gabriel's night

it's been five years since gabriel ran away. faith still waits by the window, hoping that he will return. angela pretends she never had a brother to miss, a brother to lose. and i comb the streets, searching for the broken son i would never find.

It's raining just like it was the night Gabriel ran away. Even the streetlights provide little illumination through the harrowing downpour. The mud, slick with clay, won't dry for weeks. The ground is so wet that footsteps disappear moments after being formed. A person could disappear into a storm like this one - disappear and never be found.

We get storms like this every summer, where the deluge is so heavy we have to shout to have conversations. Not even thunder can pierce through the deafening rain. Occasionally, lightning flickers on the horizon, too far away to be seen clearly and much too quiet to be heard. I used to take comfort in the season's storms because, as troublesome as the rain was, it also provided a sense of relief from the mundane tasks of everyday life. The rains isolated us from our neighbors. The town's friendly buzz was replaced by the steady beat of a million raindrops on the roof, and it was just us: me, Faith, Angela, and Gabriel.

I have always been a simple man. I lived with my family over a garage where I worked six days a week. I raised my children with a firm, but loving hand. When Angela brought home boys, I remained collected and respectful. When Gabriel crashed the car, I scolded him on driving safely. When the two of them lit the dog on fire, I sent their mother to explain to them the importance of respecting living creatures. I have always been reasonable.

When Gabriel hit high school, he began to change. At first, it wasn't in a noticeable way. He stopped helping Faith set the table. He forgot to take out the trash. He missed his curfew. But those I attributed to his age: that this was a part of being a teenager and that he would soon grow out of it. But it grew worse. He locked himself in his room and didn't join us for meals. Even after we called for him, after I knocked on his door to ask if he was hungry, he didn't reply. He snuck downstairs after midnight to eat and retreated to his room before dawn. His absence was hurting my family. Angela couldn't stop inquiring after her older brother. Faith was constantly on edge, and even the smallest push would send her into tears. I found myself spending more time in the garage and less with my wife and children. My son's behavior was tearing apart the family, and that was when I knew I had to have a talk with him.

…how quickly things change. One tense morning of tiptoeing around the house escalated into a ferocious, screaming match. I don't remember which of us slammed the door and left the house: me or Gabriel. But the end result was the same. This could not be repaired. We would forever be the broken family: a photograph torn in half.

Four years passed in a red haze, and then he was gone with the spring breeze. As the days grew more humid and static accumulated in the air, Gabriel started acting timid and anxious. Rather than provoking fights with me or his mother, he took our sharp remarks, about his appearance, his hobbies, his life choices, in strange silence, and soon we began to stop mentioning his faults. Instead of arguing all the time, we passed the days pointedly ignoring each other.

And then with the first summer storm, Gabriel ran away. He must have been planning it for years. When he left, he took all the family pictures with him in it - stole them, or cut his face out of the photo - not that we took many in those harsh, angry years. He had no friends, none that stood up and offered to help retrieve him. The likeness the police sketched bore little resemblance to him, through no fault of theirs. I was reluctant to speak about Gabriel, and Faith was all but incoherent.

The rain has passed now. I look outside, where the clouds have begun to dissipate to let the first of the country night stars shine through. I shrug on my old trench coat and reach down to lace my boots. Faith silently moves up behind me, not in any show of support. Her gray eyes are fixated on the window, where the wind still blows at the trees. There is not a soul in sight: animal or human.

My daughter Angela is now in college where she studies photography and film. She visits every Christmas but sends no letters home. Even now I wonder if perhaps she too has run away from this shattered family in her own subtle manner. The night Gabriel left, I know, has deeply cut into her heart, and now she has closed her feelings to all. She recognizes no brother now, no father, no mother. But maybe that's what she needs to do to be free. That's how she intends to chase after Gabriel.

Faith does not move even after I unchain and open the door, letting in a strong gust of post-storm wind. The heavy smell of rain fills my nose. I inhale; the familiar scent both comforts and pains me. I let the door slam shut as I leave, leaving behind the house, the car, and the years as I go on yet another summer stroll. I count the number of flowers that survived the rains. I count the fallen trees and the stars that peek out behind the dark clouds. I count each person that jogs past me who will never know Gabriel's name, nor Faith's, nor Angela's, nor mine. I count the number of footsteps left in the mud because that's how likely it is that I will ever see my son again.

I count the number of twenty-three year old boys who have Gabriel's jaw, his nose, his mother's gray eyes and his father's stern grimace.

But I never find Gabriel.