To understand Jim Branigan one has to understand the family in which he grew up. It was a traditional southern family. His mother and father were devout Christians who sought to teach Jim the difference between right and wrong. His parents took Jim to church. As the old saying goes, they were in church every time the doors were open. Jim had a large family. His mother had several brothers and sisters and so did his father. They often visited with them.
Holiday gatherings were always held at Jim's grandparent's house-both sets actually, so each holiday was a busy time for Jim and his family. Church always came first, however. Family gatherings usually had to wait until church services were over on Sundays, Wednesdays, or on religious holidays such as Christmas. It was in the home and in the church where Jim learned what was good for him and what was bad-especially what was bad. Jim often heard what God was against more than he heard what God was for. Nonetheless, he felt a sense of belonging with his church family, and as long as that connection with the church, well, with God really, was there, then Jim felt a sense of belonging at home too.
Jim's mother Julia was the strong-willed southern type. Her roots were strong in the Atlanta area. She had lots of friends, and over time she had developed a solid reputation in the small community outside the city where she grew up.
Her son was expected to do the same thing. It was often said by her that she hoped Jim would chose to settle down back home near Atlanta once he was finished with college and married, but wherever he chose to go he would be expected to do as she had done-be kind and gracious to his neighbors and build up a good name and reputation. Nothing should ever be done in his life to soil his reputation lest he disappoint God. Jim knew that disappointing God would be the least of his worries. It was disappointing his mother that frightened him in his youth. It still frightened him. He respected his father and did not want to let him down either, but his father was a little more laid back and mellow than his mother. Craig Branigan was not the type who could be easily provoked to anger and he always tried to find the positive in every situation. Some even called Craig a pacifist, a title that was somewhat misplaced. Jim had seen his father lose his cool and lash out, but those times were infrequent. It was his mother who was most vocal. She ruled the roost and everyone knew it. Jim was her pride and joy and even though she was not always as loving and tender with Jim as a mother should be, she made up for it in other ways. She clothed Jim in the best clothes she could buy. He was well fed, well educated, well dressed and showered with gifts during his birthdays and Christmas. His mother made up for not being affectionate with these things. Jim began to realize that as he grew older.
Even though Jim loved his mother, she was always the one person who could bring out the worst in him, feelings of guilt and inadequacy. If she ever knew of this hole that was in his heart, he knew that she would fill it. She would fill it with feelings of quilt and shame. She would make him feel that way. She wouldn't even have to say anything. She would just look at him with her dark brown eyes. He had inherited her eyes. Yes, her eyes, the movement of her head, the way that she ran her hands through her long black hair would say everything. Jim could picture himself telling her about this hole in his heart and seeing her do all those things. Oh how awful it would make him feel. Just thinking about it made him cringe at times.
But she would never have to know about this longing in his heart, this desire, this temptation, and this sadness that oftentimes turned into a silent rage. He would keep it from her forever, at least until he walked her to her grave. He would keep it from everyone including his father, all of his aunts and uncles, and even his cousins who were his age and were more like his brothers and sisters. He would have to keep it from the members of his church, his former pastors, and all of his Christian friends. They could never be told; no one could. This hole in his heart was too deep. This passion and desire was too shameful he had always been told. He was too happy now in his life. Or at least that was what he thought. He would not ruin that. He would simply deal with it the best way that he knew how. As he walked to his office in the church administrative building, he glanced around the sanctuary. It felt cold this February morning, but not nearly as cold as it would feel very soon.