Chapter 12

Mary opened her door with a flourish, as if to say, why are you bothering me. She glared down the person on the other side, but couldn't help jumping in surprise at his face.

"Raph? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Hey Mary. We need to talk."

"No... I don't think we do. Why are you even here?" She refused to open the door any further, glaring at him suspiciously.

"It's about Brandi."

So she let him in.

"Peter's been a mess. He's worried. He told me he loaned her money."

"Yeah, so? He told me that, too."

"So … I want to help."

"How can you possibly help. Raph?"

"I don't know, go find her maybe. Go to New Jersey. You can't go, Peter can't go, you both have jobs. He'd give me time off if it would help Brandi."

"Yeah, well, she's not in Jersey. She's in Miami."

"Miami? Are you serious? That's great."

"Really? How is that in any way great?"

"I know Miami, I lived there! I know people. Look, Mary, I know you want Brandi to start figuring things out on her own, but this whole thing sounds sketchy to me. I hope you give me approval to go, but Peter backs me on this and I will go there and try to find her even if you don't approve."

"Okay. I don't know anything more than that she's in Miami. I was caught using resources for personal reasons at work, so I couldn't get all the information. I can give you the number she called me from the one time she did call me, but Brandi seems to lose phones on a regular basis, so I can't guarantee it will get you anywhere. You're an idiot to do this, and Peter is an idiot to support it. Peter I can understand, but the first time you met Brandi she stole your car, so I'm not really sure why you want to go so far for her. "

"I feel for her. You're not the only one who suffered from your parents' behavior. Cut her some slack."

"God, Raph, you didn't live with it. You don't know what it was like. She was a baby, she hardly remembers. I took care of her, most of the time. She was fine. She hardly saw anything"

"Maybe I didn't live with a gambler and an alcoholic, but it doesn't mean I'm completely incapable of understanding anything. All families have problems. Do you know that my mother's oldest sister died from a backstreet abortion when she was sixteen years old?"

"What? Raph? What are you talking about"

"It's true. My aunt Rita, the second eldest, said, the hell you control my body like that! And has all her life supported women's reproductive rights. My mother? She was five years old at the time. She was convinced that sex without marriage led to my aunt's death. Rita tells me, she loved the romanticism of the church then, and to see her sister die like that only reinforced her romantic fantasies. But every year on the anniversary of her sister's death, she weeps. None of us know what to do. Aunt Rita refuses to see my grandparents, so at holidays we celebrated twice. Once with her and her husband's relatives, once with my grandparents. My grandfather had kicked his daughter out when he found out she was pregnant. She had no money, no place to live and so tried for a cheap abortion."

On Mary's incredulous look, he added, "Okay, so nobody knows quite what to do. We're all just guessing. My point is that families have issues. My mother, she always hated any hint that we were becoming too modern. Listening to rock music, watching t.v. But she wouldn't yell, she'd pray and cry. She eased up, over the years, but when I first moved here to the U.S., she wouldn't talk to me. She'd call every week, say hello, and then just be silent. Sometimes I talked, getting no reply, other times I'd just wait until she said good bye and hung up. I tried leaving the phone one time, but she seemed to know, I could hear her yelling at me as I tried to walk away that she didn't appreciate being ignored. This went on for almost six months. She's made progress but … it's not like our relationship is easy."

"Wow, I'm sorry Raph … I didn't know."

"I know it's nothing like what you went through but … you shouldn't assume that other families are perfect. Everyone has something there ..."

"Why didn't you ever tell me this stuff?"

"Because it was just part of family. I never knew Mama's oldest sister. Mama and Papa, my sisters, Aunt Rita - this was my family. They taught me the importance of family, of tradition, of sticking by one another. The point is, you can't assume that nobody understands just because they didn't go through exactly what you went through. If you dig just a little, you'll see that everybody's had some sort of family troubles. I know most of them don't compare … but at least they give people a basis for understanding you."

"So … why then …?" She wanted to ask him why he believed in it so strongly, fought so hard against all odds to take care of her family and to join their families.

"Because it's worth it. I hope someday you can understand that. Isn't that why you keep taking care of Brandi and Jinx?"

"I did bail on them. A few times. A lot of times."

"Oh, Mary. You did what you had to, to take care of yourself. But please, let me help you now. Just because they aren't my family anymore doesn't mean I stop caring."

"Okay … just … get Brandi home. You just give her money, she'll lose it and start blubbering again until you find yourself in too deep. Trust me, I've been there. God, that girl cries a lot."

"Got it."

"Raph?"

"Yeah?

"Thanks for caring."

"It's what I do."

Raph turned away, walked out the door with relief. He'd hated hearing Peter trying to pretend that things with Brandi were okay. He knew he shouldn't care as much as he did. Why was he so vulnerable to her need? Yet her openness was so refresing. So emotional, so uncontrolled. It was endearing to the man who wanted, more than anything else, someone to take care of. He made no plans, he still considered Brandi off-limits. Because of Mary, because of Peter. Better to move on with his life, take a whole new direction. But her sweet, open face, so vulnerable to the elements of life, made it impossible for him to walk away without making sure she was alright. At the same time he wanted to shake some sense into her, tell her to treat the people who cared for her better than she did. Needed. Important. Not just a coincidental tangent to someone's already full life.

Raph's last words echoed in Mary's head. It's what I do. As though it were that simple. Marshall was like that, too. Took care of her, put up with her, day in day out because that was just who he was. Mary had never been able to do it. She'd failed Brandi and Jinx over and over again. She must have been some kind of monster, leaving that child there when she was seventeen. Selfish, foolish, uncaring. When Marshall confronted her about taking care of them for so long, taking it all on herself, she never had the balls to tell him the real reason. He suspected. He'd alluded. But she'd never been able to tell him straight out that she had failed them. She'd left, just like her father. Half of her was afraid of being abandoned again. The other half, though, was afraid that she'd be the one to walk away. She could picture Brandi, watching her walk out the door, not knowing that she was running far, far away as fast as she could. She hadn't gotten far in the end, but isn't the intent important?