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My Parents

I was one of seven kids and I have to say my folks weren't very smart, trying to raise all of us on a single substitute teacher's salary. But they loved us very much. I know because they often said so. They tossed around the words so much they might have been punctuation to everything else they said.

On birthdays our mom and dad would gather us up and tell us the story of how we joined the family with many interjected eye rolls from the older kids who'd heard it a million times and "yucks!" from the younger ones.

"You came into our family howling and covered in your mother's blood. Boy, did you have a set of lungs on you!"

That sort of thing.

We didn't have much and what we had was shared, hand-me-downs that were kept until they were shreds which were then used as rags. Nothing wasted. We moved a lot, too. As I got older I put two and two together and realized that the vagrancy was because we'd have to skip town before angry landlords came after us for missed rent.

So yeah, things were tight but so were we. My big sister talked to me every day over the phone even when she left for college. My brothers were always there for me when the neighborhood kids would pick fights. Those kids were mean in the way only kids could be. A lot of it had to do with neighborhood gossip that we were all bastards from various affairs my mom had had. I guess I can see why they might have thought that; line us all up and we don't really look all that related. But my parents were crazy in love and I knew they'd never even consider cheating.

There was only one more after me. Mom didn't let on that we were having another sibling until well into things. Wanted to be sure about it, I guessed. I was surprised they were having another one - I was a pre-teen by then and thought I'd be the baby of the family forever. The poor kid was going to be the same age as their neice, my sister having just had her first when mom made the announcement.

A month of waiting on our mom hand and foot, fussing about cradles and baby names. Then my parents went away for a few days and when they got back I had a little brother.

When I laid eyes on him I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew what healthy newborns looked like from the pictures of my sister's baby girl. My new brother did not look like a healthy newborn.

If I knew then what I knew now I would have told someone. Child services, a teacher maybe. But I was blissfully, even willfully ignorant, and I did nothing.

I tried to treat my baby brother like one of the family, I really did. But I think it was a relief for everybody when I moved out a few years later. Too much tension.

Five weeks before graduation I got the call. Come home quick. Mom has cancer. I dropped everything to go to her. Wouldn't you?

My sister become a doctor, did I mention that? She basically moved in to be mom's full time nurse. From the pursed lipped expression she gave me when she greeted me the door I knew it was bad.

Ma kept her head up but within months she was gone. I remember my sister staying up very late, looking over mom's medical information and muttering about how impossible it all was. I didn't understand then. I do now.

Shortly after the funeral my dad took the last of her meds into the bathroom and followed her. He left us a letter, the bastard.

After the police and the ambulance left I watched my oldest brother read it before chucking the letter in the fireplace. He said we didn't need to know why dad did what he did. That all we had to know was how much he loved us and mom. He looked right at my sister as he said it.

The sick feeling that had been sitting coiled in my gut for eight years solidified. Later, when I dug my mother's medical records out of the trash I finally understood that feeling.

My mom had a history of ovarian cancer in her family. Hell, my mom had a lot of bad medical history. What must have been the most devastating to her was the infertility it caused. Not after my youngest brother, oh no. Two years before the oldest. She always did tell me that she wanted a big family.

The low profile job my dad worked. The constant moving. The way we all looked different. The pregnancies not announced before time. The birthday stories. The suicide.

The way my baby brother had looked the day my parents brought him home. Not like a real newborn. Like a TV newborn. Like a baby already two or three months old.

And finally the thing I looked up later, after I had gotten thoroughly drunk. The string of murders that followed my family's trail the whole time.

We all came into the family crying and covered in our mother's blood. But not the blood of the woman who raised us.

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