The Apathy of Love
When tragedies such as this occur, it usually brings people and families closer together. And sometimes it pulls them apart. As a family we have been through some very troubling times in the past, but we always ended up back together. The news that Becky’s Leukemia was no longer in remission was just too much for my parents to handle. The marriage had already been through it’s up’s and downs and the breaking point had been reached. My mother sat us children down and told us that she was getting a divorce from my father. Becky decided she would go with mom, while Michael and I would stay with dad. Shirley would have to be placed in another foster home.
I decided to stay with my dad because I knew mom would come back home eventually. I wanted to be there to welcome her back when she and Becky started to miss us. This was not really happening in my mind. It was tragedy upon tragedy. The timing was so unfair and unfortunate but somehow necessary. Corina would be separated from her soul mate and best friend and my brother and I would miss out on equally special times with Becky and our mother. But apparently my parents weren't in love anymore and all this was just too much for them to handle. They could no longer be there for each other. No matter how many excuses or reasons I could come up with though, it's still hard to imagine why anyone would decide to separate and divorce in the middle of a terminal illness like this. For me at least, it was like pouring salt on an open wound. For Becky though it was probably like a breath of fresh air. For her own happiness she had to get away from my father. He was becoming much too desperate, defeated and overly devoted to religion and this was not healthy for Becky because it wasn’t working.
My mother and sister moved to Upland and stayed with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom for awhile before getting an apartment of their own. Ever since the first separation several years earlier, I became sour about visiting my relatives in Upland, because it was a reminder of bad times. That is the place my mother goes to get away from my father. My brother and sisters and I would even complain that there was too much smog in Upland and it hurt our lungs to breathe it. Any excuse would do if it could help keep us together as a family.
Becky spent a lot of time with our grandmother and grandfather Lance who lived in Pomona which not far from Upland, Ca. My grandfather and my sister developed a special friendship, a bond that may have been started the day Becky was born. In many ways, my grandfather and my sister were closer than she was with our own dad. Who can explain the magic that happens when two people click? Grandpa would take her golfing, go out for ice cream, watch TV together and just spend quality time with one another. Becky also got a chance to get closer with our cousins, Jack and Marlene Pipkin. One of my other cousins, Vivian, had three kids that were close to Becky's age and they would play together, Michelle, Tonya and Danny. My mother and Vivian had never been close and this gave them the opportunity to try and mend some fences. Vivian’s sister Carlene lived nearby and Becky would also play with her children, Denise, Kimberly and Allen.
While Becky and my mother tried to get on with their lives, we were barely able to function back at the beach. There was almost never a moment in our house when you wouldn't hear laughter and now you could hear a pin drop. My father was physically and mentally drained. All of his prayers had gone unanswered and even though he would never admit it, he must have somehow felt like he failed. My father appeared to be punishing himself over things he had no control over. As if there was something he could have done to make it all better, if only he could have been closer with God, or whatever. My father was in a very dark place. There was nothing we could do for my sister except love her and be there for her. But with the separation and divorce, we couldn't even do that very well.
It's amazing how many people treat you a little bit nicer when your sister is terminally sick and your parents are going through a divorce. Everyone at church knew our business and our predicament. People didn't know what to say and we just didn’t want to talk about it but there was a lot of compassion and a fair share of empathy as well. My father, my brother and I were in a pitiful mess and there was no escaping it. Fortunately enough for us, Grandma Morton moved in and helped us keep from going over the deep end. I didn't know why at any minute my parents didn't just say enough is enough and get back together, but I never gave up hope that a reconciliation could still happen.
Becky would come down to visit us in Huntington Beach periodically and Michael and I would go to Upland every so often but it was never enough time. I terribly missed Becky even more than I realized at the time and all I was concerned about was how to get my parents back together. When Becky came to Huntington Beach to stay with us, she usually spent most of her time with Corina. Shirley lived with another Mormon family down the street and was still very close with Danita. By now, Danita and Shirley were into boys and dabbling in drugs and alcohol. I was still trying to be a good Mormon boy and began to look down on people who smoke and drank or did drugs. I picked this up from my father who was disappointed by the fact that my mother smoked cigarettes and did other things good Mormons should not do. My father blamed my mother for the divorce because of her infidelity and was probably even angrier with her for breaking the word of wisdom by smoking cigarettes. Whatever demons my father had to deal with based on his own actions during the marriage are unknown to me because my father never discussed serious issues with us children. I do not know my father's secrets. I didn’t blame my parents for what happened to our family, I just didn’t understand why God allowed these things to be. It just wasn’t plain fair.
But over time things began to change. My mother had a boyfriend named Don. He was very rough around the edges and I did not want to be around him which made my visits with my mother and Becky awkward and uncomfortable sometimes. Now, whenever Becky and I did see each other there seemed to be a friction between her and I that never existed before. Suddenly we were strangers on different teams. It was as if we were each taking different sides and neither one of us was going to budge. Becky wanted and needed the freedom that living with my mother would allow. She knew the good times were gone for good and now was her chance to finally experience many sides of life my father would never allow. Becky was tired of my dad forcing her to try crazy treatments and outrageous antidotes in hopes of finding a cure for her Leukemia. She was also tired of putting all her faith in God. My father had slowly become holier than thou and it affected every aspect of our lives. As a Mormon teenager I was going to church at least six days a week, sometimes more than once a day. The only thing harder about being a Mormon is being a good Mormon. A really good Mormon. The closer my father got to God the further apart the rest of our family became. Unfortunately, I was not aware of all the inner turmoil that was going on around me at the time. The most shocking thing about my parent’s marital problems was that they would not fight in front of us children, so when they separated it was surprising for me and took me unawares. One of the things I found out they had fought about frequently was how to proceed with my sister's treatment. Both of my parents wanted to do something, anything for my sister, but Becky didn't want to live the rest of her life with needles and IVs sticking out of her. Her type of Leukemia was 100% fatal at the time. And at this point, treatment would extent the length of her life a little but would not cure her. And what spare time Becky had, she didn’t want to spend it at church and drinking carrot juice and praying until you can’t even think anymore. I have no doubt that Becky didn’t lose her faith in God, but found a more profane relationship with God that none of us could ever really understand. She was a child on the edge of puberty and knew her days were numbered. My father would have done almost anything to save my sister, while my mother let my sister speak for herself. Becky was always a bit wise for her age and now she seemed to have the wisdom of an ancient warrior. While the world was crumbling around her, Becky was beginning to set in place a series of very special events and opportunities that would change all of our lives. Gone but not forgotten.