Read an Excerpt
The Uninvited Chapter 1
How did I end up in Union, Missouri, in the first place? I’d always been attracted to big cities, and during my youth I can remember fooling myself that I’d actually get the hell out of here. That never happened. Through the years Union became the place I called home. Once you’ve put your roots down, it’s very hard to pull them up to move on. Union is where my roots are. This is home.
Union, Missouri is a small town fifty miles southwest of St. Louis. Take Interstate 44 west of the city, and the St. Louis suburbs quickly give way to smaller communities. Union is one of those small rural communitiesfar enough away from the city to avoid the crowds, noise, and confusion. Pollution in Union has never been a problem. Look up at the sky on any clear night, and you’ll see stars so clear and bright that it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re real. Union is a rural town, a small town. Like the town itself, its residents have aged. These days a small farming community like Union isn’t booming, nor is it wealthy. But nor would I say the people in Union are for the most part poor; they just know how to make do. Generations of families on top of generations. The family trees of long-time Union residents are as long and wide as the streets in the old part of town. Union is the county seat of Franklin County, and the town square with its huge old courthouse acts as the centerpiece of town. The courthouse is rumored to have seen many hangings in its day. Old folks talk about families packing up picnic lunches to eat while sitting outside the courthouse, watching the bodies as they fell and went limp on their nooses.
The true history of a town like Union is always kept by the old. And Union has its secrets, just like any other small town. Historic? Of course it is, but you would never know of the history and battles that it’s seen because most of the historic locations remain unmarked. Union, Missouri is a small town like any other, and I call it my home. I live here and I raised my children here. It’s the place I’ve worked, sang, and prayed. It’s my home. For better or worse, this is where I’ve laid down my roots. This is my home.
• • •
I wish I could claim that I’ve led a fairy-tale existence in which good always conquers evil. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life? Mine began that way, I thought. I had a happy childhood. I was born on January 3, 1965, in a hospital in St. Louis. Born to devout Lutheran parents, I was a large baby, twenty-four inches long. I spent my early years living in St. Louis County, in the city’s northern suburbs. When I was eleven, my parents decided to leave St. Louis behind and move to the country, to Franklin County. As a city boy I always felt somewhat out of place in a farming community. We lived between the two towns of Washington and Union, right outside the small township of Krakow. My parents still live there, while I now live in Union.
I was a good student, with high grades and even higher expectations. I was a great speaker and a fair musician. College was successful, and I made my mark as a national-champion debater. I married at twenty-three and became a first-time father shortly thereafter, when Lydia, my daughter, was born.
Lydia came into this world as a crying, screaming bundle in September 1988. Her mother’s pregnancy had been uneventful, and the delivering physician had no reason to suspect that Lydia’s birth would be anything but routine. That quickly changed after my wife went into labor. Lydia, as if sensing the events that would one day shake our family to its foundation, poked her tiny head into the world and immediately returned to her mother’s womb. The mood in the delivery room changed from one of relaxed if anxious anticipation to one of controlled chaos. Lydia turned when she elected to postpone her birth, and she was now in a breech position. Both her mother’s and Lydia’s vital signs indicated they were in distress. Suddenly, I was in danger of losing them both. An emergency cesarean section was performed, however, and Lydia was finally placed in my arms. Her tears and tiny form brought me out of the depths of my worry. Little did I know that Lydia’s birth was a true harbinger of her personality and events that I would never have been able to imagine. Throughout the years she would always walk to the beat of her own drum. Strong-willed and levelheaded: that is my Lydia.
A year later my son Michael was bornone year and six days later to be exact. His birth went off without a hitch.
My attention was drawn away from my wife who was still positioned on the birthing table as if the hurried medical staff intended to crucify her later. Michael was brought into this world to the sound of his parents laughing, a sound he wouldn’t hear for long.
“Mr. LaChance? I’d like to introduce you to your son.”
The nurse handed me the most serious little baby I’d ever seen. Serious would continue to be the best word to describe Michael as he grew up. He was born amidst laughter and optimism on the part of his parents, but a pessimist he would be. Serious, with a deep sincerity. That is my Michael.
Matthew was born eighteen months later, in January 1991, during one of the coldest winters on record. His was a natural birth, not as dramatic as Lydia’s and not nearly as optimistic as Michael’s. For reasons only she might understand, the light had already gone out in his mother’s eyes. Despite being born on the coldest day of the century, even as a newborn Matthew was the warmest and sweetest of children, full of energy and life. But the first time I held him in my arms, this little bundle of energy calmed down at the sound of my voice.
“Hello, little man,” I whispered softly. And he was a “little man.” His birth weight was ten pounds, and he was over twenty-four inches long. From then on he would always be taller than other children, a force to be reckoned with and one that couldn’t be ignored. Inside his oversized body was a heart that would always overflow with love and affection as he matured. Oh, yes, a sweet and gentle soul was born into my life that day, and my heart was as warm as the day was cold. A gentle giant with a heart of gold: that is my Matthew.
And they lived happily ever afterhow I wish I could conclude the story of my children’s births that way. Unfortunately, Matthew’s birth would be the last happy day in the life of my marriage. Four years after Matthew’s arrival, I came home to find my wife sullen and depressed. Her dull eyes beseeched me to understand as she struggled to say her next words: “I’m leaving you.”
It’s funny, but when you are in the midst of living your life, you become blind to the truth that’s right in front of you. I hadn’t seen this coming. And even if I had, I would have ignored it or talked myself out of it. It’s hard to see the writing on the proverbial wall when you are constantly trying to hide from it.
“It’s not that I want to divorce you,” she continued, trying to reassure me with a voice that I already mistrusted. “I want to divorce the children.” She stood to cross the room. “Dammit, Steven, I never wanted to be a mother. I did that for you. You always knew you wanted to be a father. It was and is just not for me. I can’t do it. I try and I try, but I just can’t seem to do it. This is the right thing. This is the most right thing that I can do for them and for you. It’s me. It isn’t you and it isn’t them. This is about me.” She steadied herself for what she had to say to me next. “You have until Friday for you and the kids to find someplace to live. I haven’t paid the rent in six months. Tomorrow they’re turning off the electricity.” At that moment, I began to gain the full, horrible understanding of what was happening. She was not only leaving us, but she was also stealing the money that was meant to keep us secure, keep us alive. She was leaving us homeless.
The words echoed in my befuddled mind, and by the time I could think again, she was gone. Where had I failed? What had I done to lead her to leave us so abruptly? Why like this? Without a home. With only the shirts on our backs and very little that we could take with us. Just enough that each person could put into a box and bag of their own. So many things lost. Things that could never be replaced. A trust that was more than shattered.
Shocked and shaken, I tried to figure out what I would do next. What would I tell my children? How could I tell them that their mother had left them? They didn’t ask for this. The only consolation I could summon up was that she had waited for me to return home. Through my daze I remember her saying that she had considered simply leaving them at the grocery store. Somebody, she had said, would have found them and contacted me. I couldn’t imagine that the woman I had met, loved, married, and conceived a family with, the mother of my children, would have ever considered abandoning her children in such a heartless manner. They would never have recovered from a trauma like that.
The kids and I moved in with my parents for a six-month crash course in Parenting Skills 101. The women in my life, my mother and my wife, had allowed me to live a very sheltered life, and I had to learn even the simplest domestic skills. But I kept my eyes firmly on my children and the long road before us that we would have to travel together. Together? Who was I kidding? Although my parents would help as much as they could, ultimately I would have to do this alone, a single father to three young children. I certainly hadn’t scripted this into my life plan. Life as I knew it had been dramatically, drastically, and permanently altered with a few words and the slamming of a door.
I would find in the coming months and years that I could manage a pretty good life for all of us. My wife’s visits to her children became less and less frequent, and the children’s desire to be with her diminished with the passage of time. Their wounds would be with them forever, but I did my best to bandage and soothe them. By the grace of God I hoped that in the coming years they would become mature adults secure in the knowledge that they were loved, even if they had been abandoned by their mother. I knew, though, that despite my best efforts, pain this deep and personal would leave them scarred. I was saddened every time I thought about itsaddened, pained, and hurt.
In the years to come I would try to figure out why it all went so wrong so fast. I never did find the answer for myself, for my children, or for her. What causes a mother to give up her young? That completely goes against the laws of nature. Was it a prolonged postpartum depression? A nervous breakdown? Or did she just simply lose her mind? I don’t think I’ll ever fully have the answer. At least she knew what was best for them. Her words still echo in my mind, even now, this many years later: “This is the most right thing that I can do for them and for you.” Well, at least she got that much right.