When I was 12 years old I fell in love for the first time – with Janie – and all I wanted was to kiss her on the mouth. One day I did and it was sweeter than I imagined. That kiss that day made me excel at baseball, but going home at dusk was a short-lived glory for I knew when I got home I would have to pass my stepfather, and he would be drinking.
“Where you been?” he growled as I came in. “Playing baseball,” I answered, concealing how he frightened me. As I turned his shadow fell on me, followed by a blow that jarred my soul from my body. Then he dragged me to the door and threw me out. I found a hiding place and cried until I was empty, believing nothing mattered. Not the kiss, not baseball, not feeling grand. I swore someday I’d kill him.
He was a Scottish immigrant, charming on the outside but frightened underneath, working every waking hour. Soon he had it all: a business, a house, a Cadillac, and waiters who knew his name. But the castle of his life was built on sand and one day it all came down. The bank locked up his business, foreclosed on the house, and repossessed the Cadillac. I was eighteen by then, old enough to walk away, and I did, as far from him as I could get. And I vowed my children will not suffer as I did. But as good a father as I became, part of me was wounded in my hatred for this man, and at times my children had to withdraw from the darkness hate made of me.
One day my wife said, I called and spoke to him. He’s living just across the river. He has no one and nothing to his name. It’s time to heal. When I refused she said, If not for you, then for our children.
He wasn’t well. A.A. had set him on his feet but his body was shot from years of booze and cigarettes. On Sundays I would visit him. He would ask about my life, my kids, my dreams, and I could feel him take me in and sensed the happiness it gave him. As time went by I realized that there was love in him for me and returning home I would wonder, how did this happen that my heart is peaceful and at one with his?
One day he collapsed at work. The ICU cheated death for three days, but it was hard. When he grew frightened he would say I made a mess of everything, I hurt everyone I loved. I stayed beside his bed, stroked his hair, and helped him be at peace, and in the silence as he died I could see the essence of his being softly shining through, blessing me.
After that, I loved better, especially my children. I judged less and forgave more. Now, years later, my greatest joy is beholding the loving way my children care for their children, and I think: this is how the world changes.