I am resurrecting this blog once again. I didn’t plan to stop posting, it just sort of happened. First, to give you a quick update on my personal life. I’ve finally moved into the city, right downtown in the heart of the action. I love it here. Philadelphia is such a gorgeous city and I’ve been dying to get back. It took me longer than I expected but it all worked out for the best. I’ve gone and fallen in love since the last time I posted many months ago. She is a beautiful, kind, passionate woman, and everything is going wonderfully. I’m a very lucky man.
My writing projects are going quite well. I’m currently seeking a literary agent for my two non-fiction projects, two powerful memoirs that I’ve been asked to write. I’m editing a fiction novel for someone, and I’m finally getting back to work on my own fiction novel.
Today I received an e-mail from an agent that I had queried on both non-fiction projects. She ended up passing on both of them, but this time she said she decided to Google me, and it seems she came across this blog. Her e-mail was encouraging and supportive, and she wants me to keep her in mind for future projects. I’ve received some affirming rejection letters in my day, but this one tops the cake. And that’s what made me realize that I need to get back to writing here.
In addition to what I’ve done with this blog in the past, a combination of poetry and spiritual reflections, I’m also going to use this as a space to share my other creative writings. From time to time I will post an excerpt from my novel, just to give you a sense of why I love writing fiction and to generate some interest as I get closer to completion and hopefully publication. Fiction writing for me is an extension of my spirituality. I’ve always been inspired by the likes of Dickens and Dosteovsky, who use powerful stories to shed light on very common human struggles of faith, family, relationship, and inner discovery. That’s what I hope to bring to my own fiction pursuits.
The novel I am currently writing is called When Brian Came Home. It it is the story of Brian O’Grady,the son of an alcoholic, abusive father, and whose mother is a kind, compassionate, generous woman of a very deep Catholic faith. After leaving home in his early 20s, Brian has not returned in over three years, and has only just before the chapter I’m posting here spoken to his father for the first time, albeit briefly. Brian himself is going through a profound spiritual struggle, vacillating between disbelieving in God entirely, or deciding that he’s real, and he’s a bastard.
In the chapter I am about to post, Chapter 9, Brian returns home for the first time in three years. He has just seen his mother crying, though she didn’t see him. He assumes it’s something his father has done. In the chapter preceding this, the father, Bill O’Grady, alone in the house and sobering up for the first time in days, has a very violent reaction to the inner demons that rise up in him when he looks back on his life. Brian enters the home expecting to confront his father. His father is not there, but there is a bloody trail of his presence that leaves Brian confused. And that’s where we pick up here, in Chapter 9 of When Brian Came Home:
“Oh for God’s sake, what’s he done now?” Brian surveyed the bathroom, trying to piece together some mental reenactment of how his drunken father could have managed all of this glass, all of this blood, and yet somehow have made it out of the house. Did he fall out of the shower and into the mirror? That would take some interesting twisting of his body. Did he pass out shaving and just smash into the mirror? His blade was put away too neatly for that. Nothing made sense. Did this have anything to do with his mother crying? He doubted it, but who knows?
The real question now was what to do? He wasn’t entirely sure what he had been planning to do when he saw his father. He had been working under the assumption that Bill was the reason she was crying, and nothing he found in this scene contradicted that assumption. But at the very least it left him highly confused.
He could just call his mom, but he didn’t want to upset her just yet before doing some more investigating. He decided to give his sister a call. Mom tells her everything, Brian thought, so if anyone would know what had her so upset, Lauren would. And maybe she’d give him an idea of what to do about this mess he’d just walked into here. She picked up on the third ring.
“Hey little bro! What’s happening?” Lauren sounded perky as always.
“You at work, Lauren?” Brian didn’t think his voice sounded worried, but his sister picked up on everything.
“No, I’m home. Mom’s here, actually. What’s wrong, Bri? ”
“Mom’s there? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, sure she’s okay. What’s going on, Brian? You don’t sound good.”
“God, you’re just like Mom. No, don’t say anything to her, it’s just that I saw her downtown a while back, and she was crying.” He explained everything, leading up to his walking into the house, when Lauren cut him off.
“Oh, was this about an hour ago? Yeah, she’s fine, Bri. She was on the phone with me, in fact. She wasn’t upset, baby bro. She was happy. I’ve got some news. Wanna take a guess?”
“Probably not. Just tell me.”
“Oh, you’re no fun! Fine. Brian William O’Grady, are you ready to be an uncle?”
Brian was silent a minute, trying to process the emotional switch that was being flipped in him. “Holy crap, Lauren! Are you serious? You’re pregnant?”
“That’s right, Nick knocked me up!” Lauren laughed at her own irreverence. Ellen was sitting next to her on the red Ikea sofa, and just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“Wow, Lauren! Congratulations! When did you find out? Nick’s got to be so excited!”
“Oh yeah, he’s excited. You know Nick, he’s of course a little nervous, still hasn’t gotten a job offer, but he technically doesn’t finish his JD for another six weeks, so he’s got time. And I’m doing well enough, plus we still have money saved from the wedding. But hey, he’s a worrier. One of us has to be, I guess.” Lauren laughed, and for a moment Brian forgot that he was still standing beside a dried up pool of his father’s blood, until he shifted and heard the glass crunch beneath his feet.
“Oh crap, Lauren, I almost forgot why I called. I hate to think that the asshole is going to ruin another otherwise happy moment, but have you heard from Bill recently?”
“You mean Dad?” Lauren understood Brian’s loathing of their father, but a big part of her felt sorry for him. But she also knew that he had treated Brian a thousand times worse than he treated her. “No, I haven’t heard from him. Why, what’s up?”
“Well, like I said, after I saw mom crying, I decided to come home and confront him. Only problem is, he isn’t here.”
“Okay, so he’s not there. Hey, maybe he went out to look for a job at last! We can dream, right?” Lauren laughed again, only this time it was forced, as if she were trying to sugarcoat her own disappointment in their father.
“Well, I’m pretty sure he’s not. I actually think he might be hurt. The house almost borders on a crime scene right now.” Brian scanned around and again followed the trail of blood with his eyes, across the hallway and beginning down the stairs. There was a bloody handprint on the wall, underneath the row of family portraits that would deceive any intruder into thinking he had broken into the home of a loving, happy family.
Brian explained to Lauren the blood and broken glass, and terror struck Ellen’s heart as she witnessed her daughter’s frightened expression, the gasps as her hand pressed to her heart. Lauren hung up and told her mother all that Brian had said. Brian was going to call the hospital and his friend John Wolf and find out what he could. Given Bill’s history it was difficult to discern if this was a police matter or not, but John would help him out, he was sure.
Ellen hugged her daughter tightly, and apologized that such a dark shadow had to be cast on such a celebratory day. Ellen had been so overjoyed with the news that she would be a grandmother that she momentarily had forgotten about her own news, the real reason why Brian had seen her crying. She knew she would have to deal with that soon enough, but right now she was too numb to process anything. Besides, Lauren needed her now. But first and foremost, she had to find her husband.
Ellen stopped on the sidewalk in front of her house, her heart pounding like a hammer as she saw the police cruiser double-parked outside, the door open, the officer she assumed to be John Wolf speaking with her son in the doorway, their eyes fixed on the trail of blood that now led right to the spot where Ellen stood, frozen in horror.
“Mom!” Brian darted out to his petrified mother. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the top of her head. “Hey Mom, don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine. I checked the hospitals and Bill isn’t there. John’s got some guys out looking around. Bill’s going to be fine. John said it’s a good amount of blood, but not enough to be deadly.” John had told Brian to say that to Ellen, just to help keep her calm, but in all honesty he wasn’t so sure. It was a lot of blood.
Brian guided his mother into the house, and John Wolf introduced himself. He left her his card and showed himself out, promising to check back in as soon as he had any more information. He assured Ellen that they would find her husband and bring him back safe.
“Good, that way I can kill him,” Ellen laughed nervously.
“Well, ma’am, just wait till I leave before you do. I’d hate to have to testify as a witness.” John grinned boyishly, then placed his cap on his head and returned to his car.
After Brian showed his mother the scene upstairs, which she viewed stoically, they walked down the the kitchen, where Brian made them both a cup of tea.
“You know, I tried so many times to convince your father to get a cell phone, just in case of emergencies. But he said he didn’t need it, that it was an unnecessary expense. He always hated technology.” Of course he did, Brian thought. Why wouldn’t he hate something Brian had shown an interest in since a young teenager?
“He’s gonna be fine, Mom.”
Brian questioned the wisdom of what he was about to say next, paused a moment as his mother gazed blankly into her cup, and then decided he had to ask.
“Mom, I know this might not be the right time, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How come you’ve stayed with him all these years?” Brian regretted asking the moment the words left his mouth, but it was out there now.
His mother sighed deeply and took a sip of her tea. “Oh Brian, I’d be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind. There were times perhaps when I was close. After his DUI I really had had it, and a few months later, when he wasn’t even looking for work anymore, I was sure I would leave. We had had a nasty fight, and I was begging him to quit drinking. I even went to an AA meeting myself and got someone to come talk to him, someone from the program. Bill was furious, I could tell, but he never said anything. He just thanked the man for coming, showed him the door, and then poured himself a drink, and then another, and then another.”
“Fin was spending the week at Grandmom and Grandpop’s, and of course you and Lauren were already both gone by then. It was just us, and I was mad as hell. I went around the house, searching everywhere for his hidden stashes of liquor. I was going to end this once and for all. I was going to take away all his liquor and all his money. I’d hide my purse from him and cut up his debit card.”
“But then something happened, something that made me realize why I had never left him, and never would. I was in a fury, tearing through our closet, going through every box, searching in his shoes, everywhere. Then I came across a box, a wide shoebox, like for pair of snow boots or something. But it was old, ragged. Your father wasn’t one to hold onto things, never accumulated much, so it struck me as odd. This box was torn and faded and barely holding together. I picked it up and shook it gently. It sounded like papers inside. I lifted off the lid, and when I realized what was inside, I knelt down and just started to cry.”
Ellen paused, sipped her lukewarm Earl Gray, her eyes glistening. She looked up at her son who caught her gaze, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“Inside that box your father had kept letters, cards, ticket stubs, remembrances going all the way back to when we were teenagers. He even had one of those little conversation hearts that said ‘Kiss me’ that I had put in his lunch one Valentine’s Day. And the thing is, your father has never, never been a sentimental man. He doesn’t hold on to anything. But stuffed away in our closet he kept a box filled with memories of me, of us, tokens telling the story of how in love we once were. And the thing is, while over the years the collection didn’t accumulate quite as heavily, he still kept all of the birthday cards, even little notes that I had written him on the way to job interviews.”
“Up until that point, I was certain your father had stopped loving me long ago. I just thought he had forgotten how to love completely. And to some extent maybe he did. But somewhere deep down in that heart of his, that heart that I fell in love with, the heart that he had once given entirely to me, with which he loved me with so much passion, somewhere a flicker of that love was still alive.”
“Your father treated you horribly, Brian. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever forgive him for the way he treated you. But he was truly a good man once. The man I fell in love with was truly, sincerely, a good man. And I don’t make any excuses for him, but something happened along the way, and life just broke him. But kneeling on my closet floor with that faded old shoebox, I just knew that somewhere, that goodness hadn’t died. I knew that I could never abandon him, because if I did, if I stopped loving your father, then whatever goodness was left might just die altogether. And I simply could not let that happen.”
For the second time in a week Brian was surprised by an unexpected appeal to his father’s somehow latent goodness. He again battled a simmering anger that the idea stirred up in him, because under no circumstances could he see his father as anything other than a bastard. But hearing his mother tell the story, watching her eyes glimmer as she remembered a man he never knew, for the first time Brian found himself wanting to know that man. He wanted to know the Bill O’Grady that she described, someone who loved, who remembered good times, who cared. That was a man he wished he could call Dad.
“Fr. Flynn really knows you well, Mom.”
Now it was Ellen’s turn for the brows to furrow in confusion. “Fr. Flynn? What are you talking about, Brian?”
“I went to see him last Friday. I remembered you saying he spent Friday afternoons at St. Ann’s in case anyone wanted to talk or whatever. I decided to talk to him about you. I wanted him to convince you to leave Bill. I always figured it was Catholic guilt keeping you with him. You know, Church teaching on divorce and all that. But he said you must see some goodness in him. I still don’t see it, but at least I know it’s your choice, and not something you feel trapped in.”
Ellen’s eyes narrowed as she looked at her son, uncertain how to process this little revelation. “You asked Fr. Flynn to talk to me about leaving your father? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Brian. What were you thinking?” Her voice wasn’t angry as much as it was amused.
“You know, Mom, I saw you crying this morning, and I thought it was something Bill had done again, that he had hurt you again somehow. I just couldn’t take the thought of you suffering any more because of him. That’s why I came here in the first place. I was going to confront him about it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done, but it wouldn’t have been pretty, I can tell you that.”
Ellen reached across and took her son’s hand in hers. “Brian, I love you. You really have such a good heart. I don’t ever blame you for the way you feel about your father, and I was so proud of you for calling him and telling him you forgive him. But I really worry about this hatred you’re still carrying around. It’s understandable, of course. But it’s not good for you. Forgiveness still needs to go deeper, Brian. I’m not saying you have to see the goodness in your father the way that I do. You never had a chance to see it in the first place, which I will always regret. But forgiveness can’t really happen until you at least try to look for it. If you can just try to find some goodness in him, then maybe you can really experience the healing that comes with forgiveness. That’s what I had to do. That day on the closet floor, my own bitterness began to melt away. Maybe it never left me entirely, but once I decided that there might be goodness still in him somewhere, some part of him capable of love, that’s when my heart began to mend.”
Brian shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and for a moment looked away from his mother. Then he met her gaze again and said, “Mom, I’m really happy for you and that you’ve been able to get to a point of forgiving Bill or whatever. But I’m not there, and I don’t think I ever will be.”
Brian and his mother sat in silence a half hour more, until at last Fin came home from school. Fin saw the blood, then saw Brian sitting at the kitchen table, in the house where he hadn’t stepped foot in over three years. Ellen got up and walked over to her youngest child, frozen in the front doorway, and wrapped her arms around him, pulling his head to her breast as she pressed her cheek to his forehead. She led him into the kitchen and explained all that had transpired.
“Well, he’s a tough kid, you know? I’m sure he’ll be fine. Don’t you worry, Mom. He’ll be passed out on the couch again in no time.”
Even Brian couldn’t help from laughing.