13. Blame

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.”
Proverbs 5:22-23

“When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin,
his heart rages against the Lord.”
Proverbs 19:3

Laying on the bed in his cheap motel room, he studied the letter that had been handed to him when he’d left the base. In spite of his trembling hands, The Uncle’s eyes focused once more on the words in the middle of the first paragraph: dishonorably discharged. A sigh of misery escaped his lips. He’d read and reread the letter all the way to the airport, on the flight, and now, laying in this filthy room; he could have even recited it from memory had he been asked. Still, he could not comprehend that this had happened to him.

Dishonorably discharged?! Me? The Brigadier General!

For most of the day, he had wallowed in regret. But now, as his heart pounded in his chest and his breathing became more shallow, he felt rage begin to pulse through his veins. Giving into the anger that fought him for control, he shredded the paper, throwing it to the side of his bed. He sat up, leaning his face into his hands, and he let out a furious shout of emotion. 

“How did that wench get into my mind? Why did I let her lead me on…she’s taken everything from me!” He stood and paced the room, stopping at the trashcan in the bathroom. His entire 12-pack of beer was gone, and only a few bottles had made it into the trashcan. The rest were scattered about the room. He took a deep breath. “I need something stronger.”

He glanced into the mirror, and he shuddered at the grubby man in boxers and an undershirt who stared back at him with bloodshot eyes. He examined his uncut hair and bearded face, so foreign to the high-and-tight haircut and freshly-shaved face he was used to seeing. This was so unlike him, but he found that despair has a way of changing a person. He swiftly slipped into a pair of athletic shorts and a t-shirt. 

Grabbing the keys to his rental car, he walked out into the late afternoon sunshine and quickly shielded his eyes from the blinding light. After an early morning landing at the airport, he’d swung through the liquor store, and then he came straight to the motel, closing the curtains and locking himself inside. He had not been out of the room since. Charlotte hadn’t answered any of his calls, so he had nothing better to do in this hopeless town but drink his sorrows away.

Staggering slightly as he descended the stairs, he unlocked the car and climbed inside. He checked his phone one more time, clenching it in his fist when he realized Charlotte still had not responded to his texts and voicemails. 

She had been humiliated when she’d learned about the affair, but when she learned the full truth — that there had actually been multiple affairs — she was completely broken. Then, when he had been court marshaled and additional charges were added to his case, she had left town. “I need some time to think and some space from all of this,” she’d firmly resolved through tears. “I can’t process everything that has hit me while I’m here…and you are, too.” He would never forget the swollen bags under her eyes, the result of days and nights of weeping. 

He’d begged her to stay, pleaded with her that he needed her, but she’d left anyway. Without even his wife by his side, he had walked through the most disgraceful and horrifying process a service member could face, and it had all ended with the worst possible outcome. Dishonorable discharge.

Driving to the liquor store, his feelings alternated between uncontrollable rage and hopeless despair. He’d lost everything! Everything he’d worked for, all of the accolades and honors he’d earned…his retirement, even! Everything! He gripped the steering wheel more tightly as he drove, honking and weaving through traffic, not caring at all about what danger he might be causing to other drivers.

As he pulled into the liquor store, a lady in a minivan coasted in behind him, drifting a little too close to his bumper. On a normal day, he would have been irritated by her driving. But today was not a normal day, and instead, he was furious. He parked in front of the store and watched as she drove to the edge of the parking lot. She exited her vehicle and slid the driver’s side door open.

He hopped out of his car and walked over to her van. As he approached, he could hear her chastising her children. “Listen guys, I’m not going to pull over again to hand you these pieces. You need to be more careful when passing the game back-and-forth. We’re late to our appointment as it is. I don’t need to be stopping so I can pick up game pieces for you.” She stopped when she heard his feet crunching on the pavement. She immediately turned around, surprised to see him towering over her.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I just wanted to know if you’re in a hurry.” He spoke calmly at first, but he knew a volcano was about to erupt from deep within him. 

She eyed him suspiciously, and seeing that no one else was around, replied, “I’m not interested in whatever you need. Please, just step away from us.” She spoke quickly, nervously, unsure of why he had approached her.

“Oh, you’re not interested? Look, I just wanted to know if you’re in a hurry, because the way you were driving back there could have gotten all of us in an accident!” His voice escalated as he spoke, and he knew that if she resisted any further, he’d soon be yelling. 

“Look, sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I just want you to back away.” She sounded meek and scared, and that only served to infuriate him further. She slid the side door shut to her minivan, and he watched as her wide-eyed children looked on in fear as the door closed, protecting them inside.

“Back away? You want me to back away? But you’re the one driving on my bumper like you own the road!” He let out a series of expletives as he informed her that he could call the police to have them write her a ticket. Even though he knew what he said wasn’t true, he could see the fear in her eyes as he berated her. It felt good to unload on someone. 

She continued to look around the parking lot, and he watched as she motioned for someone to come their way. He turned to see a young man walking his direction. “Oh, what, now you’re calling the good guy? He’s the good guy, and I’m the bad guy? But what did I do? You’re the one driving like a maniac!”

The man walked up, positioning himself by the woman’s side. “Hey man, just leave her alone. You don’t need to be talking to a woman this way. She’s even got kids inside.” The altercation continued, and The Uncle clenched his fists, ready for things to end in physical blows. He could take care of this kid in one fell swoop. 

But the kid had more wisdom and courage than The Uncle gave him credit. Finally, he raised his hands and said to The Uncle, “Look, it’s just a misunderstanding, okay? She didn’t realize she was so close to you. It’s just a misunderstanding.” The woman was now crying quietly, and the young man’s calm voice helped to dissolve the tension. The Uncle cursed at the lady a few more times, then turned toward the store, swaying a little as he walked.

The bell dinged as he entered the liquor store, and the older man at the counter watched The Uncle with guarded curiosity. No doubt, he had seen the altercation in the parking lot. The Uncle didn’t even care to explain. He walked to the back of the store to grab a couple bottles of whisky and another 12-pack. He paid for the liquor and left, noticing that the woman was long gone. Good riddance to her. I hope she cries all the way to her appointment! 

As he drove around town, he thought about how much he hated this place. He couldn’t even believe he’d come back here, but of course, this was the place Charlotte had fled to when she left him. They’d been moved around so often in their marriage, the only true place she had to call “home” was this town she’d grown up in…the god-forsaken place that had forced their niece into their lives. How long ago was that? Twenty years ago?

The Uncle decided not to go back to that rundown motel, so he followed the roads until he came to the turnpike. He took a right onto it and drove until he was outside the town. He pulled over when he came to an overlook on the side of the mountain. After rolling down the window, he opened a bottle of whiskey and slumped back in the seat. He took a long swig from the bottle, feeling the burn travel down his throat and savoring the immediate effects of the alcohol. 

With no one else around, he spoke out loud to himself. “I was so careful. All these years, I had been so careful! And now, here I am, nothing! What went wrong?” The regret he felt now was not so much over the choices he’d made. No, he just regretted that he’d been caught. 

When he’d been moved from New Mexico, he was surprised to find that breaking things off with Emma had been easy. In fact, he’d had the feeling she was already eyeing someone else. His tryst with Emma had been the stuff fantasies are made of, and it had awakened within him the desire for more. The secrecy of their affair had driven him mad with pleasure, and his body now craved the high of that experience. 

There had been a few occasions where he and Emma were almost found out, and he knew it would be detrimental to his career if he were caught with another military man’s wife. Because of this, he decided to stay away from any woman connected to the military. For years, he followed through on this plan of action. He used an alias and met women at bars and online. If he ever discovered that she was a service member’s wife, he got out of the relationship quickly. His plan worked, and Charlotte had never even suspected a thing. But everything changed when he’d met the General’s daughter. 

The first time he met Rose, he was captivated by her beauty and her youthful charm. She had just graduated from Harvard in pre-med, and she was home for the summer before she would begin medical school at Stanford that fall. He knew she was off-limits; he’d told himself that over and over again. Yet there was something about the way she looked at him that made him lose all inhibitions. She wanted him, too.

He’d run into her at a nightclub about a week later. She didn’t seem to mind the age difference; in fact, it appeared to attract her to him more. It was a fast and furious affair, a summer of passionate meet-ups and secret getaways. She left for medical school in August, and he had been, truthfully, very sad to see her go. 

Everything would have been fine had Rose’s mom not stumbled upon their text messages when she was innocently trying to retrieve a number from her daughter’s phone. Their text conversations were incriminating enough, but the pictures they had sent each other were impossible to deny. Everything quickly went downhill from there. 

Rose had, of course,  looked out only for herself. She used the age difference to claim that he’d pressured her, coerced her even, into the affair. No charges of sexual assault were ever made, though he had feared for a while that it might come to this. Unfortunately, their text messages documented the many times they’d met up on base, including in his office, which fatally hurt his career and brought additional charges. Adding to the fact that she was the General’s daughter only made things worse. In the end, he lost everything.

He hated her now. He hated Rose with a passion, and he only wished the worse upon her.

A car passed behind him, and he turned to see it heading into town. The mountain air began to feel chilly, so he retrieved his hooded sweatshirt from the backseat of his car. He continued to drink the whiskey, not caring that he was doing so on an empty stomach. His mind was becoming blurry as he consumed more and more. He walked to the edge of the mountain and relieved himself off the side. 

When he’d finished the first bottle of whiskey, he threw it as far as he could, listening to it crash on the side of the mountain. His phone then began to ring through the open windows of his car. He hurried to answer that call, knowing it would be Charlotte by the distinct ring tone assigned to her number. He had left many messages telling her he was here, and he was ready to see her.

“Charlotte?”

“What are you doing here? I told you I needed space!”

“I need you, Charlotte. I have nothing now,” his slurred words came out slowly, and he whimpered pitifully in his drunken state. “Please don’t leave me.”

“Are you drunk? You’re drunk! Listen, I am at a retreat with the women from my church. I haven’t even had my phone on all day.” Her voice was heavy, giving away the fact that she’d been crying. “You need help. Why don’t you go see Pastor Greg at the church?”

At her suggestion, he let out a string of slurred expletives. “You want me to go to church? Are you kidding me? Charlotte, what has God ever done for us? He killed your family! He’s taken away everything I’ve worked for all these years!”

He heard her whispering to someone in the background, and it made him even angrier. “Who are you talking to, Char! Listen to me! I need you! I’m your husband, for god’s sake!” 

She took a deep breath, and she responded calmly. “I don’t have time for this right now. I need you to sober up, and we can talk after my retreat. But you’re going to have to get your act together. I’m not sure what I plan to do right now as far as ‘we’ are concerned, so you’re going to need to be patient. Now I have to go. I will talk to you on Sunday. Goodbye.”

“Charlotte!” he shouted into the phone angrily, but she was no longer on the line. He cursed some more, slamming his iPhone into the ground. When he saw pieces of glass on the ground from the now cracked screen, he kicked it hard toward the edge of the mountain and cursed some more.

He got into the car and cranked it, opening the second bottle of whiskey to take another drink. He was ready for some food and decided to head back into town. As he drove down the road, he cursed the names of every person he could think of, identifying how they all had contributed to his demise. 

“And you, God, what the hell have you ever done for me? Nothing! You didn’t even…” 

His rage-filled rant was interrupted by a deer that leaped into the road when he came around a curve. Instinctively swerving to miss the animal, he lost control of the vehicle, crashed through the steel barricade, and flew down the side of the mountain.

Because he had carelessly ignored his seatbelt, he was suddenly ejected from the vehicle, tumbling and crashing to the earth. When his body finally came to an abrupt halt against a tree, he lay there, mortally wounded. He was conscious for only a few minutes more. Even to his dying breaths, The Uncle raged against the Lord.