Chapter Thirty-Six: Reseda
"I guess you’re not reading his book anymore.”
I looked up from the book Hannah lent me. Mrs. Cimino stood in my hospital room.
“I can’t say I blame you.” She picked through the Orange County Register that Dad left for me on the tray.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cimino. I know how much Steven’s book means to you. You said it saved your life.”
“Did I ever tell you why, Dylan?′
“No, Mrs. Cimino.”
I set the book next to me. She walked over to my bed and looked straight at me.
“Hugh was a good man, but he wasn’t always a good husband.”
“What did he do?”
“He worked. He got a job at Lockheed after college. I tended the house and took care of the kids. That’s the way things were back then, you know.”
“It’s not that much different now,” I said. “Mom stayed at home too, at least for a while.”
“It was a lonely life, Dylan. Especially when he traveled for business, which he did a lot.”
“What did you do, Mrs. Cimino?”
She gave a deep sigh. “Drink.”
I stared at Mrs. Cimino. I couldn’t imagine such a trim and healthy woman in her seventies wrecking herself that way. She sensed my confusion.
“You remember me telling you about Hugh’s parents and their liquor store. They kept us well supplied. But drinking alone got tiring after awhile. After I tucked the kids to bed, I’d go out...”
“You left your kids at home alone?”
“As I told you, unhappy people do things that cause them greater unhappiness.” She swallowed hard and deep.
“Mrs. Cimino, if...” I cleared my throat. “If you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to...”
“I have to.” She sniffed. “I lost something I believed in. Something that saved me. Now I have nothing to turn to.”
Fucking Steven Dimity! That fucking bastard Steven Dimity! Of all the shitty things he did, the worst was to rip the heart out of poor people like Mrs. Cimino. People who depended on him. Believed in him! How could he do that to...
Mrs. Cimino must have known how angry I was. She stood up and started backing away from my bed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lay this on you, especially when you’re recovering...”
“No.” I softened my voice. “Please, Mrs. Cimino. You can talk to me. Please.”
She walked slowly back to my bed. When she got there, she stood mute. She couldn’t gather the nerve to talk. I had to help her.
“What happened, Mrs. Cimino?”
A tear weaved through the wrinkles on her cheek.
“What happened to your children?”
Another tear traced down her wrinkles.
“Did something happen to Bernice...”
“Bernice was my youngest. She was seven years younger than the others. And...” She hung down her head.
Mrs. Cimino exhaled long and hard before continuing. “I met this man at a bar, his name...Hell, I don’t remember his name. Hugh was away so much, it just felt good to be with a man.”
“You slept with him?”
“Hugh never knew. When I got pregnant, he was just happy to have another child. He adored Bernice. He never questioned...” She exhaled hard. “A few years ago, he had gotten sick. Both of his kidneys failed. He needed a transplant. And Bernice -- dear, sweet Bernice -- she donated one of her kidneys. And...and...”
“That’s when they found out, wasn’t it?”
“His body rejected her kidney, and Hugh...His body couldn’t handle it. He died.”
“And your children blamed you.”
“And I blamed myself.” Mrs. Cimino covered her eyes and wept.
I let her cry. I brushed tears from the corners of my eyes.
Finally, she asked in a soft, broken voice, “Do you have a tissue?”
“There’s a box on the tray behind you.”
She needed a few tissues to dry her eyes and clear her nose. She then handed the box to me.
I took a tissue and dabbed the tears from my eyes. When both of eyes were clear, we looked at each other.
“Is that why you said forgiveness was the hardest thing you had to learn, Mrs. Cimino?”
“Steven Dimity taught me about forgiveness.” She turned to put the box of tissues back on the tray. She then stared at the Orange County Register. “But I guess that’s just a lie.”
“Maybe it’s not.”
"Are you sure you want to do this?” I handed Dylan my iPhone.
“It’s not just for me.”
“No. It’s me, Dylan.”
Mom’s voice sounded different from the last time I heard her, when she was screaming at me in her house. Her voice was softer. Maybe sadder. But it tightened to her familiar bitchiness.
“I’m surprised your father didn’t reconnect your phone.”
“When I get back to work, I’m paying for the phone myself. There’s a place near my work where I can buy a SIM card and minutes. I can even call Argentina at 11 cents a minute.”
“Argentina sounds good right about now, except they took my passport.” The sadness returned to her voice.
“Where are you, Mom?”
“I’m with your Grandma Genevieve.”
“He’s at the house.”
“You’re not with him?”
“Did your lawyer tell you to stay away from him?”
Silence. Then her voice turned nasty again.
“You must be enjoying this.”
“We kicked you out of the house...”
“You’re still my mom.”
Silence. Then her voice turned bitter.
“Just because a woman shoves a baby out of her uterus, it doesn’t mean she deserves to be loved. Your father’s grandmother didn’t.”
“Love isn’t something you have to deserve...”
“Please don’t tell me you’re quoting Steven...”
“It’s from another book. One my friend let me borrow. It’s from a Reverend Patricia Williams Story...”
“One of the people Steven plagiarized. Excuse me, allegedly plagiarized.”
“I thought you believed Steven. You said so in that newspaper article. You said you stood by him 100 percent.”
“Oh, please, Dylan! Everything he said was bullshit! He didn’t even believe it himself!”
“Some people believe it. One of the customers at our store, she said his book saved her life.”
“You mean someone read Steven’s book in liberal LA!?”
“It’s ‘the Valley.’ Not ‘LA.’ People in the Valley hate it when you call it ‘LA.’”
“Who gives a shit, Dylan!? They’re all a bunch of pretentious kombucha-sipping wannabe movie producers!”
“Then you don’t know what people are like here.”
“Apparently not! Apparently the Valley, as you put it, has brain-dead sheep!”
“Sheep? Is that all they are to you and Steven, sheep?”
“Damn right, they’re sheep! And Steven got rich fleecing them! That’s because they’ll believe any bullshit you throw at them! They won’t question anything! It doesn’t matter how ridiculous or big a lie it is. They’ll believe it simply because they want to believe it!”
“Just like you did.”
“You believed Steven too, Mom. You believed him so much you left Dad for him.”
Silence. Then a deep sigh and a tense voice.
“He offered me a life your father couldn’t. He was rich and passionate. He was unencumbered by the past, not like your father.”
“But Steven made up his past. His wealth was built on lies. But you believed him.”
Silence. Then Mom blurted out furiously.
“What’s the point of this call, Dylan!? To tell me what a piece of shit I am?”
“You want to call me out? You want to tell me I’m an idiot? I’m a terrible mother?”
“Maybe you’re trying to get me to confess! Maybe you’re looking for something you can use to put me away for the rest of my life!”
“That would be justice for you, wouldn’t it, Dylan!? As punishment for making you sleep in an SUV, I’ll spend the rest of my life getting raped in prison! Is that what you want!?”
“Mom, I just want to tell you.” I exhaled hard to hold back a tear. “I forgive you.”
“Forgive? How can you forgive me?”
“Because I love you. I’ll always will...”
“Spare me the greeting card poetry, Dylan! I’ve lost everything, including my freedom and reputation. What good does your forgiveness and love do for me?”
“Just to know...I’m not carrying any hatred towards you.” I exhaled hard. “Mom, I don’t like to see you suffer, even if you deserve it. I’ll never stop loving you, despite what you’ve done. But I have to go on with my life. Whatever happened between you and Dad, whatever happened between us, I have to let that go. I have to forgive you so I can have peace. I don’t want to hold on to my pain like Dad did. It’s like Steven said, ‘All of us are broken. All of us are flawed. All of us have sinned against God, each other, and ourselves. Until we see the grace in the brokenness in ourselves and others, we cannot receive God’s grace.’ Yes, Mom. I believe that.”
A long silence. Then her voice turned soft.
“That was only thing Steven wrote himself. I think that was the only thing he truly believed. And yet, it was the hardest thing for him to put into practice.”
“I can understand that. It is a hard lesson to learn.”
“I’m glad you learned it, son. I’m a long way from learning it myself.”
Silence. After a moment, I moved Dad’s phone from my ear and looked at the screen. She had ended the call.
Dylan handed the iPhone back to me. “I thought I’d get closure.”
“There’s no such thing as closure. All you can do is decide how you’re going to move ahead.”
“Excuse me.” The nurse peeked her head inside the room. “Dylan needs to go for a walk.”
He looked up at me. “Will you walk with me, Dad?”
I knew I was supposed to walk as part of my recovery, but it hurt like a motherfucker, and it tired me out like an old man. And to think, before I got shot, I booked it all the way up Reseda Boulevard from Victory to Sherman Way. But I did it without having a drag around an IV and a piss bag.
But Dad was walking with me. I had to keep going to impress him, even though I wanted to go back to the room. He gave me that proud papa smile, like when I made a great catch in baseball or got good grades at school. It was a smile I hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Are you sure you have to go back, Dad?”
“I have to catch up with my patients. Alison said I lost a star on Yelp. But I’ll be back on the weekend.”
“The doctor said that if my recovery continues to go well, I can be discharged soon. What does that mean?”
“It means you’ll be going home. Home with Pearl and Hannah.”
Home. I liked the sound of that word. I never truly had one for a long time.
Dad continued, “So, what will you do when you get home?”
“Well, Pearl and I talked last night. I want to finish my high school diploma. They have night classes at the same high school she graduated from. She’s going to back to school in the fall. There’s a community college nearby called Pierce. They even have a softball team.”
Dad smiles. “She’s a wonderful girl. You’re lucky to have found someone like her. You have so many wonderful things going for you, Dylan.”
“That’s why I want to clean up my life, Dad. I got a second chance, and I don’t want to blow it. I don’t want to screw up anymore. I want to stop those hateful voices in my head.”
Dad stopped. “You too?”
I stared at him for a moment. He walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me.” He patted my shoulder, and we started walking together again. “It’s time we got help and helped each other.”
We turned around. The nurse had been watching us.
“You made it all the way around the ward.”