Emotions crashed onto me like a huge tidal wave. And there were many of them: shock, disbelief, horror, sickness, dread, worry. It was as if our worlds were frozen stiff. I couldn't believe Abilene was dead, but then again, I could. I didn't want to say she had it coming, but forget putting herself in the line of fire; she was trapping herself in a building that was about to be imploded by staying in this marriage.
You can call it courageous if you want to, all this, "she died to protect her family" crap, but I think what she did was sheer stupidity. From the start!
But I was worried about the kids most of all. No doubt Bill took them, and now he was free to do whatever he wanted. I said lowly to Susan, "Ask Basilio if Aimee and Hunter are still there."
She nodded and asked him, and moments later, "They're not around. They checked the house and both of them are gone."
"Terrific," I sighed. "He kills our sister, then kidnaps his own children." It made me wonder what their fight was about. What did Bill blame Abilene for this time? She could never do right in his eyes. Nobody could – well, except maybe Paul, and whatever military troops he led. But anyone else, he had no more thought than a dog had. He seemed to care less about family than I did – much less.
Susan talked with Basilio some more, then relayed to us, "They've already taken her to the morgue at Grace Hospital."
"Tell him we'll meet him there," Mom replied. Susan did so, said a heartfelt goodbye, and hung up. We were all packing our bags, Mom and Norman included. Norman had to serve a shift that evening, but he called in to work, telling them he was taking some time off for his family. Soon, we were on our way back to Winnipeg.
Susan and I followed Mom and Norman all the way to the hospital. (Olivia joined us half an hour later, having stopped at some burger joint to feed the kids.) When we were there, the doctor led us to the morgue, and opened up the space where they kept Abilene's body. He opened the body bag so we could see what she looked like.
It was the most disgusting and grotesque thing I ever saw. Abilene was stabbed at the top of her head and forehead. Globs of her hair had been ripped out. Both her arms had been cut off somehow, same with her feet. Stab wounds in her legs from what her skirt revealed. The doctor unbuttoned her blouse to reveal more stab wounds, and even gnashes in her abdominals, chest, shoulders and back.
"Oh, God!" Mom cried. "Olivia, Susan, get the kids out of here!" They did so without a word, and the kids were willing to comply. They were traumatized enough!
Then, the doctor lifted Abilene's bra to reveal something further. Stab wounds in her nipples! Her nipples, for crissake!
I hadn't eaten very much for breakfast or lunch, but I did have a very funny feeling. I excused myself, then ran to find a washroom, covering my mouth with both my hands. When I found an unoccupied john, I tossed it all. I didn't dare go back into that morgue to rejoin my family. I decided to sit in the waiting area close to the reception area. I looked out for my family, then when I saw them, I asked, "How many wounds in total?"
"Close to forty," Mom said. "We're getting that body cremated for the funeral. I realized where you were going, Robin. If our family has to see that in her open casket, they'll do the exact same thing. I was just as disgusted as you were, and frankly, I don't feel like eating until Monday."
"Okay, now I want Bill caught and executed more than anything," I replied. "That man is sick!"
I struggled over whether or not to go to work on Monday. I knew it was a family thing, but I also knew I was never close to the deceased. Sure, I could go to work and treat it like it was no big deal. Except for me preaching on the radio that battered women should never do what Abilene did, it wouldn't affect me. When I got home, I called Mr. Walker at the station and told him what happened. He immediately told me, "Robin, I want you to take two weeks off. Spend as much of it with your family as you can. I'll talk to Mr. Dickens about dedicating an entire show to battered women and abusive relationships on your first day back. You can talk about Abilene. I think it'd be important if these women could look at your own personal experience as motivation to get out."
"Thank you, sir," I said. "I'll have a big speech prepared. I won't disappoint you with this, I promise."
"Robin, when have you ever disappointed me?" he asked. "How many times do I have to tell you, you're a brilliant fellow who knows what you're talking about. I don't know why you've never been nominated for Best Radio Talk Show." That made me feel good and somewhat uplifting, so I thanked him.
Mom, Olivia and Susan spent the next few days informing the family and planning the service. I took my sons, niece and nephew to science museums, shopping malls, and everything else I could think of, to help take their minds off everything. Take their minds off the fact that Aunt Abilene is dead and Uncle Bill killed her. Take their minds off the fact that their cousins are God knows where, and they could be hurt or dead. I'd offer for Mom and Aunt Ellen to come with us, but they'd refuse, Mom sobbing over her dead daughter in the process. But when I took the kids out, they wouldn't have very much fun, and I could tell it was because of Aimee and Hunter.
"Uncle Robin, where are Aimee and Hunter?" Victoria even asked. "What if Uncle Bill kills them just like he did Auntie Abbie?" She started to sob, and I told my boys to look away as I held her. I didn't want them getting upset, too. Their worrying was so bad, they wouldn't eat their meals fully like they normally would. I prayed nightly that Aimee and Hunter would come back safely.
Abilene's service was the following Friday, held at the John Black Memorial Church. As I walked into the service area, I saw a wreath of pink and white roses and a picture of her when she was still in college. Good choice. Any photos of her in the past ten years would feature her all battered and bruised and not smiling. I also saw a sky blue urn decorated in gold, containing her ashes. It was just like Mom said, one glance at Abilene in her open casket, and the mourners would be tossing their cookies like I did. Imagine that for yourself. It's not very classy.
My surviving sisters walked in behind me, and I smiled at them. "You made some really good choices here," I said. "Abilene would want a classy service."
"Thanks," Susan replied, then stared at the urn. "She always did want to see Dad again." She stared up at the ceiling, as if she was trying to find them in Heaven.
"Good luck for her," I responded. "If Dad's parenting record was any indication, she'd have to go straight to Hell to reunite with him."
Julia came just as we sat down. When she sat with us, she said, "You know, I always wondered why Abilene never did make an effort to connect with my brothers and me. I think that if she'd just kept quiet and listen to Marion's orders to accept Dad in her life to begin with, we wouldn't be here today."
"You know how obsessed she was with family," Olivia replied.
Julia shook her head to disagree. "Your sister wasn't obsessed with family. If she was, she wouldn't have been so disrespectful to her mother. She was obsessed with your father. She lusted after him non-sexually. That's why she was looking forward to all those visits, that's why she wanted to go live with him–"
"That's why she wanted to take care of him," I supplied. "And the crappy job she did drove her to that bastard." I looked at their stunned reactions, then I remembered I was in God's house. And unlike Dad's service, I had no reason to curse like that.
"And when he died, her self-esteem took a nosedive," Julia continued. "Your father was her rock, her confidence and motivation, and his death took everything away from her. She found the family she was hung on would never be restored or repaired. And that's why she abandoned her dreams and fell in love with that monster." She stared at Olivia. "And you, Olivia, you were merely your sister's shadow. Maybe it was the fact that you were closer in age, but you shouldn't have spent your life following her, and developed your own identity. Then you wouldn't have taken his equally creepy friend."
"I understand that now," Olivia said. "Except for my kids, I regret my marriage to Paul. I wish I could turn back time and stay away from that New Year's party. No, because then the kids wouldn't be here. But if Paul had taken off when he realized Radley would never be up to society's standards, maybe my life would've been different."
It was a boring service, but then again, all funerals were boring. I don't know why I always feel restless at them. I did not find the preacher's words believable; him buttering Abilene up as some model citizen, nor did I find the eulogies interesting. Except for Mom's; she talked about how Abilene was never the easiest child to love, and how she tried desperately to connect with her after Aimee was born.
"I wish I could go back in time and make her listen to my words, how I did love her, how I did care for her," she said. She was sobbing, garbling her words, and she was barely hanging on to her sanity. "Maybe if I physically made her look at my face as I told her she was going down the wrong path in her life, and smack that message into her, she wouldn't have made the decisions she made, we all would've been a very happy family, and none of us would be here today." She broke down at the podium, and Susan and Aunt Ellen had to bring her back to the pews. She was screaming, asking God, "Why did you take away my Abilene?!"
Olivia and Susan gave their eulogies, then it was my turn. I started by saying, "I wish I could say I have some very fond memories of Abilene to share, but I don't. Abilene and I did not have the best brother-sister relationship. Far from it." Then I shared some incidents I remembered very vividly, including those bloody makeup and finger-painting scenes. As I got into later years, I mentioned her accusing me of not loving Dad when I threatened to stab him and after he died; her pressure on me to take care of Mom. I mentioned a couple of fights about her leaving Bill and raising her kids as a single mother, then I stopped. The mourners would never be able to hack any more, by looking at them. So I just said abruptly, "Hell, what am I saying? Much of our relationship was just spent fighting!"
I went on to say how this was the most doomed marriage of all. "More doomed than my own parents' marriage was," I said. "And watching Abilene just take all the beatings her husband gave her made her even more doomed. Perhaps she was doing this for the sake of her kids, to let them know their birth father, to give them a reminder of where they came from, where their family originated. But people should take this as a reminder of what could happen if they don't get out. They should look at this as why they may need to leave the father and become a single mother, if they ever want to provide a happy home. And it's not going to stop on its own by just dealing with it as a family, because most of the time, the abuser is just going to deny everything. To say that it's just their nature, it's who they are, it's what they know, it's what they grew up with – and for this reason, they won't comply. They may not get help even if you seek it from outside sources. And in these cases, the mothers need to change their vision of what a proper family is, and explain to their children that there are other families besides the classic, traditional one of Mom, Dad and kids."
I sighed and took a few moments to gather myself. "I wish this service was televised, so I could get this message out to all women to take these steps if they want to stay around for their kids, and even live long enough to watch them get married and have children. They need to do it if they truly believe in keeping a family together." I pointed at the urn. "Because those could also be their ashes one day. And when something like this happens, they can no longer remind you how important family is."
I looked down at the urn, trying not to cry. "Why didn't you have that wisdom, Abilene? Why were you so determined to stay in your marriage, that you were willing to put yourself and your children in harm's way? You shouldn't have been so prideful like that! Your children are never going to have their mother again. Your family will never have their daughter and sister, their niece and cousin, ever again. Yes, family is important, but your vision was distorted, and the way you preached that vision to everyone was all wrong! If only you understood the reality of family togetherness, and that not all families can be like in those children's movies you loved – the movies that weren't even real life – you wouldn't have been so grotesquely wounded to… have your body burned like that." I know that last part didn't make sense, did it? Okay, you try winging your eulogy while staying brave and sane at a family member's funeral. Hardly easy!
I stepped down immediately and went back to my seat. I had to before I lost it. I spent the rest of the service just staring at the urn, wondering why she was the oldest, yet Olivia and I were the wisest. That was so painfully obvious.
Mom and Olivia insisted on one-on-one time for themselves over the next week. As much as I wanted to spend time with them, I stepped back and completely understood. In a way, I would've even encouraged it. They needed to work on a friendship, after all. Every day, they would go out shopping or to lunch or wherever, and they'd be gone for a few hours. When they came back, while they wouldn't exactly be laughing and cracking jokes, they'd be in the midst of warm, meaningful conversations. And all throughout dinner and afterwards, they managed to carry on a decent conversation without any bitterness or hostility. Really, the sensible Olivia I wanted to see more often years ago had replaced the nasty Olivia who was just as bullying and preachy as her big sister. I guess losing Abilene, even before she died, was the motivation she needed to stand on her own two feet. When their relationship disintegrated, she felt less and less like her shadow, and this disappeared completely with her death.
While Mom and Olivia had their mother-daughter outing du jour on Wednesday, Susan and I went to the courthouse for Dillinger family's sentencing. There, we learned that Jim and Sylvia were to be extradited to the state of Texas, where they would be sentenced to death in the electric chair. As for the others, the papers documenting the Winnipeg trial would be sent to Hamilton, Toronto and Calgary; where Wesley and Nancy, Gordon and Beverly, and Ralph and Cynthia would have their own trials without a preliminary hearing. Personally, I hope the others get the same damn thing. Including Gordon and Beverly; they did kill a cop, after all.
Hearing this, Michelle cried and screamed even louder than she did when her parents were found guilty. Once again, her husband had to escort her out of the courtroom. I didn't feel sorry for her, and I didn't understand why she would be so loyal to them when she knew what they did. I was glad that the judge ordered that Michael stay with the aunt and uncle who cared for him. I had a feeling that his sister would turn out just like mine did, and take her feelings out on him, as well as that poor child she carried. She didn't say anything as Susan and I walked out, just glared directly at us, then cried poor into her husband's arms.
"Michelle," Susan called, "you'd best not scream and cry and stress out too much. You're going to go into premature labour!"
"Shut up, you family wrecker!" Michelle screamed. "You caused all this, both of you! My child is never going to know its grandparents thanks to you!"
I approached her from ten feet away and said, "Michelle, you're a grown adult woman. You need to accept that your 'loving' parents are murderers, and they're going to get what's coming to them. Isn't it bad enough that the judge deemed you unfit to care for your brother? If you don't stop acting like a two-year-old, you'll give birth prematurely like Susan said, then you'll be dealing with her once your neighbours start reporting child abuse. You'll be just like Abilene was, only you'll live longer than she did."
She lashed out at me, screaming and swiping her nails at me, her husband holding her back. "This is all your fault, the both of you! When Mom and Dad killed those quacks, it was for a damn good reason, and you know it! They did it for their love of Michael!"
Susan grabbed me and we left the courthouse quickly. On the way home, she said, "I have a feeling I'm going to be knocking on her front door in five years."
Just as I was about to reveal this news at dinner that night, Olivia said something I never expected. She said, "Mom, I'm really sorry that I put your divorce from Dad over your head all these years. I guess this time together was all I needed to get past this."
What was this? Olivia saying the words Mom needed to hear from her years ago? When I got over the shock, I said to her, "Gee, Olivia, why didn't you say that when Abilene was still alive? That would've been the motivation she needed to apologize herself!" I joined them at the dining table. "Those are words that Mom needed to hear from Abilene most of all. She caused the most trouble, remember?"
"Oh, Robin, don't make such a big deal out of it," Mom said.
"No, Mom, really," I said. "Abilene was the one talking Olivia into everything. No doubt she talked Olivia into getting into all the trouble they did as well. You two have been seriously strained for years, and now you're going to die never hearing that apology from her. Unless she comes back as a ghost and says that to you, which is unlikely. Who here believes in ghosts anyway?" I took her hand and made her look at me. "You're going to be waiting for that apology for the rest of your life."
She sighed and replied, "Robin, even if I do see her in Heaven, she may be too pre-occupied with her father to say that to me. I have a feeling God will be breaking up a lot of our fights."
Olivia took her other hand and said, "Mom, I really would like for us to be friends. Not just for Victoria and Radley, but I want to do this for myself as well. Now that Paul and I are done, I want to work on us. I've decided now that I'm going to move back to Sedgwick, look for a house in your residence area, and send Victoria and Radley to a new school."
"Olivia, if I told you once, I told you a hundred times," Mom said, "I don't need someone to look after me in my old age. I'm staying active, and I'm going to live my senior years up. Just you watch, I'll be partying on a cruise ship to the Caribbean when I'm eighty."
"But you'll need someone to help you stay healthy and alive, to make sure you don't die from loneliness after Norman is gone," Olivia insisted. "And we all know that Robin can't be the one to do it, with his disabilities and all. I've been married and divorced, raising two kids. Heck, I can even drive a car still. I can do a great job taking care of you when the time comes. Abbie would want it that way."
"But I think you should consider remarrying," Mom suggested. "If not for yourself, then for Radley. He just turned six years old. Like Robin was when I met Norman, Radley is still too young to grow up without a father. And with Paul not interested–"
She shook her head. "No, Mom. Because of Paul, I have some serious trust issues with men. How am I supposed to know the next man won't cheat on me or beat me like Paul did? Even if he doesn't, he'll more than likely run away once he sees how disabled Radley is. I'm willing to get along with Norman so he'll at least have a Grandpa. And Robin, Kevin, Curtis, and even Basilio can come see him whenever they make time. And speaking of help, you can help take care of the kids while I house-hunt, and on days I have to work late. Think of it as me wanting to get closer to you, and I know I have a lot of work to do here." Then she hugged her, and I felt even warmer when Mom hugged right back.
"Great job?" I repeated. "Liv, you or Susan could do a much better job taking care of Mom than I ever could. You know that just as I do." And just by looking at this, I knew she'd make my prediction come true.
I spent that coming weekend preparing for my domestic violence awareness show. I was writing my opening speech to recite on air, jotting down everything that had happened to the family over these two weeks, as well as a few thoughts of Abilene and her visions, and how everything I went through changed me. On August 1st, I went back to work with my speech, and when I did my introductions, I talked about having to bury Abilene, and how it caused Mom and Olivia to make up. I continued with this:
To Abilene, the perfect happy family consisted of a Mommy, a Daddy, a brother, a sister, maybe another little baby, and a dog in the backyard with the white picket fence. She had Olivia thinking this was the perfect arrangement, too. Unfortunately, what happened in her marriage, and seeing her sister get beat up, quickly taught Olivia the difference between fantasy and reality. In reality, Abilene's vision only applies to less than two percent of North American families today. Here in the year 2000, Abilene's vision about stepfamilies is correct. We see more people marrying for the second or third time, people getting involved in stepfamilies and blended families, and we have more stepfamilies than real families.
Olivia really did think about leaving after she gave birth to a child who turned out mentally retarded. Why, you should've seen how quickly she changed her mind about spanking. But Abilene's reminders about how the classic, traditional family was important for her kids, was what kept her back. The fact that Olivia's husband cheated wasn't enough to deter Abilene. This despite the fact that they were already fighting when Paul cheated a second time. The rude awakening she needed happened when Paul decided he'd had enough of his own son, and left Olivia for good.
And yes, judging by the people I had to counsel on past shows, and listening to my fill-ins counsel while I was away, I understand how hard it is to keep a stepfamily and blended family in tact. I understand that the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than first marriages. But not all first marriages work out happily, especially when one of the parties doesn't want to work. Believe me, I've been there. But looking at what Abilene and Olivia had been through, what Aimee, Hunter, Victoria and Radley have been through, and what I went through as a child, it's heir apparent that much of the physical, verbal and emotional abuse takes place within the classic family model that Abilene insisted was so much better.
This is why Abilene's vision of family is so dangerous. What happened to her, I wouldn't wish on the wickedest woman in the world. I wouldn't wish this on Lizzie Borden or the witches of Salem. Hell, I wouldn't even wish this on my ex-wife. I'd be shocked if this happened to Kate. That's why if you know your family is toxic and there's no fixing it, you need to take your children and run. Not all men are willing to fix themselves, and not everyone is going to go to counselling, if Abilene and Bill were any indication.
Yes, your children will be mad because you're taking their father away from them. But think of the long-term effects. Your sons will learn how to beat their own wives and girlfriends, and your daughters will grow up thinking this is normal and acceptable, and that even women are nothing without a man in their lives. I wouldn't wish any of this on the worst-behaved child. I just know my niece, Aimee, is going to be screwed up. She and Hunter are out there with Bill right now, and he's doing God knows what with them.
Do you remember a show I did a few months ago, when were debated banning Romeo and Juliet from high schools? I think I'm going to mean it when I say that by the time Aimee gets to this point, she'll refuse to read this play because of the love theme alone. She won't want to have a boyfriend, and when she grows up, she'll refuse to marry or have children. She might even want to have her tubes tied before she's even legal. What is the legal age to have your tubes tied, anyway? She'll wants hers done at sixteen, no doubt.
Then I got a serious lump in my throat, thinking about Aimee. What if Bill was beating her half to death right now? I tried not to cry, but I was so overcome with worry and emotion. And Hunter. With his cerebral palsy, I'd bet Bill was killing him like he did Abilene, because he got fed up the way Paul did with Radley. Maybe he believed his own son was useless. I looked at the rest of my speech and decided not to go on. I had some thoughts abut the military in relation to this, and I was afraid they'd think it was too preachy. I opened the phone lines and got my first call within seconds, a very gruff-sounding man who reminded me of Bill at first. But he put me at ease when he spoke politely. "This is General Henry Spence of the Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg," he said.
"General Spence, welcome to my show," I said. "Did my speech move you?"
"Yes," he said. "First off, on behalf of the Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, please accept our sincere condolences for the loss of your sister, Abilene."
"Thank you, sir," I replied.
"Mr. Callbeck… or should I call you Robin?" Spence asked.
I smiled and said, "Please, call me Robin."
"Robin, let me say that we were stunned to hear what Sgt. Pershing did to Abilene two weeks ago," Spence said. "You'll be pleased to know that we've decided to give him a dishonourable discharge. We've heard a lot of stories about Sgts. Bill Pershing and Paul Joplin, and what they did to your sisters and their children. They repeatedly assured us it was only discipline, and they were trying to make their wives listen to them. Sgt. Joplin stated he especially had problems getting Olivia to listen, as well as with his son's behaviour. Thankfully, he never went as far as Pershing did."
"That's great that Bill got a dishonourable discharge," I said. "Actually, I called for this to happen in the latter part of my opening that I never got to. In it, I included a law we should pass, stating that all career soldiers who are found guilty of spousal abuse and battery, and physical and emotional child abuse, should be discharged like Bill was. Add on top of that the beatings I received from my own soldier father, and I have some thoughts on the military that you'd find too preachy."
"I'm praying that your family tragedy, as well as Olivia Joplin's divorce, won't give you a low opinion about our military," Spence said.
"I'm afraid you're too late, sir," I said. "I have virtually no trust in the military when it comes to families. I hate the military, no thanks to Bill, Paul and my father. Pardon me, but there's no way in hell I'll ever allow my sons to sign up, even when they're out of high school. I'm being paid just as well in my radio career, and I hope they'll follow in my footsteps."
"Robin, think of the soldiers who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder when coming back from war," Spence told me. "Maybe it is a lust for power and authority on their part, but men and women like Pershing and Joplin choose this career because they want to help people, and show their pride for their country. For many others, the military helped to change their lives for the better. It's true that Pershing and Joplin are the stereotypes we need to avoid in order to maintain good standing. But you shouldn't dismiss everyone in the military as spouse and child beaters. I'll have you understand that we employ psychologists to help them deal with their issues. As well, we have special counselling sessions for military couples in crisis."
"Bill and Abilene shunned counselling every way they could, sir. Granted, Susan and her husband are couples counsellors for the police. But people like these often dismiss counselling as for crazy people, and often insist they don't need it. More often than not, it leads to either murder or easy divorce. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if the military beat out the police in high divorce rates."
"Well, I'm going to send some of my successfully married men and women your way one of the days. Hopefully, it'll help change your mind towards us. I've been married to my wife for thirty years, and despite the disagreements we have, they were very happy years. We have three children, our youngest is in university, and we have two grandchildren."
"Well, congratulations, sir. I just hope you have the good sense to frown on spanking mentally retarded children."
"Oh, my wife and I tend to agree with you on that. Thankfully, none of my children are disabled in any way."
It was a satisfying talk, but it did little to build my confidence towards the military. I'm afraid nothing would, especially since my next two callers were former military wives who lived through abusive marriages just like my sisters did, and fled the country to escape them. I even had to call them by different names and alter their voices to protect their identities. The stories were so tragic. One of the women had her husband throw her down the stairs when she was pregnant like Paul did Olivia. The only thing was, she ended up miscarrying her baby.
Then there was a call that truly disturbed me. Annette's husband, a rough welder, was abusing her and her young children, ages nine and seven, in every way imaginable. But she didn't know how to leave him. "I have a thirteen-year-old son who worships him like a god," she said. "They do everything together, fishing, camping, sporting events, everything that my husband says will make him a man. I'm worried that if I leave, he'll be angry with me for taking his father away from him."
This was truly serious. "What's the husband doing to the younger children?"
"He hits them, he screams at them, he throws breakable objects at them," Annette replied. "He tells them that they're worthless pieces of garbage, and that they were my idea. He tells me that the younger children were my idea. Apparently, he wanted to keep our oldest an only child, and he reminds them of this every day. He begged me to get an abortion when I had my other pregnancies, and got mad when I refused. If it weren't for me, he would've killed them already. Yet he turns around and treats our oldest like a million dollars, and this apparently has earned respect from him."
I rolled my eyes. "A father who has a wonderful, deep intimate relationship with his oldest, yet he treats his youngest like garbage. God, why does this sound so familiar?" I wondered aloud. But I had another question for Annette. "Is your first-born son hitting his siblings?"
"At my husband's encouragement, yes," she answered. "He's basking in all this attention, he loves being the favourite, and he's willing to do anything his father asks of him. Meanwhile, my younger children are both scared of their own father. He doesn't give them a tenth of the attention our oldest gets, and when he does, it's violent and negative. They want me to leave him and get somebody else. But I'm worried that if I do that, my son will be out of control, doing poorly in school, and will be very disrespectful to me. I know he won't approve of anyone else I'll date, no matter how much his siblings love him, and will be after me to get back with his father. What do I do, Robin?"
"First of all, you need to contact the police and your family lawyer to plan an escape route, and to take you to a women's shelter," I said. "If your son puts up a fit, drag him into the car to make him come with you and his siblings, if that's what it takes. When you're settled, tell him that your marriage has been toxic, and the bond that he has with his father is not a good one. What he's actually teaching him is how to abuse women, and people who are younger and weaker than he is. That is a worse form of child abuse than not disciplining. You know what, I have an idea – is he home with you right now?"
"Yes, he's on the computer," she replied. "His name's Chance. Do you want to talk to him?"
"Absolutely." I waited a few moments, then heard an older boy's voice. "Is this Chance?"
"Yes," he answered. "Who is this?"
"This is Robin Callbeck from Middays With Robin," I replied. "Listen, I hear you're pretty close with your Dad, even though he's pretty violent with your Mom and siblings. Am I right?"
"Yeah," he answered. "He's gotten me into sports, cars and tools, and I've even learned how to fix carburetors and change dead batteries and all kinds of cool stuff. We've also been to football games with the Tiger-Cats, gone to Toronto for baseball, basketball and hockey, and every summer, we've went to this cool cabin in Northern Ontario for fishing and camping. It's really awesome."
"And is it just you? I take it he doesn't include your little sister and brother, right? Do you have a younger brother and sister, or is it just two brothers or two sisters?"
"A brother and a sister. And no, Dad doesn't include them. Dad says that they're much too bad for quality time, and they don't do anything to earn it. They do more to earn beatings, and Dad's told me that he can't stand the sight of them. I can't stand the sight of them, either." I heard his mother yelling at him in the background.
"Annette, don't scold him for what he said!" I called at her, hoping she would hear. "He's picked that up from his father!" I heard Chance repeating what I said to her, then he returned to me.
"Chance, have you ever hit your siblings and called them all sorts of bad names like 'stupid', 'worthless' and everything else you can think of? And has your father ever encouraged this behaviour?"
"I have beaten them up sometimes, and even helped Dad with it," he confessed. "I've even told them I wished they were never born, that they shouldn't be here, and I should've been an only child. I heard Mom say that Dad wanted to keep me an only child, and that only Mom wanted Ashley and Matthew. That part's true."
"Okay, that's enough," I said. "Chance, I hope you realize that this bond with your father is not healthy for you, and this is not how families should work. I've been where your brother and sister are. In fact, you remind me of my sister, Abilene, and how she treated me when I was five, six and seven. If you really loved your Dad sincerely, you'd have told him that you're concerned about how he was treating them, and stood up for them and your mother. You would've told him, 'Dad, these are my little brother and sister! Stop hitting them!' And if he responds by hitting you, then it shows that your bond is dysfunctional, and you can do better. Not having met them, I can guess that they're good kids who don't deserve it."
Chance laughed and replied, "You wouldn't think that if you saw them. They mess up my homework, go into my room without asking and wreck my stuff, always tugging on Mom and Dad's legs demanding attention – though Mom usually gives in. They're loud and wild and crazy, running all over the house chasing each other. They're always into everything, playing with Dad's tools and Mom's kitchen stuff, and Dad has to beat that lesson into them every time. I never did any of that stuff when I was their ages. I was always quiet and obedient myself. Ashley and Matthew don't respect Dad at all."
"Chance, I was into everything, and loud and boisterous, and shall I say very crass and sassy, when I was their ages," I said. "I'm thirty years old, and I can still be crass and sassy; that's something that'll never change with me. But that's no excuse at all. If he's encouraging you to hit them, what's he teaching you is that it's okay to beat those who are smaller and weaker than you if they make you mad. And when you learn stuff like that, chances are you'll go on to beat your girlfriend or wife, and when you have children of your own, you'll beat them just like you beat your siblings, or overstep whatever boundaries they'll have for spanking in the future. This'll encourage you to spank them as hard, as long, and as often as you want. What your Dad is doing to you constitutes as child abuse in the authorities' books. Do you understand? This is not a bond that a son should have with his father."
He paused for a few moments, then he said a soft, "I think so."
"Part of being in a healthy, happy family is treating every member the same, and giving them the same treatment and love," I said. "You can do better than what you have right now. A father who treats his oldest children like precious keepsakes, and his youngest children like trash – Chance, my father did that to me and Susan when we lived with him!"
"Yes, and my mother had to take me away from that in order for me to be what I am today – even if it was at my oldest sisters' expense. I don't have time to get into it, but please promise me this won't be you when your mother has to pack up and take you away."
Chance sounded like he was stammering. "I'll – I'll – I'll try to adjust."
"And when your mother decides she has to end her marriage, I want you to give her respect and support," I told him. "Also, when your Mom is emotionally ready for another relationship, and she introduces you to her boyfriend, I want you to give him the same love and respect you'd give your Dad – especially if your brother and sister really like him. You may even grow to love him just as much as your real father, too. You promise?"
Another pause, then, "Okay, I promise."
"I know this is painful to understand right now," I assured him, "but believe me, you'll come to accept this when you see that your mother and brother and sister are happier and fully-functioning. And you'll see that this will be better for you in the long run, when you find that you're not abusing women for no good reason, and you're the type of father who doesn't put his hands on his children, in anger or otherwise."
When I was finished with him, I talked to Annette again, and repeated my advice to her. "And make sure your husband hasn't listened to any of this on his work radio," I added. "You don't want him to hurry home and start beating you up to stop you." I prayed that he wouldn't, but I doubted he would. What welder can even listen to the radio while working in the shop, assuming they were even allowed to?
On the way home, I did a lot of silent thinking. Between the bereavement and that show, I'd learned how important family really is, and perhaps I should do a little more to support this very concept. Seeing how Mom and Olivia got closer over the past two weeks certainly taught me that there is hope for family after all. I at least hoped that there'd be the same for Annette and her children. But I would be a casual supporter of family; I promised myself to never fall into the Abilene abyss and preach about staying together for the kids if it wasn't good for them. I'd teach them all that I knew about family – that families don't have to consist of two birth parents, and people can do just fine in single-parent families, in stepfamilies, and all other kinds of family situations. I just wish that I'd be able to tell all those family advocates what I knew all along. Perhaps if I were able to get this through to Abilene, she wouldn't have died. It was just too bad that it took her death for Olivia to finally make peace with Mom.
Thank God I was looking out for the Centennial Concert Hall at James, and making sure I had everything when I got off to transfer. I had special time to spend with my twin sons. I had to be home in time to at least make dinner.
That evening, after dinner, I summoned Benjamin and Brandon into the living room and made them sit on the couch. Then I went into the basement for a box of my old stuff and took out that picture of Kate with those firefighters. I'd decided to keep with me to show people who'd press me to make up with her. I also found two old tapes with "The Marla Show" and different airdates on the labels. My two appearances. Thank God the picture survived the 1997 flood. I decided it was the right time to tell about their mother.
I sat down and placed the items on the table. "Remember when I told you that I'd tell you about your mother when the time was right? It's right."
I told them the whole story of how we met, and how Abilene tried to keep us apart and why. They were leaning forward the whole time, as if they were interested. Then I put that symbolic picture up for them to see. They looked pretty surprised, and Brandon even asked, "Dad, are you in the picture?"
I laughed and shook my head. "No, son. I'm not a firefighter, so how could I be in that picture?" I paused and waited for them to be normal. "But your mother was mostly interested in firefighters and other men of public authority – the type of people you need to respect in life, and listen to their rules. This includes police officers like your Uncle Basilio, and military men like your Uncles Bill and Paul. She had them all in ways that I should tell you about when you're older. She never was faithful to me, and she was cheating on me all the time with these guys."
The twins looked disgusted, and Benjamin asked, "Why?"
"It had more to do with your Grandpa Harbin," I answered. "He never was very comfortable with the fact that I wasn't a rescue hero, or anything else that he thought would earn me more money than a radio host, allegedly."
I showed them Marla Lansing's paternity shows featuring them and their half-brother. The clear picture showed the tapes survived the flood, too. We watched them both all the way through, and they even hugged me when they heard I was their father, and disappointed when I wasn't Baby Matthew's father. "It was those results that made me divorce your mother," I said. "I knew that, given the circumstances, I would never be able to bond with him like I do you, and our family wouldn't be nearly as happy. Also, I believed that she would keep sleeping with these types of men other than your brother's possible father, and I don't want you exposed to things like that. I want you to have more respect for police officers and firefighters and other authority figures than that. That's what good parents teach their children."
"What do we say to our Mom?" Brandon asked.
I sighed and answered, "Again, when the time is right, I'll track your mother down, and send you to wherever she lives so you can meet her. You can ask her when you're older, old enough to understand sex and infidelity, at least. She travelled to Toronto back and forth, and I think that's where she still lives now. Again, I'll track her down. But when you meet her and her new boyfriend, whomever he may be, I want you to promise me that you'll give her the same respect you give me, okay? Just so long as she gives you respect. And if she doesn't, you just tell her that I know where she lives." I hugged them and kissed both their foreheads, and we cuddled on that couch until it was their bedtime.
Well, that's all I've got to tell about my life up to this point. I'm really glad that you were able to stay with me throughout this long process (didn't I tell you this would be a long story?) It must've taken quite a few cups of coffee for you to hear the whole thing. And you must have turned me off at some point when you were in your cars, or when you thought I got too boring, and didn't bother to turn me back on until I got to this point. Maybe you just forgot? Well, sorry if I never signed off at any point, but then I'd leave you with cliff-hangers that'd leave you guessing what happened to me all through the night, or until my next on-air session. Personally, I think a continuous twenty-four-hour-a-day session over a few days would be better for a story like mine, provided I've been taking pauses for lots of caffeine to keep me awake. Wouldn't you agree?
Anyway, to this day, they still haven't found Aimee, Hunter or my bastard brother-in-law, Bill. I'm sure that Mom, Olivia, Susan and even Basilio, Norman and his boys, have already contacted America's Most Wanted with their story, and even sent in their most recent pictures. I'm sure they've accepted it, and they're filming Abilene's murder story for television viewing as we speak. I'll be looking for it, for that John Walsh guy to put an all-points bulletin on every military base in Canada and the States, maybe even the world, in search of these three. I just hope Aimee and Hunter will come out survivors. One thing I know for sure, Aimee will be so scarred from this, she'll definitely decide to never marry or have children. I wouldn't blame her; she'll definitely repeat the cycle if she becomes a mother, and hit her kids because that's all she'd know. I don't know if she'd land a man like Bill, though. Like I said, she'd be too afraid of boys to even get into the dating scene. And I'm going to keep saying this until I know for sure – she'll be too afraid of love to read Romeo and Juliet for English, and will even demand that the play be removed from schools. I wouldn't be surprised if Mom and Olivia agreed with this, too. If you had to go through what she did with family, you'd be too afraid of that play, too.
When they reunite with all of us, and Mom shows Aimee her mother's grave, she's going to screaming about how she hates her for staying with an abusive monster. Just you watch. She'll tell us that she begged Abilene to leave their father, and the pitiful excuse of a mother refused, preaching to her about how it's important to keep traditional families in check, she signed a contact when she married their father, and she has to honour that contract, and all that stupid crap. I don't think all the counselling in the world will help her. I swear, if Mom and Norman get legal custody, they've got their work cut out for them. It's going to take lots of non-yelling, non-spanking parenting to get Aimee and Hunter to normal.
And I'd to leave you all with this one question – how the hell do you all do it? I'm talking to you parents and guardians out there who like to shout that you were spanked as children and you turned out well, that you learned to be law-abiding citizens with respect for people, that you're suddenly now best friends with your parents, and you can talk and laugh with them about anything, and blah blah blah. When I open the phone lines, I'm going to be bombarded with callers telling me, "You need to let go of your past." "You'll never heal yourself if you don't put all this behind you and move on." "Don't dwell on the past because you won't enjoy your present, and you won't have hope for the future." And my personal favourite: "You need to forgive your father for all he's done to you." Like hell that's going to happen! So I won't even bother!
Besides, in case you know some psychologists and counsellors, and you want to recommend one to me – keep in mind that therapy costs money, and I have two boys to feed, clothe and entertain, plus other expenses.
Given how long it took to tell you everything, you're probably wondering, "How does he remember all this stuff, and why?" But that's the thing about letting go of the past: when you've had a life as tumultuous as mine, the past just clings to you, like static on clothing from the dryer. As much as you want to let go, your past insists on staying with you. And when it does, you have to work extra hard to not let it destroy you. In my case, that meant having to grow up pretty fast, and finding your calling early in life. Here, I've learned that if you can earn a living and entertain your personality at the same time, you'll be less likely to take your own life. Making poor personal choices will put you in a depression you'll never recover from, and you know what that leads to, right? Is that what you'd want if you were me?
Really, how do you do it? How you can you tell about all the whippings and beatings and crazy punishments your parents put you through when you were a child and teenager, and then look back on it thirty and forty years later, and laugh and joke about it with your family. I know that when I look back on what I went through with Dad and Abilene especially, I can't ever laugh and joke about any of it. Not even with Mom, Olivia and Susan. I just can't! And if I didn't know any better, I'd say that deep down, all of you pro-spankers out there still have issues with your parents, and that you're just putting on the "best friend" act to impress them, so you'll get everything you want in the will when they kick the bucket. I find it hard to believe that when you proved yourselves mature to them, that they suddenly changed tunes, and now you're all laughing and joking pals who exchange recipes and swap advice and stories. In fact, I find it laughable. Come on, you can tell me the truth. I promise I'll listen and understand.
Just remember that with Olivia, it took at least fifteen years for her to be best friends with our mother, and even then, it didn't happen overnight. It took days. And just remember all that I've told you next time you encounter someone like me, who has a challenging past that won't let go of them. Not everyone has your alleged strength. We could stand to hear your very real secrets.
I'm Robin Callbeck, and I'm signing off for today.