#7 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley
| We were always a close family. Jim and Betty married at the age of seventeen, and they never recommend doing so to their children. However, one could look at them and see the benefits of such a match. But, we can also acknowledge that not everyone is Jim and Betty. That makes a great deal of difference in the outcome.
Once, when we went to the zoo, Abigail was enthralled with the monkeys, as only an 8 year-old can be, while Greg listened to his iPod and chewed his cheek. This was a habit that annoyed us all, but especially Betty, who couldn’t understand where he had picked up such a bad habit. We didn’t complain, however, because we understood the fragility of a young man’s personality at the age of fifteen.
Betty couldn’t shake the feeling of failure sometimes. Whenever she would look at Abigail, there was a longing in her heart to hold her close. But, though we were a close family, we were far from affectionate, and I think that Jim regretted that more than any of us.
We never witnessed Jim and Betty kissing. We never witnessed hugs. We forged on through the world as a family that held onto the belief that one day we would all be able to look back and answer the doubt within our hearts. We didn’t often put a name to the feeling inside but later, many years down the road, we would look back and know that the feeling was fear.
Abigail grew up to be quite fetching. Greg kept to himself and his iPod, which seemed to make his world larger than we could ever make it in the family. When Abigail came home in love one day, Greg announced that he was joining the military. We felt the foundation crack.
Most times, Betty would stay up late and watch late night television. We would never hear her laugh out loud at anything that was said, even if it was amazingly clever and funny. The most that would occur would be a slight smile upon her full lips. Her eyes never twinkled. Abigail, looking back, had to wonder if hugs would have changed all that. But, in the moments that we lived, we didn’t dare cross that bridge first.
Abigail’s son was born when she was fifteen and we did our best to overlook the absence of a father. Abigail didn’t name him, ever. Even later, to her son, she maintained that his father was the man that had raised him, the man she had married when Billy was 7 years old. Betty felt like a greater failure from then on and, years later, when we acknowledge the fear we had felt, she knew that it was her fault, even though we all assured her that it wasn’t her fault at all.
Greg served in the military and never truly excelled. One day, he rescued a fellow soldier at the great risk of his own safety. He was given honors and medals and he wrote us about the excitement of it all. Then, he stopped writing. He lived on his life without us. Maybe we weren’t as close as we believed.
Jim had a heart attack and Greg returned home. Once we laid eyes on him, we knew that he had changed too much for us to truly know what he thought anymore. Betty noted that he still chewed his cheek and she grew more irritated every day in his presence. He didn’t care. He told Abigail that her son was quite handsome at 6 years old and that he had a friend he wanted her to meet. It just happened to be the man he saved and was bedecked with medals for. His name was Brian. We would always remember the way that he focused on Abigail and Billy.
Jim healed better than the doctors believed he would and Betty was glad. Abigail received letters from Brian constantly, though we never heard from Greg. When Brian married Abigail, there was genuine happiness all around. Before she moved away with Billy to live her life as Brian’s wife, we all sat down and talked. Greg had come for the wedding and Brian had taken Billy to the circus.
It was then that we voiced the fear and finally named it. Abigail said it best, in a trembling voice, when she asked, “Did you love me at all?” There was silence and we all realized that that was what we had truly feared all along. Betty cried and Jim held her while Greg comforted Abigail and we all allowed ourselves to be hugged for the first time in our memories. Healing began that day. Greg, Abigail, Brian, and Billy stay in touch now. We were always a close family.