By Kali Horvath
It was the only story you told me of your stepfather. Your earliest memory. How he spanked your toddler bottom with your plastic fishing rod. When you cried, “Why?” he replied that you were wasting money by throwing your fish toys into the ocean. You didn’t appreciate how hard he worked to afford this gift for you. Even when you took the beating, and then reached out to have your reel back, he wouldn’t release his grasp.
It was the only story your brother told me of your stepfather. His most vivid memory. How your stepfather waited by the mailbox every day for the social security checks meant for you and your siblings. Cashing them before your mama came home from the office. Your brother would cry, “Why?” He replied that it was a waste of money to save for you all to attend college. You kids didn’t appreciate how hard he worked to feed three more children. Even when your brother reached out for some money to buy school supplies, he wouldn’t release his grasp.
It was the only story your sister told me of your stepfather. Her nightmare memory. How he waited for her every evening to bathe her and read her bedtime stories. But of course, that wasn’t all he was doing to her behind locked doors. She cried herself to sleep every night, “Why?” He replied that she didn’t appreciate the extra time he spent with her. Even when she reached to push his hands away from her nightgown, he wouldn’t release his grasp.
It was the only story I told our kids about their step grandfather. Their only memory of him. How he went to the doctor for a headache and died of a brain tumor. The kids asked “Why?” I replied that sometimes there isn’t enough money in the entire world to save a life. When our babies reached out to wipe the tears from my face, I wouldn’t release their grasp.
It was the only story I told myself of my father-in-law. How he must have some awful childhood memories. I asked him “Why?” Why did he act the way that he did? He said that I wouldn’t appreciate how hard his life had been. Even when I tried to understand, I knew that all I could do was release him. Like those plastic fishies my husband had wanted to set free.