My stepdad, King of the Mountain, wears his hair in a bristled crew cut. He has letters tattooed above his knuckles which spell out Hold Tight. He’s the only man I know who gets manicures, something which all these decades later seems incongruous, at odds with his personality and temperament.
He has a nervous twitch every thirty seconds or so like clockwork. I don’t know what this means. I heard once it had something to do with his stint in the army, though it’s never been verified. He plays the steel guitar; in fact he used to play the steel guitar in my father’s band, before he stole my mother away from him.
The King of the Mountain lives on cruelty both sexual and verbal, which seeps into emotional and mental abuse as well. He does something I can’t quite remember to the back of my head—lightly slaps it or something—as his private signal to me that he’s about to force himself on me yet again. To this day I can’t stand to have anyone touch the back of my head. When someone unwittingly does so I am instantly filled with hot rage. I hide it well, as I do most things. But the rage is there. It makes me want to smash my fist into a wall, or kill someone. I won’t do either of course, but in that nano-second of a hand making contact with my skull, I sure want to.
We are a motley crew, those of us who individually make up the unit of my mother’s second family. I don’t know where my three older brothers are. They’ve vanished into Never Never Land. Sometimes I have the vague suspicion that I made them up. There are no photos of them in our modern home, no framed art work or grubby report cards fondly tucked away in the drawer which houses my mother’s keepsakes. The fact that I don’t know my brothers anymore and am not to mention their names, confuses me. When did they become strangers and their names anathema? How did this happen, and why? And why was I spared their awful exiled fate?
My stepdad boasts a lot. According to him, he is always right. If anyone disagrees with him, their opinion is stupid and worthless. He has no interest in learning new things, or the humility to consider that just maybe he could be wrong once in a while. He treats my mother disparagingly. He doesn’t call her names or hit her or do anything vicious, exactly. His cruelty towards her is more along the lines of saying, for instance, “What did you do after you combed your hair today?” He thinks this is hilarious, implying that she’s been too lazy to get around to tending to her appearance. His sense of humor is always at the expense of others.
When The King of the Mountain was a toddler, he was placed in an orphanage. I’m not sure why. The first time I heard about this, when I was in grade school, I felt sorry for him. Maybe because I could identify with the feeling of being a motherless and fatherless child. I still had my mother, of course, in body if not in heart. I mean she was there, she just wasn’t plugged in so we never connected. I don’t feel so sorry for him now that I’m old enough to understand that everyone gets to make choices in life. For instance, I was told (I think by my mother, no doubt in an effort to justify his actions towards me) that he’d been so horribly abused in the orphanage that he wouldn’t divulge the details to her. Well. As sorry as I am to hear of any child undergoing abuse, I’m just not buying that as an excuse or justification for anything. I went through my own horrors at his hands but didn’t turn around and perpetuate the same abuses on my children.
My stepdad, in spite of his treatment of me, actually was fond of me. Sounds strange, but it’s true. He liked my personality and temperament, and once in a blue moon he complimented me on being responsible, and a good kid. Not that the knowledge of his liking me helped me any during those abusive years. If anything it made things worse, messed with my head big time. I couldn’t understand how someone who liked me could do such wretchedly foul things to me.
When he was on his death bed dying of bone cancer, The King of the Mountain called me up and, weeping profusely, begged my forgiveness. His confession was pretty thin; he called it “driving you away from home” rather than “stealing your virginity.” My mother was right beside him, so I’ll never know if he was purposely vague because of her listening ear. I’m not sure how I feel about his confession. At the time I told him I forgave him, because I honestly thought I did. But I’ve since learned that some things take a lifetime to forgive, and I don’t think that process has been completed within me, towards him or my mother.
My stepdad called me Doobie because it rhymed with boobie, a word he used because it embarrassed me. No one else knew why he called me that. If they gave it any thought they probably assumed it was just a variation of my given name. But it wasn’t. It was something meant to be snide and cruel, just between the two of us, like the slap or whatever the hell it was up the back of my head. I didn’t desire to be in on his little private jokes, didn’t enjoy being party to his secrets. What I wanted desperately was for him to love me like my real father would if he were still around. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want him brushing up against me in the hallway, whispering into my neck with his hot breath to not wear any underwear to bed.
Nights when memories keep me wide awake afraid to close my eyes, afraid to relax in case he steals into my room once more, snatching me away to some darkened corner of the house, I try to remember that my abuser’s legacy is not the whole picture. I find comfort in remembering another kind of legacy, one which I believe will endure when time is no more, and I have at last arrived at my final destination.