The Sins of Our Fathers; Chapter Three
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This is chapter three.
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Things Can Always Get Worse
When Theresa and Chris White celebrated the birth of little Christopher Newell White in June, the elated congregation celebrated along with the family: the beginning of a new generation of White children.
Claire looked at Christopher and saw the spitting image of her baby brother Isaac. She wondered if others noticed the dark eyes and chestnut hair. She wondered if anyone else suspected what she knew in her heart. That baby looked just like Isaac. And just like Craig.
Claire wondered about his middle name, Newell. Theresa and Chris said they wanted to honor Pastor Craig for all he had done in their lives. Claire smirked at that idea, thinking she knew why Christopher had her last name for a middle name. Shaking her head, she wondered if there was no end to her father’s vanity.
As Christopher and Isaac grew, they became inseparable friends, with Christopher Newell White often spending many afternoons in the Newell household.
When the school year rolled around that first year, Theresa continued to teach and Melissa eventually offered to care for Christopher alongside Isaac, seeing as the two boys were so close in age.
The offer didn’t come without much coercion from Craig, however. Claire heard him at night, chastising Melissa for her selfishness. He told his wife that it was her duty to care for both boys, because Christopher’s parents had to work and he needed to be around family.
“We’re hardly family,” Melissa had argued.
Craig fumed, “Of course we are family. We are all the family of God. You have a responsibility to help that couple get ahead. ‘Do not withhold good from others, when it is within your power to act.’”
Craig quoted sanctimoniously from the Bible whenever it suited him.
Claire wondered how her mother could be so stupid. She dreamed someday of confronting Theresa about Christopher’s real father. When the time was right, she would be ready.
As her mother always said, “Everything happens in God’s time.”
Claire was waiting for God to find the time.
On a crisp, clear Tuesday morning, Claire was doing what she did every weekday morning: fixing breakfast for her brothers.
Theresa dropped Christopher off promptly at 6:15 every morning. Claire usually got up as soon as she heard Craig leave at 6 a.m. Since Isaac’s birth, things had been different. Things had actually been different around their house since long before Isaac came along, but Claire got tired of pointing out how religion had ruined their lives. She even got tired of hearing it from herself.
Somewhere along the way, the morning devotionals had stopped. Craig started leaving for work extra early, and Melissa explained that with his promotion to worship pastor, he needed to spend more time at the church.
With Craig out of the house in the morning, Melissa stopped getting up early and stopped having breakfast with the girls. When they first began homeschooling, Craig would lead morning devotionals, followed by family journal writing. After Craig left for work, Melissa would sit with the girls and go over the day’s assignments.
Even then, Claire was a good student, and usually finished her lessons by lunchtime. If she read the books enough, Claire could do most of the assignments without any help from her mom. She wondered why they even called it home “schooling”. Really, it could be called staying home and reading.
Rachel required more of Melissa’s time, as she was just learning to read and finally beginning to understand addition. Melissa spent concentrated time with Rachel in the morning. By lunchtime, everyone was tired of school.
In the early months, Melissa would work with the girls on learning home skills. Sometimes that involved the sewing machine, which Claire loved. But they rarely had time to complete a project. Melissa would show them one stitch, and then move on to the next task.
Claire was annoyed by her mother’s inability to finish even one simple project. The corner of the living room was piled with half-knitted scarves, half-stiched embroidery projects, and a quilt that was somewhere between unfinished and falling apart.
As things in their family life began to fall apart, Melissa began to sleep late. She took little interest in helping the girls with their school. Claire began tutoring Rachel, just to get her through her work. She resented the task, but she felt sorry for her little sister.
As soon as she heard Craig leave for work, Claire was out of bed. She used the time to read, to get started on her homework, or sometimes just to dream. During those rare times, Claire would stare out the window, dreaming of what a different life might look like.
This particular morning, she was just a tad behind. After Craig left, she stayed in bed, eyes wide open, wondering. Wondering how their life had come to this.
She thought about her friends, back at school and having fun. She wondered if life would ever be normal again.
Impatient knocking on the front door pulled her from her daydream. She ran to the door, hoping Theresa wouldn’t knock again. She didn’t want Isaac to wake up too early and start the day crying.
“Sorry Theresa. I guess I fell back asleep after dad left.”
Theresa smirked toward Claire.
“Well, it must be nice to get to sleep in every day. Some of us have jobs, and responsibilities. Tell your mother I said hello.
“And be sure to keep Christopher dry today. His diaper was soaked yesterday, and I think he’s getting a rash. You need to make sure to change him after every bottle.”
With that, Theresa turned toward her car, without a good-bye or a kiss for Christopher.
He lay with his dark head pressed into Claire’s neck. Soft early morning light filtered into the living room, and Chris was trying to get back to sleep. On these early mornings, he usually got into the crib with Isaac and both boys slept another hour. Or two. Some days, Claire let them sleep as long as they wanted. There was no need to get them up too early. It just made her day longer.
She carried Chris into Isaac’s room and laid him closest to the wall. Isaac was just half a year older than Chris, but those six months made a huge difference in babies. She kissed both their heads, and then went back into her own room.
Claire liked to shower in the morning, but she knew the sound of the water would wake Rachel. She didn’t like to deal with Rachel too early either, so instead she climbed into bed with a new novel.
Many of her old friends had been reading the Harry Potter series of books since they came out. Unfortunately, the children at the Seeker Church were not so lucky. Pastor Bill deemed the books offensive and satanic, and they were thus banned from the homeschool approved reading list.
Claire didn’t know much about them, but as the fourth book in the series came out over the summer, the buzz rose to a loud hum, which Claire could not ignore. She got on the waiting list at the library for the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and at last she was finally reading it. She could hardly put it down, but she couldn’t read it in front of her family, so she waited impatiently for time to be alone and read. Rachel’s quick rapping on her door pulled her back to the present.
Claire was a little annoyed. What was with people and their pounding on doors all of a sudden? She was irritated with Theresa and now she was irritated with Rachel.
“What do you want?” Claire hissed, not wanting to wake the boy’s or Melissa.
“Claire, it’s nearly eight. We need to get breakfast going and get started on school.”
“I’ve been working on school since six, so shut up,” Claire lied.
She was annoyed with Rachel’s motherly tone.
“I’m going to take a shower first, and then I’ll make breakfast.”
“You don’t have time for a shower. We’re supposed to start school at eight. Remember? We need to get breakfast.”
Claire breathed out, exasperated.
“Rachel, we are homeschooled. We can start school whenever we want. It’s one of the perks of homeschooling. You get to make your own schedule. Now go away so I can get in the shower.”
As Claire climbed out of the shower, she could hear the phone ringing. She dried off quickly and wrapped the towel around her. It continued jangling, unanswered.
It stopped as the answering machine picked up.
“Hi, you’ve reached the Newell residence. Please leave a message for Craig, Melissa, Claire, Rachel or Isaac after the tone.”
Craig’s panicked voice spoke after the beep.
“Melissa. Claire. Somebody pick up. Where are you? Why is no one answering the phone?”
Claire could hear him talking loudly as she grabbed the phone on his desk. In the living room, she could hear Sesame Street blaring in the background, and the sound of humming in the kitchen.
“Hi daddy. What’s up?”
“Claire, where’s your mother. What are you doing? Are you watching TV?”
He peppered her with questions, not giving her a moment to respond. She immediately felt guilty for not making breakfast first. And already the TV was on. He was sure to hear that in the background, and know they weren’t doing school yet.
“I’m sorry, dad. We’re getting breakfast. Mom wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed in bed and I’m going to take her some breakfast in a minute. I just wanted to take a shower first.”
“Claire, what are you talking about? What shower? Are you watching the television?”
“No dad. We just turned it on to keep the babies company while we got their bottles made. I’ll go shut it off right now, and we’ll get started with our devotional. Sorry dad.”
Craig shouted into the phone and Claire recoiled from his harsh tone. Only eight in the morning and Claire was already awash with guilt.
“Claire, listen to me and stop talking. Turn on the news. Something has happened in New York. There was some kind of plane accident or a bomb or something. Turn on the news and go get your mother out of bed. Tell her to call me as soon as she gets up.”
He hung up without saying good-bye as Claire walked into the living room. She searched for the remote to change the channel, and giving up, knelt next to the TV to change the channel by hand.
Cookie Monster gave way to an astonishing report on the Today Show. Live camera’s showed a burning mass at the World Trade Center in New York City. Claire tried to make sense of the scene, as Rachel walked in from the kitchen, remote in hand.
“Hey, you can’t change the channel. We were watching Sesame Street. We don’t want to watch the news.”
We who? Claire wondered, as Rachel turned the channel with the remote. Cookie Monster was still singing about loving cookies. She didn’t have time to play.
“Rachel, turn that back. Something has happened. Something important, I think.”
“Fine. But I’m telling mom that you wouldn’t help with breakfast.”
Rachel taunted Claire as she changed the channel.
Claire watched in disbelief as a second plane flew directly into the Trade Center tower. On the Today Show, anchors tried to make sense of the puzzling images. It seemed incomprehensible that one airplane should crash into a building. But a second plane?
And then Claire realized that someone had done it with purpose. She stood in stunned disbelief as the horror unfolded before her. As she watched people running, screaming, and jumping from the burning building, her heart ached.
Melissa shuffled in behind her.
“What are you watching? Why is the TV on during the school day? Rachel, you go get your books.”
Melissa immediately tried to take charge of the family, as Claire and even Rachel protested and tried to explain.
“Mom, something happened, like a bomb or something. Dad wants you to call him right away.”
Melissa looked even more confused than usual and snatched the remote from Rachel. In the kitchen, something banged loudly onto the floor and a baby began crying.
“What is going on around here?” Melissa shouted.
She shut the television completely off and headed toward the kitchen angrily giving orders.
“Claire, get these boys their bottles. Rachel, did you get your books yet? Claire, why didn’t you make coffee yet? I thought that was your job. And has anybody changed these babies?”
Melissa angrily picked up Christopher, whose face was red with baby rage. As she held him, he stiffened against her, struggling to get out of her arms.
Claire watched the whole thing unfold, unsure what to do first. She turned the TV on, lowering the volume. Again and again, they repeated the crashes. Even Rachel stood mesmerized, ignoring their mother.
“Girls, what is going on in here? Didn’t you hear me? I need some help with these boys. What in the world?”
Finally, the images on the television caught her eye, and Melissa was dumbstruck. Christopher continued crying in her arms, and as she stood between living room and kitchen, Isaac twined himself among her legs, pulling himself up on the legs of her baggy pajamas.
She impatiently pushed him away and he sat with a loud thump on his full diaper. Claire could tell from the loud squish when he landed, that he had a full diaper. Irritated she picked him up. She wanted to watch the news.
Slowly the day unfolded in a fog. Pastor Bill phoned the congregation, offering an evening of prayer. Everyone staggered about in a haze of confusion and disbelief.
Claire was amazed that even in the middle of such tragedy, the common place still took precedence.
Diapers still needed changing, bottles mixed, lunch prepared. Claire was dazed with sadness, fear and shock. She wondered if she would ever laugh again. And that night at the church, people knelt to the ground, eyes glazed and shocked, while the worship team quietly played in the background.
As Claire knelt next to her mother to pray, she looked up, right at Craig. He was studying Melissa with a look of tearful disdain as he gently stroked the guitar. Claire continued watching as he turned unaware and gave Theresa a beautiful smile.
And she, with her tear stained eyes and full lips, briefly mouthed, “I love you.”
Claire thought she finally understood. Life makes no sense, and even on the worst of days, things can always get worse.
To read Chapter Four of The Sins Of Our Fathers
To read Chapter Two of The Sins Of Our Fathers