tagLoving WivesNever Welcomed Home Pt. 02

Never Welcomed Home Pt. 02



Over the next couple of months, I became cautiously optimistic about my relationship with Becky. Unless I was totally off base, I think she was starting to warm up to me. In addition to our discussing Abby, we talked about everything else going on in our lives.

When I told her I was training to be a therapist she thought it was a good move on my part.

"It's something you would probably be good at. After all, you know what it's like to hit rock bottom and pull yourself back up. I only wish you hadn't tried to take us down with you last time."

I bit my tongue while trying not to get angry. It was a harsh shot, but that was the new Becky. She said what she thought and didn't pull any punches. At least not with me.

Now, in addition to Friday night family dinners, on Mondays, after my 5:00 class, I would pick up something for dessert and stop over on my way home. It was a nice end to a long night of school. Abby still greeted me at the door with a kiss and hug, but that new excitement had waned. She simply was used to me being a part of her life. What I really wanted to know was if Becky was still dating Mr. Wonderful, but I never asked. I was afraid of the answer.

Instead of buying clothes and other things for Abby, I started to give Becky money every week to help with expenses. The first time I slid over a check she had a fit.

"We've done perfectly well without your money," she said, shoving the check back across the kitchen table at me.

"I know, but Abby's my daughter and I want to help."

It took some coaxing but she eventually took the money.

"I guess I can use it for the extras I haven't been able to afford." She didn't say it, but her eyes said thank you.

Now every Friday, when I gave Becky a check, she gave me a small smile and slipped it into her pocket. I was doing right by her and Abby. It felt good.


"For next Wednesday's meeting, I want everyone in the group to bring the person who means the most to them." Greg announced. "It really doesn't have to be just one person. I want to meet the people you're going through hell to impress."

I took the easy way out and asked Gran. I thought about asking Becky, but I wasn't sure she'd go and I didn't want to rock the boat just as things were starting to get better between us.

Gran turned me down. "Honey, I'm proud of what you've accomplished, but I'm not the person you need to take with you. I can think of two others who would be much better choices."

"Gran, I don't think Becky will go." It came out like a little kid whining to his mother.

"Well, you won't know until you ask—and I wouldn't wait until the last minute either."

I took Gran's advice and called Becky on Thursday.

"Steve, I don't know about this. Wouldn't you rather take your grandmother or parents?"

"Becky, I want you and Abby there with me. You two are the most important people in my life."

She said nothing for a moment. "Give me a day or two and I'll let you know."

We saw each other during the week but didn't discuss the meeting. I didn't want her to think I was pressuring her. I wanted her to come because she wanted to be there, not because she felt obligated.

When the following Wednesday rolled around, and I still hadn't heard back from her one way or another, I assumed the answer was no.

I wish she'd at least had the decency to tell me she didn't want to go.

Deep in thought, I jumped a foot when the phone next to the sofa rang.

"What time are you picking us up?"

I stammered for a moment or two before finally finding my voice. "When I didn't hear back from you I thought you weren't coming." I hoped she wasn't playing some sick joke on me.

"Steve, I said I would think about and I have. Now, what time are you picking us up or do you want Abby and I to meet you there?"

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes." It took me twenty but who's counting. I just wondered which Becky was coming tonight.

Greg had gone all out. There were meat and cheese trays, and cut up fruit and vegetables. He had two huge pots of coffee brewing and an assortment of diet sodas. When he saw me walk through the door with my two girls, he came over.

"So, this is the woman who's been keeping Steve on the straight and narrow. I'm happy to finally meet you, Becky, and this must be Abby." He got down on one knee. "Your daddy says you're the prettiest girl he knows and it looks like he wasn't exaggerating." Greg winked at

Becky as a huge smile spread across Abby's face. "You guys better dig in before the others eat all the good stuff. Maybe later we'll have a chance to talk."

Becky leaned over and whispered in my ear. "I think I like this guy already." The smile she gave me told me I had made the right choice bringing them tonight.

After dinner I introduced Becky and Abby to all the members of my support group, noting that even Keith had brought someone. After about an hour Greg asked everyone to take a seat.

"I'm going to keep this brief."

Someone in the back of the room yelled out, "Like that's ever going to happen." Everyone laughed.

"Seriously, I want to say how proud I am of the men in this room. Most came here not really knowing where they were headed. Now they have a purpose and a goal in mind. My hat also goes off to the special ones they've brought with them tonight."

Everyone in the room looked at each other. I saw a few smiles exchanged and even a kiss or two.

"I know living with them has been difficult, and maybe impossible at times. But, I want to tell every one of you, that these men have worked their butts off to get where they are today. I'm not going to stand up here and tell you they're cured and all is good. I'm not that naïve. But I will tell you they're committed to getting back the life they once had. All I ask is that you find it in your heart to give them another chance. And with that said, dessert is served." Everyone clapped and I could see a few teary eyes.

We stuck around until seven. We had to get Abby home to bed. Greg walked us out.

"Becky, if you ever want to talk, with or without Steve, my door is always open." Greg hugged her and told her not to be a stranger.

I thought it would be a quiet ride back to her apartment, especially with Abby fighting a losing battle with sleep in the back seat. It wasn't.

"Are all those guys Viet Nam vets?"

"All eleven of us spent at least a year over there. Some guys went over as early as 1968 and I think the last guy in our group came back in '73."

"And they're all screwed up like you?"

I still wasn't used to or in fact liked Becky's sharp tongue and almost reacted in an ugly way but thought better of it. We'd have to have words, and soon, about the disrespectful way she talked to me.

"Some not as much and a few a lot worse. What we have in common is that we're all dealing with P.T.S.D. issues."

"Are you going to get better? I mean are you ever going to be normal again?"

I shrugged. "Becky, what's normal? Everyone has issues that affect their everyday lives. How they deal with them is the key. I couldn't deal with mine, and it about killed me. I'm now recognizing what went wrong and I'm retraining my brain so it doesn't happen again."

She was quiet for a few minutes. "I hope you know that Abby and I are pulling for you."

That remark gave me hope. That is until she pulled it out from under me. Three weeks later we had a conversation that changed everything. ***

On Monday night I had just finished reading Abby a bedtime story and had tucked her in for the night. Her "I love you Daddy," melted my heart. I was walking on air when I caught up with Becky in the kitchen, she sipping a cup of coffee. I decided to share my joy.

"She is such a gem. You really did a great job bringing her up."

Becky smiled at my compliment. "She can be a handful at times but I wouldn't give her up for the world."

"How about I take you to dinner at Tony's on Saturday night, just the two of us. I'll get Gran to babysit. You know how much she loves Abby."

Her smile faded and she went quiet. "I've got plans for Saturday night."

I wasn't taking no for an answer. "Can't you change them?"

"I can't."

The strained look on her face confirmed my worst nightmare.

"I'm sorry."

My legs got weak and I sat down in the nearest chair. Where I got the guts to ask the next question I'm not sure. "You sleeping with him?" I didn't want to hear the answer, but at this point I needed to know. Time to rip off the bandage and get everything out in the open.

The conciliatory look on her face disappeared as she recoiled and the new hard-faced Becky replied. "Excuse me! I don't think that's any of your business. Are you sleeping with your blonde friend, whatever her name is?" That cutting tone in her voice was back.

"I stopped seeing Carol a couple of months ago. I didn't have the energy for two relationships and she wasn't the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

"Well, how would I know that?" was her sarcastic reply.

My whole world was imploding around me but there was one final question I needed to know the answer to. "Do you love him?"

"Steve, it's complicated. I've been with him for a while, long before you came back into our lives. Truthfully, I'm not sure—but I think so."

I swallow the bile rising in my throat. "I'm not giving up Abby, even if you marry him!"

"Who said anything about me marrying him? Besides, Abby is your daughter, no one is going to take her away from you."

The walls seemed to be closing in on me and I found it difficult to get in a deep breath. "I think I should go."

"Steve, wait! We can go out next week or some other time."

I didn't respond. That wasn't going to happen. Not after tonight.

Becky was still back peddling and making excuses as I walked out the apartment door. I kept my mouth shut because I knew if I said anything else it would have been ugly. I'm not sure how I got home. I felt pretty optimistic when I had gotten there tonight, now there was this empty space inside of me where Becky used to be. I thought, even dreamed about the three of us being a family again. I couldn't really blame Becky. I screwed up and was now paying the price for my past sins.

Time to move on and get my head and ass wired together, as they always told us in the military.

There were no more Monday or Friday family dinners. When I got off at 3:30, I would pick Abby up at the sitter's and either take her out to dinner or we ate with Gran. I made damn sure to get her home before bedtime. I said my goodnights in the car before I passed her off to a sullen Becky at the front door. The future I'd wanted with Becky was no more. I had screwed up my life once but no more. I was moving on.

"I told you, one board at a time. What about that didn't you understand?" Gran asked weeks later, when I had gotten home from dropping Abby off.

"She's in love with Mr. Wonderful and I'm tired of beating my head against the wall, hoping for a second chance. We had a good run. I fucked up, and now I'm taking whatever time I can get with Abby. Case closed."

"You still love her!"

"Gran, I think I was in love with the notion of us being a happy family again. That, however, isn't going to happen. So I need to look to the future and make a life for Abby and me. I don't have it in me to chase Becky any longer."

"Steve, you're making a big mistake."

"Gran, I've made a ton of them in my life. What's one more?"

I worked, concentrated on school, and saw Abby whenever I could. I even reconnected with my parents. I apologized for what I had put them through. They forgave me, but I knew we would never have the close relationship we once had.

I decided that working only with military vets would never work, too many memories. I decided I wanted to work with people who had substance abuse issues. I had been there and knew how hard it was to break those bonds of addiction. Greg understood, but also warned me I would still probably be seeing a lot of military vets.

Nothing in life was ever clean-cut. I had to move on or at least try. I was still in love with Becky, and probably always would be. I needed to move forward, not backwards.


"When was the last time you and Becky really talked?" Gran asked one night over dinner.

"A couple of months ago. Why?"

"Abby asked me the other day why the three of you aren't a family any longer. She said her mommy is sad because you don't all eat together anymore."

"What did you tell her?"

"What could I? I couldn't very well tell a five-year-old that her mommy and daddy are a couple of stubborn butt-heads and don't know when they've got a good thing."

"I wanted a relationship with her, I really did, but she's screwing Mr. Wonderful!"

"Watch your language, and don't cop an attitude with me, young man. You're not too old to spank!" We looked at each another and broke out laughing. "Okay, maybe you're a little old for that, but watch how you speak in front of a delicate older lady."

"Gran, I tried. But it looks like a second chance isn't in the cards for us."

"It's too bad. I think you two have both grown up a lot and would have made it this time around."


My parents still went to church with Becky and Abby every Sunday. I was chastised on more than one occasion for not attending mass. I sloughed it off. At twenty-seven, I was too old to be shamed into going. I was managing as best I could and then the other shoe dropped. In September, as the temperature outside started to fall, Gran got sick.

"Quit fussing over me, will you! It's just a cold," Gran said, pulling her thick terrycloth robe tighter.

Like always, I ignored her tirades. I brought a humidifier and an electric heater to make her bedroom warmer. Her house was old and drafty, and the ductwork to her upstairs bedroom must have had a million holes in it.

"It's not just a cold. You've got bronchitis and unless we get it under control you'll be spending the next week in the hospital. You want that?"

She shot me an ugly look. Since my Grandfather passed away, Gran was used to having her way. Not this time.

Even though she said she was fine, I saw the concern in her eyes when she hacked up a mouthful of phlegm and struggled to catch her breath. When I checked in on her Wednesday morning I found her sleeping, sitting up, in the recliner in her bedroom. I wanted to wake her and move her back to bed but thought better of it. Let her sleep, I thought quietly backing out of her room.

I went to work Thursday and Friday, but spent the weekend taking care of her. Once again she let me know she wasn't happy about it—until I bought her a quart of egg drop soup and chicken from the Chinese market down the street. But that only lasted for a night. Then her ornery nature surfaced again.

"I'm not a cripple. I can take care of myself." She couldn't, and her condition grew worse.

The following Tuesday, I found Gran in that damn recliner again when I went in to check on her. When I couldn't wake her, I called 911. It took the ambulance and paramedics almost fifteen minutes to arrive. They gave her oxygen and a shot of adrenalin to bring her around. Then they loaded Gran on a stretcher and took her downstairs. I almost lost it when she looked up at me with those scared eyes. We were taken by ambulance to Minneapolis General hospital.

"Don't worry Gran, I'll be with you every step of the way."

I called my parents' house before we left and told them what was happening. "I'm riding with Gran in the ambulance to the hospital. I'll see you when you get there."

My whole family caught up with me in the emergency waiting room. After we'd sat for three hours, the doctor came out to see us.

"How's my mother doing?" Mom asked through tearstained eyes, latching onto the doctor's arm.

"We gave her a nebulizer treatment to open up her bronchial tubes so she could breathe easier but she has fluid in her lungs. Unless she improves we'll have to put her back on oxygen."

My father stepped behind her, as Mom's legs buckled.

"We'll know more after we do a few tests. Your mother wasn't happy when I told her she would be in here for at least a couple of days while we monitored her condition."

"Can we see her?" I asked.

"Maybe later after her tests and she gets some rest. She isn't exactly ecstatic she's in here and has already told the nurses what she wants for dinner tonight, which I'm afraid isn't going to happen. If you come back at about 7:00 tonight everything will have settled down, or at least I hope so."

That's Gran.

"If her condition changes I'll let you know. Make sure the front desk has your contact information."

I felt relieved. In here, Gran would get the care she needed to get better. Two days later, Mom called me at work.

"Steve, please come to the hospital. And hurry!"

I made it there twenty minutes before Gran died. We watched in silence as her breathing became shallower and finally stopped. I think a piece of me died in her room that day. I know another empty spot in my heart opened up.

"I'm sorry. We did everything we could do," the doctor told my distraught mother.

"She's in a better place," my mom said, holding onto my dad for support.

"How can you say that?" I startled them with the sharpness in my voice. "Gran loved life and wasn't ready to give up on it yet."

My mother reached for my hand. "Honey, all I'm saying is that she's not suffering any more. That's all I meant."

I left. My mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts and memories and I didn't want to be around anyone. I went back to Gran's and paced the floor of her small house before ending up in her bedroom. Like always, it was neat as a pin. The only thing out of place was the pillow and blanket still on the floor next to her recliner. I would miss her. I thought about going out and tying one on, and then remembered her. That was the last thing in the world Gran would have wanted me to do. She'd saved me when everyone else had given up. I laid down on her bed, closed my eyes, and poured out my soul to her until I fell asleep. In the morning I started a new chapter in my life. One without her.


The funeral was much larger than I expected. In addition to our family, there were at least thirty of her friends, some I hadn't seen since I was a small child. A lot of memories and tears were exchanged in the back of the church before the service started.

At the cemetery, our family and friends paid their final respects. We watched as her casket was lowered into the ground a hundred feet from where John had been laid to rest.

When the graveside service was over and people started to disperse, Becky and Abby came up behind me.

Becky touched my arm. "Sorry about your grandmother. I know how much she meant to you."

"I'm sorry too, Daddy," Abby said, arms outstretched, wanting to be picked up.

I lifted her up and pressed her tight to my chest, my tears wetting her cheek. It was comforting to feel something warm and alive.

"Daddy, you're hurting me," Abby squealed.

"Abby, Daddy would never hurt you. He loves you more than anything," I set her back on the ground.

"Your grandmother was a wonderful lady." Becky said, moving in closer and resting her hand on my back. "Abby and I will miss her."

I looked back at the hole in the ground.

"Why is it that everyone I care about dies? If I didn't know better I would think that I was some kind of jinx. I would never forgive myself if something happened to either one of you."

"Don't worry about us. We have a strong Marine looking out for our well-being. Isn't that right, Abby?" Abby nodded her head and grabbed my hand and smiled up at me. "Would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow? I'll make you a home-cooked meal and then maybe later we can talk. 6:00 work for you?"

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