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69

My mother stared-with a deeply confused look on her face-at her former husband. The frown deepened the faint vertical crease between her eyes. Her expression was so bewildered she looked as if she had been thrust into a parallel universe where she recognized nothing.

Charlie, meanwhile, cocked his head and just stared at my dad. Huh, he said.

Victoria. Charlie. My dad said these words as if he was trying them out for the first time.

Neither Charlie nor my mom said anything.

This kind of thing is very hard to process, my father said, gesturing a little with his hands. Technically, the mind will take anywhere from five to seven minutes to catch up with any traumatic or shocking experience.

He continued on, but I shook my head and held out my hands. Dad, shut up.

My mothers glance snapped to mine, then back to her former husband. What is going on here? she said. Then again, louder, What is going on here!

Charlie and I both stared at her, surprised. My mother never raised her voice. Never. I had literally never heard her yell at us, never scream at anyone, never even laugh loudly. Victoria McNeil had a certain elegant, almost monotone voice that always remained at the same level and never shifted.

She moved back until she was near one of the walls. I do not understand. She enunciated each of her syllables distinctly as if by controlling her voice she could gain some control in this situation. But she looked around at all of us wildly, on the brink of losing it. And that was hard to see.

I stepped forward slowly until I was near her. She looked at me, fear in her face, but didnt make any movements. I reached out and touched her arm, then made a smoothing motion over her skin in the way she always did to Charlie and me when she wanted to calm us.

She looked down at my hand on her arm, then jerked her arm away, moved away from me.

Mom, I said. I glanced at my brother. Charlie. I took a breath. I just figured out that dad was alive. Yesterday.

Charlies eyes opened wide-or at least the one that wasnt swollen shut. Huh, Charlie said again.

My mom shook her head. Laughed. Then she repeated the sequence over and over, staring now at my father, until the shake of her head turned into a nod, and she was just bobbing her head and laughing and laughing, a hysterical laugh with a horrible edge.

I didnt know what to do.

But then just as quickly as she had started, she stopped. What is all of this? She drew a circle around the room with her hand. I dont understand. She looked at her son. Are you really a drug addict?

Charlie shook his head. Mom, I told you I was kidnapped.

I know, she said, irritation in her voice. And I believed it. Until this She pointed at my father, her expression shifting into one of horror, hurt.

My father crossed the room quickly to her, dropped to one knee and put his hands over his heart. Victoria, he said. Victoria.

A choking sound came from my mothers throat, and she began to cry. Hard. Charlie and I stared at her in wonder. Wed both seen my mother cry on a few occasions, and when she did, it was always an oddly beautiful sight-a woman who rarely allowed herself to show emotion, letting tears fall like crystals from her blue eyes, letting them glide down the milky smoothness of her face.

But this was different. The choking sounds continued. She grasped at her throat as sobs wrenched her body. Her chest was heaving; her face turned deep red.

I wanted so badly to help her, to calm her in some way, but I recognized there was nothing I could do. Charlie seemed to realize the same thing. He sat down on the floor, crossed his arms, and looked down, as if to give them as much privacy as possible. I sat next to him.

My father stayed there on his knee, his hands one on top of the other over his heart, tears streaming down his cheeks.

You used to do that, my mother said, her words mere rasps between the sobs. Thats how you proposed to me. She pointed at my father, still holding the same position. Thats what you did when you wanted to thank me for having your children.

My father nodded.

And then you left me. You died. But I never really believed you were dead. It never made sense to me. It didnt seem real. I even took a job as a traffic reporter, flying in a helicopter every day so I would think of you, and I would know you were really dead. But I still didnt believe it. And so I had to live my whole life knowing one thing was true but believing another. She began to sob again.

My father stood. I am so sorry, Victoria. I didnt see any other way.

He began to talk then. He explained about the Camorra, about trying to bring them down. He told her the Camorra had found him out when they lived in Michigan, had wanted to kill the whole family.

Remember when all the police officers were around? he asked my mom.

Yes, but you said they were friends.

They were. They were also protecting us.

But then his mother was killed in a car explosion, he said. It was a message, and my father knew he had to take action.

It was either move all of us He gestured at the four of us. Or I had to go.

You chose to go, my mother said, squeezing her eyes shut, as if she couldnt process her own words. You chose to go? she repeated, but in a question now. Then she moved away from him, and then my mother opened her mouth, and then she shouted, You chose to go!

My father could say nothing. He only nodded.


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