Too Good to be True
I have worked with the Church for nearly twenty-five years. I have conducted hundreds of masses and met with thousands of parishioners. It hurts me horribly to break the trust instilled by my congregation. But in some sad and twisted situations, it is necessary.
This is one of those situations. Consider it my personal confession.
A beautiful young woman named Michele visited our altar once every day. Her husband, Mike, attended mass on the weekends. The couple’s outward appearances reflected all the pomp and privilege of a white bread, cookie-cutter neighborhood located in the suburbs outside the Hamptons. Mike worked as an accountant in Manhattan. Michele managed the house and the check-out line at the local Stop and Shop in her spare time.
The bruises on her arms did not appear noticeable at first.
Michael was a real smiley kind of guy. The type to grab a wrist and squeeze while shaking hands. He did that with me every Sunday after service. Those blue and compassionate eyes exuded all the warmth and compassion someone might expect from a young up-and-comer. He usually wore a tie with a smart suit jacket. When Mike kissed his wife, the passion and bond felt almost impossible to describe. Pastor Tim liked to say the two were a match made in heaven.
Through no fault of our own… some of us are blissfully unaware of the signs.
I decided to intervene late on a Thursday evening. I don’t know why. Maybe just my mood at the time. Or my responsibility as a counselor. Or maybe the fresh bruises on her flush-colored cheeks reminded me of my own little sister and I just could not stand it anymore.
“Michele, would you have a moment to speak to me in private?“
I offered the words in a tone that sounded conversational. But the look in the young lady’s sparkling green eyes said she understood my meaning. We stepped into my office. I offered her a worn leather seat and bottle of warm Aquafina. Michele started to cry as soon as she sat down.
I waited patiently.
After a few minutes, she laughed nervously and spoke with that crying-laughing tone we all have when looking for the bright side. Her Brooklyn accent reminded me even more of home.
“You know… we met at a Lauryn Hill concert,“
My turn to laugh.
“I know! Nobody could picture a guy like Mike listening to Miseducation. But he used to sing the cover of that um, Franki Valli song, ‘Too Good to be True’, to me all the time. Voice like an angel, swear on the Big man.“
“It sounds like the two of you have a lot in common.“
Michele placed her head on her hand and looked off into the distance nostalgically. Her curly brown hair and hoop early bobbed dramatically in the light.
“I could go on about the good days forever. So many big plans… so many big moments. You know, he proposed in Times Square. He didn’t have money for the big billboard, though, so he paid a hot-dog vendor to hold a sign. Such a cornball.“
The tears started to well up again.
“He promised to never be like his dad. I knew about the family issues early on. Raised in violence, stayed in violence. That’s the shit he used to say. Sorry for the language, Father.“
I raised my hand as a modest joke and smiled.
“He only hits me when I fuck up. That’s the thing. He keeps the beast inside, most of the time. It’s only when I run my mouth, or forget to make the right thing for dinner. I’ve got a big mouth, Father. And I’m a lousy cook. I know that. It’s not his fault.“
“Issues aside, there needs to be a more peaceful resolution to arguments. There is no excuse for your husband to hurt you. Lines need to be drawn.“
“You think I haven’t heard that before? I love him. His anger is my anger. My anger is his. I bear the burden alongside. I am not going to leave him, Father.“
Church guidelines insisted I walk a very narrow line in situations like these.
“I never suggested pursuing divorce. I do think we should talk about the violence together. This has been going on too long now. You have a young son of your own now, correct?“
“Do you want the same for him?“
She shook her head.
“Very well. I think we should ask your husband to come down for some group counseling. Would you like to tell him, or shall I?“
She indicated they would talk about it that night. We ended our session with a prayer. I asked God to give the small family strength to drive the anger out of their home. Michele asked for something else.
“Pleas save my husband from his anger.“
I escorted Michele to her car and waved goodnight. Then, I kept myself busy by finishing a few other chores. I met with some waiting parishioners, set up for mass the following day, and cleaned the altar. But Michele’s words haunted me the whole time.
I resolved to visit the family home that night.
It was unorthodox. Actually, it was downright rude, and a breach of confidentiality. Michele had given me her address in the case of emergencies. She did not give me permission to stop by at all hours. Regardless, my conscience and curiosity got the best of me. Someone needed to say something. In my arrogance, that became me.
After a five-ten minute search of the map in my back-seat of my Cadillac, and a struggle with the GPS in front, I found the address. Their house sat on an isolated dirt road a few miles away.
I left at the end of my shift. The rain made it difficult to find road signs. The lack of streetlights made it difficult to see anything at all. I arrived just after nine, and the house was completely dark.
Something about that just did not feel right.
I wondered whether my GPS had screwed me again. I wondered whether anyone was home. Even though the house stayed dark, a familiar song drifted eerily through the open windows and eased my suspicions.
“You’re just too good to be true…“
“Can’t take my eyes off of you.“
I hoped that meant the couple had reconciled. I unbuckled my seat-belt and got ready to get out of the car.
But a scream from somewhere inside indicated otherwise.
The lights in the house turned on. I mumbled a quick shits and leaned back in my seat. When I peaked outside, I saw something in the window that is still difficult for me to describe.
The lights in the kitchen depicted a freakish scene with unfortunate clarity. A normally picturesque home sat in ruins. Blood stained the carpet. Holes covered the walls. Every single object in sight seemed to either be sitting on the floor in pieces or moved out of place.
Something entered the room a moment later.
At first, I thought it might be the family dog. The shape paced back and forth angrily. It looked like a wolf waiting for dinner. I saw it move from the back, in bits and pieces, as it passed between chairs and knick-knacks on the counter. After it’s massive height drifted into focus, it became quite clear that the creature did not look like anything I had ever seen before.
It stood on all fours and still seemed to be over four feet tall. The beast had ears that added at least another six inches. It never turned to look at me. I am thankful for that fact.
No one should be surprised by my next reaction. I pulled out my phone and called the police.
The dispatcher asked for more information just as the situation in the house started to grow more dire. I hung up and got out of my car. The lights flickered off again, for a moment. When they turned back on, the creature inside let out a horrible roar. It jumped off the table just as a second shape intercepted my vantage point.
Michele was covered in blood.
A haphazard bandage on her shoulder suggested she had been shot. There were bruises and contusions to her forehead and imprints on the back of her neck. But none of the injuries seemed to come from the beast. In fact, she seemed to have some sway over it. She flapped her arms aggressively, as if to ward it off, while the animal waved claw covered paws lazily in her direction.
I approached the house. That felt like an idiotic move. What could be done? I did not have any weapons outside a rusty old golf club in the backseat, so I retrieved the nine iron and slammed my car door shut.
The noise caused a reaction inside.
The lights flickered again. That only hastened my pace. I ran up the path fearing that the Devil himself waited inside. I knocked three times and waited with my weapon cocked for someone to answer.
Michele came to the door a moment later, just as blood covered as before.
“Oh, Father, she blinked, How nice of you to come.“
I stared at her.
“Michele… where is your husband. Where is your son?“
She stared blankly for a moment, then stepped aside. Lamps and expensive decorations lay on the floor in shambles. Bits of broken glass dotted every corner of the house. I don’t know if it makes sense to describe the smell as ‘bloody,’ but the sheer amount of red on top of everything overwhelmed my senses.
“Where is Mike?” I asked.
Michele pointed into the kitchen. I followed her cautiously while a pair of footsteps reverberated over our heads.
“I saw something in here. What is in the house with us, Michele?“
I must have asked the question a hundred times. Michele seemed too dazed to understand it.
We found Mike on the kitchen floor.
The remains of his vocal chords by his side told me that he probably could not breathe anymore.
“Michele… listen to me very carefully. The police are going to be here soon. Where is your son?“
She seemed to finally panic for the first time. Beautiful green eyes widened as they came alive with the realization of the crime.
“I did it. I did it. He shot me. The boy did what he had to do… you have to tell them… I did it. Ryan did not… he did not know…“
“Where is Ryan?“
She pointed wordlessly upstairs as the footsteps seemed to scurry again. I nodded and followed Michele up the rustically designed wooden staircase. I gripped the cross over my neck like a life-line.
Claw marks on the floor led right up to the door to little Ryan’s room.
Michele opened it quietly when we got to the top.
A seven-year-old boy sat far in the corner. He huddled under a jacket that must have pulled off his father’s floor. Ryan’s forehead and arms looked to be covered in sweat, and yet he shivered in the comfortably heated home. Sirens started to scream in the distance as Michele’s steady words repeated behind me.
“I did this, Father. I will bear the burden.“
“We will bear it together. Right?“
I shuddered through the evening as officers and EMTs evaluated the scene. Most of the issues were not easily explained. The coroner reported the cause of death to be animal attack. The bullet in Michele’s shoulder belonged to Michael’s gun. Michele claimed to be unconscious at the time her husband died. I did not argue. I did not ask questions. Somehow, the family got out if it fine.
I left the congregation shortly after.
I have not broken my vow to the church. I have not divulged personal details, or made accusations against an individual with actual names. My conscience is clean and I have nothing else to say. Michele and Ryan are now thriving without an abusive presence weighing in on their every day.
And yet, I know what I saw that night. I know the creature inside Ryan must still be alive. Michele’s last words will always haunt me. I hope they do not come true.
“Raised in violence, stayed in violence.”