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Among the Missing

Published: May 11, 2018

My mother’s sister had 10 children, and that was one reason that I felt there were too many relatives to keep straight. Plus, of course, my father had siblings and they produced cousins, and everyone had family friends, some of whom were referred to as aunts and uncles, out of respect. If I complained about having to remember all these uncles and aunts, the ones who were blood or the ones who married in, my mother would shrug and say, “On any given day, how many people really matter to you? You’ll figure out who they are eventually — or they’ll go away.”

Her mouth got tight when she said, “or they’ll go away.” I knew she’d lost a baby. That lost baby was always there, in the background, lying quietly in her crib or sitting silently in a corner. I was very small when it happened, but I remember it in a kind of sideways way. At any rate, I filled the space of that lost baby; I had personality enough for two.

Not everyone is important all the time.

But everyone is important some of the time.

I made a little story about it.

I wrote it after my Uncle Reynard left his wife and their 10 children.

 

Once upon a time a man looked around and saw that he had too many children. He couldn’t keep them all straight and in fact he didn’t care to. His wife came from a family that didn’t divorce; as a consequence, he spent as much time away as he could, only coming home to sleep and, of course, beget another child. He had once had dreams, joys, aspirations, hopes. He no longer did. He clumped off to his job as a machinist, washed his hands with hard soap at the end of his shift, asked his coworkers who was doing anything that night and went with them. He handed over most of his pay, which never kept pace with the number of children, and kept just a small amount for himself.

His friends and coworkers knew he was the kind of man who could nurse a beer for the whole night; who ate only the cheapest things, whose feet got wet when it rained because his shoes were worn and holey.

Some of his children shrugged their shoulders and ignored him. These were the teenagers.

Some of his children climbed all over him on his day off. These were the young ones.

He left early and came home late. He showed up for family parties and grinned with his brother and sister, clutching a drink, happy to be with the adults he had known since he was a child. This was his true world.

Once upon a time, everything was in place for a bright and happy future. He had believed in marriage, he looked forward to it, he did his best with it, but in truth, he was not a man who loved children.

He hadn’t known that. He could have managed with one or two. He had 10.

One day, which was a day no different from any other day in terms of weather and commitments and getting dressed and drinking coffee — one day he just left. He went to work and nodded to his friends and took his paycheck (which he had worked for all his life and always given to his wife) and he left.

His wife wailed, and the children cried, but he was on a bus going out of town and he never heard them. For the first time in a long time, he smiled.

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  • Sunil, you’re entitled to your viewpoint, but I need to set a few things straight since I’m largely the subject of your comments. Yes, I’m divorced and was raised Catholic although I’ve been non-denominational for years.

    At the time I got married, it was well understood neither party wanted children. This later changed on her part from family pressure and friends causing irreconcilable differences resulting in said divorce.

    Catholics DO get divorced, Sunil. It is not something you do lightly at all, but things happen where it’s the best/only option. If no children, you can make a clean break and a fresh start. It’s not a mortal sin either.

    Having children is a HUGE responsibility financially, mentally, emotionally and more. I myself am a 2nd child, born 16 months after Nancy. She was a beautiful child but mentally/physically disabled as a result of forceps used in the birthing process that caused severe brain damage.

    My mother was under terrible stress while carrying me and I was closely observed by the doctors afterward. I was doing things in advance of schedule including talking. I unwittingly magnified my sister’s affliction so she had this terrible miserable/happy situation going on. She lost her mom at only 37 when she still needed her mother herself.

    Nancy frequently had seizures that scared me. I would hear Mom crying on the phone with friends telling them “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I instinctively tried to help her with hugs and trying to entertain her. Nancy was put in the proper facility when she was 6. She passed away in 2008, just 7 months after my Dad. So yeah, (ya think?!) having children was understandably out of the question.

    As far as the dog wedding goes, it’s something that’s light and fun. I went to the Catholic school for 1st and 2nd grade, was spanked by the Nun for being out of my seat. On a field trip to the L.A. Zoo, I was pulled by the arm for watching the monkeys doing naughty things. It’s something I’ve mentally re-framed for laughs as an adult. No disrespect meant to the Church, really!

    Nuns today are very different. Sister Mary Holy Water is a relative of one of my friends from the last dog wedding. She works with healing animals, using real, blessed Holy Water to help them heal. We both laughed when I told her about the above school experience. No, dogs (or cats) aren’t children. They’re who THEY are with mostly the upside of kids, but not the downsides. As for the dog wedding, it will proceed as planned and the dogs will live with their parents, but have frequent play dates.

    Karen, this story ‘Among the Missing’ is thought and discussion provoking. I hadn’t planned on saying anything further, but needed to. Thank you.

  • You write story of man who walks out on wife and children very shameful. When you get married accept children as they come wife stays home to be mother that is it. In comments you have Bob a divorced man who says he is a dog daddy with no shame and happy being so with friends using dogs as children as well. Dogs are not children. He speaks of a 2nd wedding between two dogs with these friends that condone and approve of this. Wedding cake and frosting for people and these dogs shameful. He makes mockery out of sacrament of marriage. I read mothers secrets so I know he is catholic knows he should not be divorced. Catholics do not divorce mortal sin. Shame on him for not stopping this dog wedding he will attend with his shameful friends. More shame on priest or nun who would be part of dog wedding. The couple having dogs dressed up as bride and groom make mockery of marriage. Wedding for adults only is wrong. No children allowed means something fishy going on. Married dogs living separately. What is going on around here?

  • Karen, this is some story; my goodness. The story of this man literally having so many children he didn’t know what to do (in more ways than one!) is kind of shocking but mostly sad.

    I feel sorry for the entire family with dad appearing to have walked out on his family with the implication being for good. Hopefully though it has a happier ending. Dad should have taken the (post divorce) route I have, as a dog daddy. It’s the best. You also get to meet other pet parents at the dog park and out and about.

    In June I’m going to a 2nd Basset Hound wedding of two friends of mine. She has a female Basset, and he has a male. It’s being timed around her ‘cycle’. She’ll be in a wedding dress, and he in a tuxedo. They’ll be up on top of a table with “Mom” holding her ‘daughter’ in place, and “Dad” holding his ‘son’ in place behind her—with his top hat in place with a chin strap.

    Unlike last time with a Priest, this time we hope to have Sister Mary Holy Water performing the ceremony. We’ll be equally charmed when she tells Chester he may kiss the bride. Mouths may be covered to hide any coughing trying to hide laughter as the honeymoon may begin right there. There will be vanilla wedding cake with whipped vanilla Duncan Hines frosting; no chocolate of course.

    This IS for adults only. If it sounds weird, I understand. Knowing it’s in L.A. though, all of a sudden it makes perfect sense. One thing though, they’ll continue to live in their separate residences for the time being.