I just found out someone died – someone that used to be a huge part of my life. I hadn’t seen him in nearly 30 years. That’s kind of awful, that someone can go from being a huge, day-to-day part of your life and then *snap*- you haven’t seen them in nearly 30 years. I guess that’s the way shit works sometimes.
The person I speak of was my first stepfather. He and my mom were married for roughly 10 years. I vaguely remember him coming into our lives sometime during my 2nd grade year and then them splitting up at the beginning of my senior year. He and I weren’t mutual fans at first. I’m not sure he was ever a man that wanted kids, and I was still probably kind of pissed off that a stepfather was necessary in the first place. He was all into absolutes, the “you follow _______ rule because I said so.” I wanted to know why, the justification for _________ rule. He thought I was challenging him when I questioned him and would get mad. I thought he was just being mean because he would get mad at what were -I thought- perfectly reasonable questions. At the end, though, I was pretty gutted when they split up, very angry at my mom.
My memory can be a funny thing. Maybe that’s everyone. I don’t remember an awful lot about that time, but the fragments, clips I do have are very rich, very detailed. And did I say random? This is a brain dump of stuff that’s been in my head since my mom called me and told me he died.
His house – and it was his house – had pretty hideous furniture looking back. At the time, I though it was luxe and cool. He had this chaise lounge, probably comparable to a double bed in width. It was brown and fuzzy. It was the ultimate kid seat. He also had these white couches with metallic edges. I thought they were fancy.
His whole house was carpeted. This was Pennsylvania in the 80’s. I remember it being peach colored, maybe? In the winter, I’d lay on the floor in his living room watching cartoons with my feet jammed up against the furnace vents. It was the only warm place.
The yard had amazing trees in it – about 4 maples. Two or three of them were great for climbing. I spent a lot of time in those trees. I think I even dragged a board up in my favorite so I could perch and read books.
He lost his job at one point – the company was bought out by a French entity and they let everyone go. After that, he’d get pretty angry if I spoke French at home (which sucked because I was taking French and needed to practice). Before that, he took the same thing to lunch every single day: 2 Lebanon Bologna sandwiches cut in 4’s and a 2 pack of peanut butter Tasty Kakes. He would use the same brown paper bag over and over. He might have also reused the ziplocks. I thought that was so weird. I also used to get pissed about the Tasty Kakes, as I could never have any. I guess I talked about that a lot, as Will asked “was this the guy that ate the same lunch every day for years?” when I told him he had died.
He had an almost Depression era mentality, especially when it came to soap. In our bathroom closet, there lived several square plastic tubs where soap chips went to live. You know what soap chips are: when soap is used/dissolved to the point where there is just a tiny, flat chip left. I’m not sure what the plan was for the soap chips, if he was going to melt them down into bars or what. He collected soap chips FOR YEARS. I don’t think he ever did anything with them.
He was a Vietnam vet. He didn’t like to talk about that.
Despite his opulent and obvious 1980’s furniture, he spent most of his time in what was a man-cave (of course we didn’t call it that then). He had slipped discs in his back which caused him a lot of pain. He spent most of his down time laying on sheepskin rugs doing exercises on the floor of said man-cave. The walls – even what had been a closet with doors removed – were lined with bookshelves chock full of those books you could order from TV infomercials that had the matching spines. He must have had hundreds.
I don’t ever really remember him being hands-on with me. When I would take over his living room when I’d get sick – hours and hours of watching Poltergeist over and over, or blaring Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence, Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, and Peter Murphy’s Cuts U Up videos during my mono experience, he would just navigate around me. That was ok. That was our understanding. Once though, when I had pierced my ear slightly wrong (just jamming a stud in myself, of course), I must have nicked a vein. All I remember is blood running down my neck and getting all woozy. He followed me into the single bathroom and made me put my head between my legs, then helped me get cleaned up. I took the stupid earring out.
He was not adventurous then. He didn’t want to travel or try new foods. That bummed out my mother after a while, and probably me as well. We learned later that he remarried a nice woman with at least one child (a girl, I think) and they traveled. I think they even went overseas, which blew my mind. You can’t help but wonder when stuff like that happens “what if?” Regardless, I’m glad he found happiness – someone that could drag him out of his man-cave and away from his bookshelves.
We were both kind of satellites orbiting my mom. We all found a working system by the end. Largely under his roof, I went from angry and sad second grader to goth teenager. I’m glad we found peace with each other.
Who I was when I got there
Who I was when I left
We were Facebook friends, but didn’t communicate much. He posted a lot of silly memes and videos – the type and extent of which can clog your feed – so I actually had him hidden. I feel pretty bad about that now. We last had a message exchange about a year and a half ago. An old neighbor lady died that used to watch me sometimes, and he wanted me to know. He also said he loved watching my kids grow up on Facebook. That was it.
His death was very sudden and unexpected, which I suppose is a good thing. His wife was able to donate some organs, which I really like the idea of. I hope he was happy at the end. It seems like he was. I’m glad. I like that idea.