Nate thought God was having a good laugh that morning at church. The lesson in class was on the prodigal son. Nate just thought to himself how no matter what happened, he would never return to his parents’ house. He pretty much tuned out all the class, because Nate knew that it was just God’s way of picking on him. It got worse when he went to worship and found out that the pastor was preaching on the same scripture. Nate wanted to tell God that he could just shut up, because he got what God was trying to tell him. Nate was sure though that this was the right move for him. He really could not stay there any longer. His family was just not the right place for him. As Nate’s mind wandered during the service, he kept thinking back to the scrapbook that his mother had made of him. He kept trying to figure out why it was that the pictures stopped when his little sisters were born. When the service was over, Nate waited in line to shake the pastor’s hand.
“Thanks for coming today, Nate,” said the pastor.
Nate mumbled and shook his hand. He thought that he was going to make it out, but the pastor did not let go. Nate looked up and was standing face to face with this man who had been his minister for the past six months. “Nate, I hear that you are taking a trip with another young man this summer.”
“Yes, sir, his name is Matt; we go to school together.” Nate said, wanting to get out of there.
“So where are you two headed?”
“Um, we’re going to hike the Appalachian Trail for about two weeks, down towards Georgia and then back up.” Nate was hoping that this would satisfy the pastor.
“Sounds like a great trip. Here take this little present. It is not much but it should come in handy in case you want to take a night off and stay in a hotel or get a real shower.”
The pastor handed him an envelope and gave him a wink. He squeezed Nate’s hand and then let him go.
Nate got into the back of the family van. He looked into the envelope and found that it had a hundred dollars inside. He had to stop himself from saying something out loud and drawing attention to it. Nate did not quite know what to think of the gift. All morning at church he had thought that God was telling him that he was coming back to his parent’s house in the end, but now, he did not know if that was true. Maybe, God was telling him that things were going to be different for him, that he was going to be okay out there on his own and that he was going to take care of him.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. Sundays normally were. The family took naps and snacked on something that mom had cooked up the night before, like a casserole or sandwiches. Nate was pretty busy packing and making sure that he had everything that he needed and wanted for the trip in his backpack. He went downstairs for a bite to eat and his dad was there.
“Hey, Dad.” Nate said with little enthusiasm.
“You all excited about your trip tomorrow?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I’ve got it all packed in my bag and my clothes set out to go.”
“Do you need anything else? I could take you to the store if you do.”
“I think I am pretty set. The only thing I’m worried about is that I don’t know if I’ve got enough cash if we run into any type of problem on the trail.”
“Oh, you mean like, if you decide to skip off the trail for a night of pizza and cokes.” Nate’s dad jokingly knocked him with his elbow as he said that.
“Yeah, something like that.” Nate could not help but smile. He liked his dad, but he was never around as much as he had wanted him to be. Nate figured that this was probably going to be their last conversation ever. Maybe he should ask him about what had happened after the twins and why everything had changed. His stomach started to knot at the idea of bringing this up. What if he were just imagining that things used to be different and his dad would be offended if he said something that was not actually true. Nate knew that if he did not say something he would regret it.
“Uh, Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Sure ask away.” His dad sat back a little on the stool he was on at the kitchen island.
“This is kind of weird, but I was looking through the scrapbooks mom did for us and I was wondering, did something happen after the twins were born? I mean I remember her being in bed before hand and then I kind of remember that the two of you were gone a lot.”
“Was not expecting that one, though I probably should have. It was really just a matter of time, I guess.” Nate’s dad looked around uncomfortably as he stroked his face.
Nate felt like he had opened up a door that he shouldn’t have. His stomach twisted even tighter into a knot. For a moment he flashed back to the dream he had the other night and wondered if what he had asked was the thing that kept the rest of the family together and him separate. Almost as if they all knew the answer and knew not to talk about it, but they had not shared the secret with him.
“I tell you what, Nate, let me think about how to answer that question. Okay?”
“I guess so. It is not that important, I was just curious that’s all.” Nate wished that he had just kept his mouth shut.
Later that evening, Nate was sitting outside, seeing if his homemade bug spray his mother had given him actually worked. He was sitting there just listening to the mosquitoes buzzing around, waiting for them to bite. He heard somebody walking up behind him. Nate turned around to see who it was. He found his mother and father coming to sit down with him at the patio table.
“Hey, Nate, your dad told me you had asked about something earlier today.”
Nate just nodded his head not sure what he was about to get into, but he did not like the fact that his dad had brought his mother into this. What could possibly have occurred that they both needed to talk to him?
“He said that you wanted to know what happened when the twins were born.”
“Yes, ma’am” he answered, peeking out the corner of his eye at is dad.
“I am going to leave you two alone to talk. I’ll be back later.” Nate’s dad pushed back from the table and was gone before Nate could object.
“You’ll have to excuse him, Nate, he still doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Nate was getting more and more concerned as she spoke. It sounded almost as if she were speaking another language to him. He could not quite grasp what was about to happen. He tried with everything in him to focus on his mother and what she was saying to him.
“You remember that in the last couple of months that I was pregnant with the twins, I got very sick,right?”
“I remember that.”
“Well, it wasn’t just because of the babies. You see, I was suffering from clinical depression as well. I couldn’t take any medication to help with it because it would have been really bad for the twins.
“But I was also suffering from the pregnancy, my blood pressure was extremely high and it was not good for Kerry and Karen. I had to rest, but being in the bed just made the depression worse. I couldn’t get up and I felt completely useless.
“When the twins were finally born, I thought things would be better. But they weren’t. I sunk further into the depression. I didn’t even want to hold the girls after they were born.” Nate’s mom said wiping a tear from her face as she remembered back.
“It was so bad that Dad had to take care of them. We had wanted to breastfeed, but I didn’t want to hold the girls at all, so we got a pump and Dad gave them their bottles. It was okay for a little while, but the older they got, the worse I got. Which is part of the reason that we moved.”
“To get care?” Nate asked.
“Well, no, not really. We lived up where the winters were so dark. I needed to be around more sunshine. And it helped. Actually, it helped a lot.”
“Are you still depressed?” Nate asked, curious as to how he didn’t know.
“I still have my bad days, but I am able to do more than when I first got sick.”
“So that’s why you weren’t around as much and stopped…” Nate trailed off. I didn’t want to say she had stopped loving him even though that’s what he desperately wanted to know. He wondered if he might have been the cause of her depression, if he had misbehaved or caused her to be over worked during her pregnancy. He could not take the answer right now if that was what the answer was.
His mom broke into his thoughts, “I know this is hard for you to understand, Nate. I wish that you were not going away tomorrow so that we could talk more about this. It was a really difficult time for me and for your dad. I am sorry that we never talked about it before. I guess we thought that you guys never noticed anything was different. I guess really that’s what I had hoped.”
Nate was confused. He didn’t know what to say or even think. He got up from the table and walked back to the house. His dad was sitting there with John playing some kind of card game. Nate breezed past them and upstairs to his room. He kept telling himself “One more night. One more night. One more night.” Nate fell asleep repeating that mantra to himself. Nate knew that if he could be gone then it was once less thing for his mother to be depressed about. He realized that he needed to go, to help her be well for everyone else.