Friday, April 9, 1982

Rob had apologized profusely to me before he and Angie left that night. "I'm sorry, sis," he'd said. "I just hate to see you hurting." He told me he hoped things worked out for me and Al, but even though he tried to hide it, I could tell that he still harbored doubts that Al would be able to overcome his problems. He woke Michele and apologized to her as well, telling her that he regretted saying such mean things about her Daddy. Michele had nodded somberly, tears welling up in her eyes as she said, "My Daddy is a hero. He got medals for the war and he went to space and the bestest thing he did is be my Daddy. I love him and Mommy said that he still loves us, too, so he's not a drunk, Uncle Rob. He's not. He just has a big hurt." Even Rob had to blink away tears as he agreed with her and apologized again.

Michele had slept cuddled up with me last night and her annoyance with her twin lasted through breakfast. Despite Dad's explanation to her, I could tell that Bridget was still furious with me. She wouldn't meet my eyes or answer a single question I put to her.

After breakfast, I braided Grace's long hair while Theresa watched, the two of them chattering away with me. Theresa's gentle eyes were haunted, the pain of last night's tantrum lingering with her. As the morning wore on, Bridget still avoided me and Michele took to shadowing me. The two extremes began to set my nerves on edge. Taking pity on me, Mom and Dad took the girls on an outing to the KC Zoo, leaving me alone in the house.

For a brief moment, the utter silence enveloped me in a warm embrace. I didn't have to worry about putting on a brave face for the girls—or for convincing my parents that I was doing fine. It didn't take more than ten minutes, though, before the quietness of the house shifted from comfort to oppressiveness. Loneliness washed over me and I suddenly missed the girls almost as much as I missed Al.

Al. Just his name brought his broken image to my mind.

I walked to the phone, picked it up, and dialed the first part of Al's office number, only to hang up. It had been four days since I'd spoken to him and my stomach was in knots. He hadn't called back after Dad had hung up on him and I honestly feared the worst.

After pacing from one end of the living room to the other for what felt like a hundred times, I dropped to the couch and folded my hands together, bowing my head and pressing my forehead into my clasped fingers.

"Oh, God…I need Your help!" I cried out. "Please…Al needs Your help. I don't even know what to ask for. Just, please, oh, Jesus, please help us!" I started crying and eventually curled up on my side, weeping until I cried myself to sleep.


Tiny fingers touched my cheek, and I opened my eyes to see Grace smiling at me.

"Hi, Mommy. Me come back."

"Hey there, angel," I said, sitting up and taking her into my lap. "Did you have fun at the zoo with Nana and Papa?"

She nodded.

"Did you see tigers? You did? And monkeys? And what else?"

"Sea lions!" She giggled. "And him bounce a ball to Papa and Papa bounce the ball back. On his head!"

"That must have been funny. What about elephants? Did you see any of those?"

Grace nodded and her eyes lit up. "We rided one!"

"Oooh, was it scary?"

"Uh-huh, cuz it big! Nana scream."

She chattered on with me for a half hour straight, only stopping when Mom announced that dinner was ready.

Supper was delicious, just the comfort food I needed. Grilled salmon, whipped potatoes, green beans, and warm rolls. The zoo outing provided the main source of conversation as each girl (except Bridget) excitedly shared her version of the day's events. After dinner, Dad took the girls into the backyard to play, and Mom and I started working on the squares for the afghan again.

Mom excused herself to the bathroom after a while and no sooner had she left the room than the phone rang. I knew they didn't want me answering it in case it was Al, feeling that the longer he went without contact from me, the more effective what I was trying to do would be, but I was the only one available. I crossed the room to the extension and picked it up.

"Hello, Warner residence," I said, hoping my voice wasn't shaking too badly.

"May I speak with Mrs. Calavicci, please?" The man's voice was young, but mature.

The bottom dropped out of my stomach. What had happened to Al? There was no controlling the quiver as I said, "S-Sp-Speaking."

"Your husband asked me to call, ma'am."

"Oh, God…what happened? Is he hurt?"

The voice hurried to explain, trying to douse the panic in my tone. "No, ma'am. Well, he's got a sprained hand. I mean…he's right here and would like to speak with you, but he wanted me to place the call and assure you that he's sober first."

"Is he?"

"Yes, ma'am."

I let out a sigh of relief at that, but another question pressed at me. "Who are you, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Oh! I'm sorry. My name's Sam. Mrs. Calavicci, will you speak with him?"

I didn't even hesitate before answering, "Yes, please put him on."

I heard shuffling, and could just hear the exchange as the young man said, "She'll talk to you." I heard Al thank him, and then Sam said, "I'll be in the other room." A moment later, Al said, "Hi, Beth." He was indeed sober, but his voice was raw, ragged with emotion.

"Hello, Al," I said, cautiously.

"Baby, I miss you." The yearning in his voice was a cutlass that sliced the cautiousness away.

Closing my eyes, I responded, "I miss you, too."

He inhaled shakily and then said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the horrible things I said to you. I'm sorry for what I've done to us. I wish I could take it all back." He paused before asking, "How are the girls?"

"Coping. They all miss you terribly."

"God, I miss them, too. Beth, I'm sorry I let everything get so out of hand. I love you, honey, and I don't want to lose you. Oh, baby, I'm sorry I drove you to leaving."

"I'm sorry I had to leave. It broke my heart, Al."

Mom came back into the room and heard my side of the conversation. She immediately withdrew, granting me privacy.

"I don't ever want to be without you, Beth. I don't think I could live." The words caught in his throat. "I got a taste of that this week, and I don't ever want to feel it again."

"Yesterday you were still drinking," I gently reminded him. "Today you're sober. What changed?"

"Something happened today."

"What? Al, I want to know what's been going on. I've been so worried about you. You were so devastated when I left."

"I don't remember much about that night after you left, not clearly," he admitted. "I eventually went back inside and… Oh, Beth, even though I knew that's why you were leaving me, when I got in the house I slammed back that scotch and polished off the bottle as well. The last thing I remember is getting so disgusted with myself that I smashed the glass."

"Oh, Al." I'd been afraid that would have been the choice he'd made after we left.

His confession went on. "I didn't go into the office the next day. I just wandered around the house, going from room to room. Everything was so empty. I spent about, I don't know, maybe an hour in the girls' rooms. I buried my face in their sheets and just breathed in their smell." He let out a small laugh. "The girls smell like baby shampoo and Ivory soap, did you know that, honey?" I could just picture him shaking his head as he added, "You'd think that would've gotten through to me, but it only depressed me so much I went downstairs and got drunk again."

Guilt filled his voice and mingled with my own consuming shame at having left him. Filtering them apart wasn't an option as Al kept going.

"Beth, I called your Mom and I was so ugly to her. I know how long it takes to get to KC from here. But I accused her of lying to me and keeping me from talking to you."

I nodded, even though he couldn't see me. "She told me."

He choked in embarrassment and took another shaky breath. "After that, I drank until I passed out."

"Al, you could have died of alcohol poisoning!" Even though I knew he was fine, a clench of terror seized my stomach.

"I know, honey. It scares the crap out of me now when I think about it." He chuckled darkly. "I had one hell of a hangover when I woke up and I bit everyone's head off at work. I'll probably have to spend a month undoing all the stupid things I did with paperwork. And when I got home to that empty house…"

"You reached for the bottle again," I softly finished for him.

"Yeah." He groaned. "Oh, Beth. When I called and Rob laid into me…. Even though I deserved every word of it, I just got so mad I started yelling. I don't even know what I said to him, and then all of a sudden, your dad was on the line. His voice was so kind and I just started pleading with him and telling him how much I loved you, and how much I needed you. That I needed to talk to you, just hear your voice. Then he said, 'I know, son,' and oh, Beth, it was like a dam burst open and I started crying." Tears filled his voice even now. "But then he wouldn't let me talk to you and told me to sober up."

"And then he hung up on you," I said, filling the sudden silence that rose between us. "It killed me not to talk to you."

"Well, I lost it after that. I, um, I kicked a hole in the TV."

"Al!"

"I know. It, uh, it wasn't the only thing I destroyed."

It was a miracle he hadn't sliced his foot open smashing the glass of the TV nor started a fire, as it surely had to have sparked in its death throes. I knew how volatile Al's temper could be when he was pushed into a corner, and I could just imagine the corner he must have felt himself to be in. I didn't ask him what else he'd destroyed, but I thought of the various breakables decorating the family room out of the children's reach. It wasn't much of a stretch to picture the avenues his rage would have chosen. I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Oh, Albert. What have you done? What am I going to come home to?"

"Say that again."

"What have you--?"

He interrupted me, urgency coating his words. "No…say again that you're coming home."

"I want to. But Al, love, this is only one day."

Al grew quiet and then he reflectively said, "I know. And not even a full day yet at that."

Neither one of us spoke for a while.

"Is that how you sprained your hand?" I finally asked.

"No. I sprained it at the Project."

"I'm getting lost, honey."

His voice gave evidence of the wry smile on his face as he said, "Let me back up a bit."

"I think you better. What happened after your tantrum ended?"

"Tantrum." He laughed hollowly. "Yeah, I guess that sums up what it was pretty good. Well, I wish I could say I only cried myself to sleep…but it would be more accurate to say I drank myself into oblivion. I was still pretty trashed when I went into work this morning. I've been thanking God that I didn't get into a wreck or hurt anyone else."

I didn't want to interrupt, but I breathed, "Oh, Al, you didn't."

"All the booze did was knock me out. When I woke up, it still hurt just as much. More, because I felt awful about how weak I was for drinking. And I knew, all I had to do was stop and I could get you back. But the idea that I could numb the hurt away was so much stronger.

"There was a staff meeting this morning. I probably shoulda skipped it, but no, I went, like a fool. I had no idea what was going on. I was belligerent and arguing every point just for the sake of being difficult. And I got into a shouting match with the Project Chair."

I shook my head sadly at his confessions. He hadn't been filtering his temper well at all. "Albert, what were you thinking?"

"That's just it, Beth. I was drunk. I wasn't thinking. Well, that's not entirely true," he quickly amended. "I was thinking about how mad I was at your family for keeping you from me. And about how mad I was that you had taken the girls from me. And how mad I was at myself for being such an idiot as to lose you.

"Anyway, they kicked me out of the meeting and told me to go cool off. I wandered the halls and I eventually came across an empty lounge area. I was kinda thirsty by this time, so I went to get a drink from the Coke machine. I had just enough change in my pocket, but the stupid machine ate my dime and the coin return jammed. It was, as you like to say, the proverbial straw."

I suddenly had a feeling what was coming. "Honey, what did you do?"

"I went ballistic. I started pounding on the machine and kicking it, and when that didn't do anything I went after it with a hammer."

"Where on earth did you get a hammer from?" He was painting a picture of desperation, with destruction as the brushstrokes. I couldn't imagine things had gotten worse than what he'd already described, and yet it was obvious they had.

"The workmen had been repairing one of the cabinets, or installing, I dunno. They'd left their workbelts, and I grabbed the nearest hammer. I smashed the panel and then started tearing at it with one hand while I kept slamming the hammer with the other." He stopped and took a deep breath. The words that followed spilled out of him. "And that's when Sam showed up. He grabbed the hammer on the upswing and twisted it out of my grip. I guess he tossed it to the side, because then he grabbed both my hands and dragged me away from the machine. I was screaming and cursing at him the whole time. I musta looked like Grace when she fights you before a bath.

"Somehow he got me calmed down enough to let go of me. I was furious, Beth. Ordinarily, I'd have stormed away, but something made me stay. He asked me why I'd been attacking the machine and I told him about the dime. I felt so stupid once I actually said it. He looked at me with this Boy Scout look on his face and said, 'It's more than a jammed machine that's got you this upset, isn't it?'

"Beth, I started yelling at him to mind his own business and before I knew it I was laying into him like he was some slacking sailor. But the kid didn't leave, just kept looking at me with that same expression. I don't know why, but all of a sudden I started spilling my guts to him. I was telling him about you, the girls, and the night you left. I started crying." Al was crying now, too. "The next thing I knew it was like I was in a damn confessional, because I started telling him what had led to your leaving and what I'd done since."

I'd started crying in the middle of his story, and I put a hand over my mouth to hold back a sob because I didn't want to interrupt him. I was too quiet, though, because he suddenly asked, "Beth? Are you still there, honey?"

"I'm here," I said, my voice thick with tears. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I had to do that to you."

"Beth, listen to me. I'm sorry I brought you to that point." Al fought to get the next words out around his own tear-filled voice. "I love you, baby. I love you so much."

"I love you, too."

He started sobbing then. "Oh, God. Beth, I never thought I'd ever hear you say that again. I thought I'd blown it."

"No, oh, no, baby," I hurried to assure him, a stab of pain striking me at the force of his weeping through the phone lines. "Al, I've been praying for a call like this since I left. I love you!" I took a deep breath. "Where are you, honey? Still at the Project?"

"No, I'm home."

"But…then how did…?"

"Sam came home with me. He's…well, he's keeping an eye on me. See, honey, uh, they weren't too happy with me to start off with. Well, when they finally tracked me down and saw what I'd done," he paused to draw in a steeling breath, "they threatened to kick me off the Project altogether."

"They can't do that!"

"Oh, they can, all right. But they're not. Sam went to bat for me, started defending me, and told them if they got rid of me he'd walk as well. And he'd take his theories with him! Said he wouldn't be a part of any project that didn't have compassion for one of its own. He also told them if they'd give him two weeks, he'd personally guarantee I'd be back on my feet."

"Al, honey, it took longer than two weeks to get you to this point. What makes him think--?"

Al cut my gentle caveat off. "No, even I know two weeks aren't going to fix all my problems. But what Sam told me when they left us alone was that he was pretty sure he could get me at least dried out in a little more than a week, which would give me time to fly out to Kansas City and drive home with you and the girls. That is, if that'd be okay with you."

"I'd like that. A lot." I wiped at my eyes, and asked, "So who's this Sam person?"

Al took a few moments before he answered. "Beth, are you sitting down?"

"No."

"Honey, sit down. Please." He sucked in a breath, and muttered, "I wish I was there with you to tell you this."

"What? Al, why are you acting so strange?"

"Okay, Beth. Sam's last name is Beckett. He…He's the guy who was on TV the night you collapsed. The tomb guy—the one you asked me if I knew? He just came onto the Project."

I gripped the phone and didn't say anything for a moment, too stunned by this—coincidence wasn't the right word, exactly. On the other end of the line, Al panicked at my silence and started frantically calling my name.

"I'm fine, honey," I reassured him as soon as I found my voice. "Wow. So he's the same man I saw on TV. That's interesting, isn't it?"

"Maybe it was a premonition, honey. Your angel was a vision of the one who'd help me out later."

"Maybe." A thought hit me, a thought of what Sam Beckett might think at the "angel" talk. "Al, you didn't tell him about my collapse or my angel, did you?"

"No. And he didn't overhear any of this; he's in the other room, with Star yipping up a storm right now."

"Good. Don't tell him."

"Okay, honey, I won't." If he thought my request was strange, he didn't comment on it. Maybe he thought the whole idea of my angelic visitation was more than a bit bizarre.

"How are you feeling?"

"Headachy and a bit nauseous. A little shaky. But better than I've felt in a long time."

"A couple of days from now remember that you said that—about feeling better than you have in a long time. You've got a rough road ahead of you." I sighed and then said, "Baby, if Sam lets you—and you do whatever he says—I want you to call me every day. I'm worried about you."

"Honey, if Sam tells me to ride a cow to the moon in my jockey shorts I'll do it. Anything to get you back."

I laughed. "Oh, Al, love, I miss you."

The back door slammed open and the girls traipsed in, chattering loudly. Al's breath caught and he asked, "Is that the girls?"

"Yes. Do you want to talk to them? They've been missing you like crazy."

"Is the Pope Catholic?"

I laughed again, and called out for the girls. Bridget had been laughing, and her laughter abruptly stopped as soon as she heard my voice. The girls came in, but Bridget tailed at the back, glaring at me as she crossed into the room.

I thought I could start the healing process by letting Bridget speak to Al first. I held the phone towards her and said, "Bree, I have a surprise for you."

"I don't want any of your surprises."

My face fell and I tried again, "Bree, listen to me."

She stamped her foot and shouted over me, "No! I won't listen to you! I won't!"

"Bridget," I began, but she was gone. I heard her footsteps clattering up the stairs.

I lifted the phone to my ear as Mom re-entered the room. "I'm sorry. Let me give you to Michele first."

"How long has she been like that?" Al asked.

"Since we left," I sighed. "She told me she hated me last night."

"Oh, Beth." Regret poured from him in the simple words.

"I'll go talk to her. You talk to Michele." I beckoned Michele over and handed her the phone.

"Hello?" Michele asked hesitantly. Her face lit up at the sound of Al's voice and she breathlessly said, "Daddy? Is that you?"

"Daddy?" Theresa and Grace squealed together. "I wanna talk to him!" "Daddy! Me talk!"

"After Michele, Theresa can talk, and then Grace. Mom, would you?"

She smiled and nodded. "I'll take care of it, Beth. Go talk to your daughter."

"Thanks." I took a deep breath and slowly ascended the stairs. Bridget had closed the door to the room she and Michele were sharing, so I lightly knocked before opening it. Bridget was sprawled face down upon the bed, sobbing. I walked in and sat down next to her, rubbing a hand along her back. "Bree, honey, it's Mommy." She didn't turn to face me, but she didn't pull away either. "Why did you run upstairs?"

"You left Daddy!"

"Yes, baby, I did. I didn't want to, but I had to. Daddy knows that; he understands." I soothed her back again. "You didn't let me finish downstairs, sweetie. Daddy's on the phone and he wants to talk to you."

She sat up suddenly and gawked at me. "He is?"

I nodded. "I wanted you to be the first to talk to him."

Bridget lowered her eyes. "Oh."

I hooked a finger under her chin and lifted her face to me. "Honey, I know this hasn't been easy for you and I know you've been angry with me. I'm sorry I didn't sit and talk with you sooner. It must have seemed like I had time for everyone but you. I love you, Bridget."

She licked her lips and watched me.

"Daddy and I had a long talk this evening. He needs a little more time by himself to get to feeling better and when he's ready, we're going to go home."

"We are?"

"Yes, I promise."

"When?"

"Daddy's going to call me and let me know when he's ready for us to come home. I don't know exactly how long that will be. Maybe a week or so."

She studied my face again. "Will you tell me first?"

"I will."

Bridget sighed and wiped her eyes. "Do you think I can still talk to Daddy?"

"After Grace is done, yes."

"Okay." She clambered off the bed and grabbed a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand. She blew her nose and took a deep breath before heading for the door. When she was a few steps away, she halted and turned to face me again. "I do love you, Mommy."

Before I could recover from the onslaught of tears that brought on, she had disappeared to go downstairs. I paused to pray my thanks for the help delivered to Al and for the olive branch Bridget had just extended me. When I was finished praying I reached for a Kleenex as well, cleared the stuffiness from this latest crying jag, then pitched the tissue into the wastebasket and headed downstairs.

Grace was on the phone, excitedly telling Al about the "aminals" at the zoo. As she wound down, she said, "Love you, Daddy. Miss you!" Her small brow suddenly creased and her eyes filled with helpless tears. "Daddy? Daddy, no cry! I love you! No cry!"

Mom intervened, "Grace, honey, it's okay."

Grace looked at her and pleaded for help, "Nana, Daddy cry. He cry."

"Your Daddy just misses you. He's all right, sweetie. Now, tell him bye-bye and give the phone to Bree."

Bridget took the phone from her baby sister and said, "Hi, Daddy." A genuine smile spread across her face as he spoke to her. "I miss you, too, Daddy! When can we come home?" She listened and nodded. "That's what Mommy said. Do you think you could feel better fast?" Bridget's eyes misted over and she turned away from everyone. "I love you, too, Daddy."

Whatever Al said next drew a hesitant "Yes" from her and her shoulders stiffened. Her voice dropped, "I was. I'm sorry." She listened some more and her eyes darted in my direction. "I will. … Okay. … I'm sorry, Daddy. I love you." She started crying and told him goodbye.

"Daddy wants to talk to you again."

Bridget handed me the phone and started to walk away, then stopped in her tracks. She turned on her heel and threw her arms around my waist, pressing her head into my stomach. "I love you, Mommy. I'm sorry I was mean to you!"

"Oh, Bree. I love you, too, baby." I planted a kiss on the top of her head. "Thank you, precious."

She squeezed tight and then released me. Mom shooed the girls into the back room so I could finish talking to my husband.

"Thank you, Al. What did you tell her?"

"I just explained things to her."

"Well, whatever you told her, thank you."

"Please don't thank me, honey. It's my fault you had to leave, and it's my fault Bridget's been treating you that way."

"I don't want to play the blame game, baby."

He chuckled weakly and excused himself to blow his nose. His voice was still thick and nasal when he returned, but he didn't sound quite as congested. "Thanks for letting me talk to them, Beth. I miss you all so much. But especially you, honey. Especially you."

"Just do what you need to to get back on your feet, baby. We want you back." I lowered my voice and added, "And I just want you."

"Oh, Beth, I love you. And more than ever I know that I don't deserve you."

"Don't sell yourself short because you—because we hit a rough spot, Al Calavicci. I love you!"

He sighed longingly. "I could stay on the phone all night talking to you. But Sam's calling me. The kid wants me to take some aspirin now."

"Okay, honey." A lump formed in my throat as I made my farewells to him. I started to cry when I hung up.

Not long afterwards, the girls came back in. Bridget was the first in the room and she touched my knee. "Why are you crying, Mommy?"

I smiled at her through my tears. "There's a lot of reasons, sweetheart. Part of it is because I miss Daddy, and part's because I'm happy Daddy's going to be feeling better." I touched her cheek. "And part is because I'm so glad you're talking to me again." I opened my arms to her and she flew into them to embrace me.


"…and bless Mommy. And help Daddy feel better so we can go home. Amen."

Bridget crossed herself and then got to her feet. She looked at Michele already nestled in the bed and then back to me. "Mommy, Michele said I broke a commander-ment."

Michele sat up slightly, balancing on her elbows, and nodded. "She wasn't honoring you, Mommy."

Bridget hung her head. "I know I was mean to you, Mommy."

I hugged Bridget and gave Michele a strong look as I said, "Bridget, I already forgave you for that. You were angry with me and I understand that, sweetheart." I stroked the back of her head as I felt weeping begin to shake her small body. "Bree, baby, everything's okay with you and me now. Don't cry, honey."

"I love you, Mommy!"

I sat on the bed and lifted her into my arms, gently rocking her back and forth. "I love you, too, Bree." I brushed her hair back and softly wiped tears from her cheeks with light fingers. "Baby, I love you always and forever."

"Will God forgive me for breaking a commander-ment?"

Michele piped up before I could answer, "Only if you're sorry!"

"I am sorry!" wailed Bridget.

I kissed her forehead and continued to rock her. "Oh, honey, I know that. And so does God. He knows you were angry and He knows how hard it was for you to be away from Daddy. God knows how sad you've been." I kissed her again. "God forgives you, Bridget."

"Are you sure?" Bridget sniffled.

"I'm positive, baby. One hundred percent positive."

She searched my eyes and appeared to find whatever she'd been looking for. Bridget let out a sigh and sagged into my chest. "I miss Daddy," she said.

"So do I," Michele agreed.

I hitched myself back to the headboard and reached out to draw Michele into my embrace as well. "I miss him, too. It won't be long until we can see him again. As soon as Daddy feels better."

"Will Daddy's big hurt go away, Mommy?" asked Michele.

Oh how I wished it could be so simple. I brushed a soft hand against her cheek and was about to answer her when Bridget spoke up. "You didn't tell me Daddy got hurt, Mommy!"

I suddenly realized that Bridget had been upstairs shut up in this very room when Michele and I had discussed Al's problems last night. Michele opened her mouth to begin explaining but I shook my head. I looked into Bridget's frightened eyes and smiled encouragingly at her.

"Bree, Daddy's hurt that Sheli is talking about happened a very long time ago…before you were even born. You know all the ribbons on Daddy's uniform?"

She nodded. "Daddy calls it his fruit salad."

I chuckled. "Well, a lot of those ribbons Daddy got for fighting in a war a long time ago. And in that war, some awful things happened to Daddy, honey."

"Like what?"

Even though I knew she'd ask, the question still blindsided me. I didn't have the lead-in I'd had with Michele the night before. Now Michele looked expectantly at me for an answer as well.

There was no way I could tell the girls the truth—it would both horrify and traumatize them. Honestly, I told them, "I would rather not tell you girls that. I know Daddy would rather that you didn't know, too. Maybe when you're older."

I hadn't counted on the wisdom of my children. Bridget quietly asked, "Is that how Daddy got those marks on his back? From the war?"

I hugged my girls closer to me and fought back tears as I nodded even though Bridget's insightful question wasn't precisely exact. Those marks on Al's back, the deep cuts and ridges, the interlacing scars that defined the years we'd spent apart were symbols of his imprisonment and of a cruelty that went beyond "common" warfare. A familiar surge of animosity towards the evil man that had ruled the prison camps surprised me. I forced myself to remain focused on my young daughters and I hugged them again.

"Yes," I said aloud. "Daddy's scars came from the war."

"Did they hurt?"

Tears spilled over my lashes as I nodded. "Yes, when it happened it hurt Daddy a lot."

"Mommy, when Daddy remembers his hurt, does he remember how he got the scars?" Michele pressed. A sheen of moisture began to develop in her brown eyes for she was as familiar with the ugly lines marring her Daddy's back as her twin was. They accepted them simply as part of who their Daddy was, but they also knew that the marks were unique to him. Now they knew what they had probably always suspected—that the scars had not always been on his back.

Simple answers were probably best and they certainly were all I was capable of at the moment. My emotions were still close to the surface as they had been since talking to Al earlier. All I could do was answer, "Yes."

Both girls turned towards me and gripped me in desperate embraces as they cried over their father's pain. I hugged them, drawing as much strength from them as they were from me.

"Girls, Daddy is okay. The only time he hurts now is when he remembers what happened to him—and that's when he feels sad and scared. But he's safe now. No one is going to hurt him anymore, okay?"

Bridget raised her head. "Does Daddy know that?"

I wasn't sure exactly what she meant and so I pressed for clarification. "Does Daddy know what, baby?"

"That he's safe, Mommy. That no one is going to hurt him. Does he know that?"

"Oh, yes, honey, yes he does."

Michele looked up at me. "If Daddy knows he's safe then why did he think alcohol would make him feel better?"

I pressed my lips together as I tried to reach their frame of reference. Coming up with one idea, I asked a leading question. "Have you had a bad dream before, honey?" When she nodded, I asked, "How did you feel when you woke up?"

"Scared."

"Even though you knew you were safe at home and Mommy and Daddy would never let anything bad happen to you?"

Michele nodded. Bridget made the connection before she did.

"When Daddy remembers his hurt, Mommy, does he forget he's safe?"

"Sometimes, baby. And so Daddy thought that drinking would help him forget the bad stuff. But it didn't."

"Because alcohol only makes things worse," chimed in Michele, parroting what I had told her last night in our discussion of Al's drinking.

"That's right." I kissed the top of her head.

"Daddy is going to stop drinking?" Michele asked.

"Yes, Sheli, he is."

Bridget grasped far more than I had ever given her credit for previously. She asked, "Mommy, what will Daddy do when he gets scared after he stops drinking?"

That was the $100,000 question. The question Al would begin answering this week as Sam Beckett helped him begin to put his alcohol dependency behind him. I had no answer for her, but I had to give one.

"I guess Daddy and I will have to figure out a way we can help him remember that he's safe."

"Do you think your hugs and kisses will start working?" Michele was drawing from my explanation from the night before when I had explained that Al had turned to drinking because my hugs and kisses weren't enough to make him feel better.

"I hope so." That satisfied the questions, for now anyway. I hugged the girls again and pressed kisses to their cheeks. "I need to check on Resa and Grace. You two close your eyes and try to go to sleep, okay?" I got up, tucked them in, and kissed them once more. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too, Mommy," they said simultaneously.

"Sweet dreams." I turned the overhead light off but left the lamp on.

Mom met me in the hallway, carrying Grace who was crying. "Resa's already asleep," she said in a soft voice, "but Grace…"

I nodded and reached for my youngest as I thanked Mom. Grace twined her arms around my neck and sobbed. I gently bounced her as I carried her into my room and sat down in the rocking chair.

"Gracie, honey, what's wrong? Why are you crying, baby?"

"Me want Daddy!"

I sympathetically clucked my tongue. In the days we'd been gone, this was the first independent meltdown Grace had had, and I found it ironic that actually speaking to Al had apparently triggered it. I drew her close to me and kissed her temple.

"Daddy misses you, too, honey."

She gazed at me, her light brown eyes pleading for help with something she was unable to verbalize. Her weeping continued so hard she began hiccupping. "Me miss Daddy! Me want Daddy!" she wailed around hiccups. "Why Daddy away?"

"Daddy is at home, Grace. He doesn't feel good right now so he needs to be by himself."

"We go home and make Daddy better!"

I swallowed a lump in my throat and hugged her tight. "Gracie, we can't, honey."

"Why not? Me want Daddy! Me make Daddy better!" She hiccupped and grabbed my face with open hands. "Daddy need Gracie!"

"Daddy needs alone time, honey."

"Him need Gracie!" she insisted. "Mommy, Nana say Daddy miss Gracie and him cry!" Her sobs turned her complexion a frustrated shade of purple. "Him cry, Mommy!"

"Yes, he cried," I softly said. "Daddy does miss you, Grace. And he loves you so very much."

Grace nodded and pulled frustratedly at her hair. "Me love Daddy! Want see Daddy!"

I gently took her hands in mine and kissed her fingers. "I know you do, Gracie. And you will. Just a few sleeps and you'll see Daddy."

"Tomorrow?"

Sadly, I shook my head. "No, baby, not tomorrow." I wished I had an exact date to pinpoint for her, but things were up to Al at this point.

Grace gave me a forlorn look and her next hiccups were pathetic. A soft tap on the door drew our attention and Mom walked in with a sippy cup. "Here, Grace, Nana fixed you a cup of water for your hiccups. Take a long drink for Nana."

Grace took the cup in her hands and swallowed several long sips, exhaling loudly as she removed the spout from her lips. A sharp hiccup sounded and Mom encouraged her to take another sip. Slowly Grace finished her water and handed it back to her grandmother.

"Hiccups gone?" Mom asked.

Grace nodded.

"Grace looks sleepy," Mom observed. "Would you like Mommy to sing you to sleep?"

"No sleep," Grace pouted. "Go see Daddy."

"If you go to sleep," I suggested, "you can see Daddy in your dreams."

I piqued her curiosity with that and she turned to stare at me. "See Daddy?"

I nodded. "What would you like to do with Daddy? Would you like to have a picnic with him?"

"Picnic," Grace repeated, smiling around a yawn. "Picnic wif him." She yawned again. "Sing, peas," she requested, leaning back against me.

I smiled and began her favorite song. Al and I had never been able to figure out why she loved it so, but it never failed to put a smile on her face and numerous repetitions of it often eased her to sleep.

"Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…"