I might as well get some mileage out of this. Let’s go down this street. It’s where Karen’s best friend lives.”
“You’re awful, Rio, but no worse than me.” I told him what I’d done but left out the details.
Rio looked at me as if he’d never seen me before. “Well you certainly are padre's little girl.”
“Leon said he was El Hombre.” I laughed.
“It’s no laughing matter, Sisy. He earned it. As they say, he walked the walk and talked the talk. We didn’t see it. At home he was just padre. But you can imagine what life at that jail was like. Did you know he was almost killed three times?”
“No, but I guess that’s not unusual for a jailer in Guatemala.”
Coming here was the best thing that happened to him. El Hombre didn’t immigrate with us. Padre spent his old age trying to get right with God. I hope he succeeded.”
“Me too.” I squeezed Rio’s arm. We walked home in silence.
When we got to the porch, Rio said. “I wrote a poem when I was 15. I’ll try to find it for you before you leave. It will help you understand.”
He did find it and slipped it into my purse when we said goodbye.
“Come back soon. I love having you here.” Rio and his kids waved.
It was a long slog to Portland. By the time we got to The Dalles, I was sick of being trapped in the car with mother. She had decided to lecture me. If I heard another “Didn’t I tell you so?” I was going to scream. She wanted me to stay separated until Brad dried out and got into AA. She had nothing good to say about him.
As we got closer to Portland, I realized Juan was going to pile on in bad mouthing Brad. I fumed and brooded. I didn’t deserve this. Then it occurred to me that Brad didn’t deserve the grief I was causing him. Suddenly, feelings of guilt and impending doom washed over me.
My eyes filled with tears. When I tried to wipe them away on my shirt sleeve, the car drifted onto the gravel. I corrected a little too hard and startled mother. She looked at me and sat up. “Are you okay, Sisy? Do you want me to drive? My God girl, you are as white as a ghost. Let’s stop and get some coffee.”
“I’m okay. Really mother. Just talk to me. There’s something I’ve wanted to know for months. Do you still own property in Flores?”
“We did for a long time. Don’t ask me why your father wanted to keep it. We knew we'd never go back. A German archeologist rented the house for years. Shortly after your father died, I sold it to him." She thought for a few minutes. "That archeologist died mysteriously. He was trussed up in a fetal position and lashed into the swing you kids played on. His eyes, nose and mouth were sewn shut. Only his corn-silk hair swirled in the breeze. It makes me shiver to think of it. He was a heartless soul.” She quickly made the sign of the cross for having intruded on the dead.
“Heartless?” I asked and shivered.
Mother turned down the air conditioner. “Let’s talk about something else.”
We didn’t talk at all. Instead Mother listened to country western music on the radio. At Defiance, I drove to a small restaurant. As we hurried to the door, a gust of hot wind threw up the grit from the curb. Inside, we found a booth and used napkins to dust off our shoes.
Mother, with her iron stomach, was hungry and ordered apple pie with ice cream. I ordered coffee and my stomach began to churn. I grabbed my purse and told Mother I had to use the bathroom. Inside, I pushed the bathroom door closed and locked it. Then I leaned on it trying to control the rising panic. I was searching in my purse for Nora’s cell phone when Rio’s poem fell to the floor.
I slid down and sat on the cold tile. My heart was racing. I picked up the piece of paper and read.
Appearing before the dawn,
Silent women in travail.
Pictures beloved and cradled,
Arrayed outside Flores’ jail.
Brown, bare feet baked by the sun.
Bearing brutal betrayals.
Blood of their blood bids them come.
Burning till justice prevails.
I was stunned. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I looked at the ceiling and tried to loosen my collar. The thought of Mother finding my lifeless body brought on wheezing gasps. I frantically searched for the phone again.
I found it and dialed Bruno’s number. The phone rang several times then the answering machine offered to take my message. A whisper was all I could manage. “Bruno are you there? Brad? Is anyone there? Please, please pick up.”
I heard the phone click. “Sisy? Are you okay?”
“Oh Brad.” And I broke down crying with relief. Suddenly I could breathe again.
“Where are you? I don’t know the number you’re calling from.”
“It’s Nora’s cell phone. I’m in Oregon with my mother.” I sobbed.
“Visiting Juan? Is that why you’re so upset?”
“I needed to hear your voice. I needed to know you are all right.” I crawled to the toilet and grabbed some toilet paper to wipe my eyes and nose.
“I’m okay but I miss you, Sisy. I’ve been lighting candles. Hoping you’ll let me come home. I’ve talked to Father Beacon. He’s helped me understand our problems and my problem.” Brad said simply.
“I’ll be back in Seattle late afternoon on Monday.” I was finely calming down and thinking straight. “Can I call you tomorrow?”
“Call in the afternoon. Bruno and I are taking Mom to Mass. It’s part of her Mother’s Day present. A month of Sundays.” Brad laughed.
“Tell your Mom and Bruno ‘Hi’ for me.” I said and added. “I love to hear you laugh.”
“I love you, Sisy.” He said quietly.
“I love you too.” I felt the panic again and cried out. “Oh Brad, please be careful.”
“You be careful.” He laughed. “You’re the one traveling with your mother and visiting Juan. Bye until tomorrow.”
“Bye.” I sighed.
Mother was finished eating when I returned. “You okay? You’ve been crying. How about I drive and you talk? I had the waitress put your coffee in a Go Cup.” We started out again but were 20 miles east of Portland before I was able to tell her.
“I’m not going to ask for a permanent protection order.”
“Oh, Sisy.” And that was all she said until we got to Juan’s.
I called Brad at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday. He answered on the second ring. “Hi Sisy. I’m glad you called.”
“Hi. How’s my favorite Italian?”
“Oh, Bruno’s fine.” Brad teased.
“Let’s try again. How’s my favorite husba...” The panic rose out of nowhere and clamped my throat closed.
“What’s wrong Sisy?” I could hear the worry in his voice.
“Brad, I’m so scared. I’ve done something so awful.” I whispered. “I’ll never be able to forgive myself.” I took deep breaths trying to fight down the panic.
“Look just get yourself home safely.” Brad was worried and ignored my guilty plea. “There isn’t anything we can’t work out if we’re together. You only have one more day. Try to have a good time at Juan’s. You don’t get to see him often.”
“Let’s go to supper tomorrow. How about pizza?”
“That sounds great. Meet me at Mario’s at 6:00.”
“Oh, thank you, Brad.” I said remembering that Mario’s served no alcohol. “I love you so much. I can’t wait to see you.”
“The candles must be working then.” Brad said and we both laughed.
Mario’s was packed and noisy. Brad stood up when I came in so I could see him. I moved through the crowd in a zigzag path and hugged him tight. I could detect the sour smell of beer on his shirt and thought maybe Brad hadn’t kept up with his laundry. He kissed me and his breath smelled minty.
“You look so skinny. Didn’t your family feed you?” He teased. “Sit down, pizza will fatten you up.” We spent the next hour eating and catching up. Brad wanted to hear all about his nephews and nieces.
When the dishes were cleared away, he set two medicine bottles in front of me. “Remember when you had all the tests done last year? Your doctor sent me an email that suggested we both take these. I meant to get them for you but I forgot. I really feel bad about forgetting. I’ve been taking these for the past three weeks and I feel a lot better. I think you will too.”
I looked at the labels. One was Rutin, the other Silymarin. Brad motioned for the waiter to bring more water.
“I’ll try anything. The panic attacks are so awful. They come out of nowhere.”
“Yeah.” Brad said lowering his eyes. “I kind’a know how that feels.”
“Do you have your things in the truck?” I asked and he nodded with a smile. “Then we should go home.”
The following days were happy ones. I still felt nervous but there were no more panic attacks. Nora was so glad I was home, but worried too. I could tell by the way she looked at me and bit her bottom lip saying nothing.
I tried hard to earn Brad’s forgiveness. I cooked his favorite meals and tried to please him in bed. He was looking very sexy and fit. His skin had lost its redness and his hair found its sheen. He said it was a combination of a loving wife and the pills we were taking.
I had fallen back into my habit of having the TV on all the time. I wish I hadn’t. There was endless speculation about terrorist sleeper cells. The millennium bomber was cooperating with the FBI in Seattle, exchanging information for leniency. Then there was the Puerto Rican who was arrested in Chicago and held without bail on the charge of plotting a dirty bomb attack. And the worse for me, horrifying pictures came out showing the American Taliban in U.S. custody.
The final straw came in late July. I let myself into Nora’s kitchen and found her in tears. She was so upset, trying to talk, but babbling instead. I listened but couldn’t quite understand why giving money to a charity in Lebanon would get her deported.
She grasped my hands and explained. “You remember when you and Brad contributed money for the Holy Land several years ago?” I nodded at her and she continued. “Israel claimed it was a front group to fund terrorist activities. I know the people who ran the charity. It does much good and does not buy bombs and guns. A distant cousin of mine was arrested in Texas. I’m so frightened for him and his poor children.” Then she squeezed my hands and told me what was really worrying her. “Sisy, my brother worked for him.”
My head throbbed and felt like it was in a vise. My heart was pounding and I was sweating. Nora noticed and urged me to go lie down in a dark room. I said I would but promised her I’d check on her in the evening.
“Please don’t worry about me Sisy. I know that you did what you could to discourage the FBI. The Photo Shop is a client of mine and his wife is the receptionist at the Federal Building. They say there’s a lot of gossip about what happened the day you were there. Your agent has been called on the carpet for screwing up a tape. Threatened to be reassigned to Butte, Montana. Do you think the photos of your bruises will make a difference?” She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
“I don’t know. It might slow them down. Or help the people of this country understand all the evil our government is doing in their name. Homeland Security when it started. Homeland Insecurity now and getting worse. Nora, I’ll see you in a few hours. Try not to worry.”
At home, I took a sedative and slept for three hours. When I woke up the pain was manageable. But I could feel the panic welling up. I had sacrificed Brad to help Nora. I didn't know what I’d set into motion. I didn’t know how to set it right again. I wanted to talk to Brad, but I didn’t know where his work site was. I couldn’t think clearly enough to find out.
Suddenly I remembered what Brad said. “The candles must be working.” I grabbed my purse and drove to the church. The interior was dim. I dipped my fingers into the holy water and crossed myself. Then, I turned toward the altar and bent my knee. It buckled and I ended up on my hands and knees. I sat back on my heels and prayed – for Brad, for his safety, for his protection.
Finally, I grabbed the pew and pulled myself up. I crept along, pew by pew, making my way toward the altar. Finally, I stood before the rows of candles and fumbled with the taper. With difficulty, I finally got a candle wick to light. I put all the money I had into the offering box. With my head throbbing, I collapsed into a heap of dread before the altar.
“Sisy.” A soft voice said. “You’ve been here nearly an hour. Won’t you come to my study for a cup of tea?”
“Thank you Father Beacon.” I let him help me stand.
In his study, I took the tea cup, sipped the warm liquid, and stared at the floor. Father said. “Can I be of help, Sisy?”
I looked up and blinked. “I have done something so wicked that it can’t be forgiven.” Once I started, everything poured out in one long confession. When it was all out, we sat in silence.
After a while, Father Beacon spoke softly. “You are not the first to deal with this problem, my child. People in authority have coerced others to take part in their illegal and immoral actions throughout history. The Inquisition, witch hunts, Holocaust, McCarthyism. I pray everyday that we won’t be adding Homeland Security to the list. These horrors only succeed by forcing people to make impossible choices in order to protect themselves and others they love.” The air in the warm office felt heavy and we sat silently for a long while.
Then Father Beacon began softly. “Sisy, in your anger, you acted on the spur of the moment and took the path that you thought would do the least harm. But now in your confusion and fear, you have turned away from God. In your guilt, you are condemning yourself to hell and walling yourself away from His blessings. The separation feels like you are utterly lost. You think He has abandoned you. But the truth is you are not lost at all. You can tear down the wall you have built.”
I looked up into his eyes and he continued. “Yes, you can tear down the wall. It’s quite simple. You replace your anger with patience. Patience for the shortcomings that you see in Brad and in yourself. Patience to let God take you down the path He’s chosen for both of you.”
I tried to absorb what Father Beacon had said. Could it really be that simple? Then he stood and gathered up the tea cups. I slowly stood too. “Thank you Father. You know that tomorrow is our tenth, or rather, our first wedding anniversary.”
“Yes. Congratulations.” Father smiled and looked at his watch. Then he walked me back to the sanctuary. “About this time of day, there’s another wayward soul who sometimes stops by the church.”
Father Beacon stopped at the door. Cool air swept out of the sanctuary and made me shiver. I looked where Father Beacon pointed and saw Brad in his work clothes lighting the candle next to mine. Brad looked up. When he saw me, he smiled.
אּאּאּ Freno אּאּאּ