by Kim Ashby
There is a thin line between love and hate.
|There is a thin line between love and hate. I believe my daddy walked that line like a tightrope every day of his life.
Once, when I was only six-years-old, I remember saying to my mother, “I hate him! He’s so mean.” I was in a state of indignation only a six-year-old girl could muster for the daddy whose temper had flared unexpectedly against her once again. Mom looked at me for a long time without saying a word. So long, in fact, that I spoke again for emphasis.
“I really do hate him.”
Only then did Mom speak. “Come sit with me. I have something I need to tell you.”
We both sat on her bed, side by side, my short legs with dirty knees sticking straight out beside her long, slender ones, which she crossed at the ankles and tucked up against the bed. When I finished analyzing her posture and gave up on trying to arrange my legs like hers, I began picking at the brown chenille bedspread. I glanced from her face to my chubby fingers picking away at the soft chenille, anxiously waiting for her to gather her thoughts. The look on her face told me this was something important—I was afraid I was in big trouble for blurting out that I hated Daddy.
Slowly, Mom let out a ragged sigh as if she was steeling herself against the story she was about to tell. I looked up into her eyes to see tears glistening. I stopped picking at the bedspread. Suddenly, I was afraid, my anger forgotten. Why is she crying?, I wondered, my mind racing through all sorts of possibilities. At six-years-old, I had seen too much, knew too much pain already, and the possibilities were endless.
“When your daddy was a little boy,” she almost whispered, “his daddy went away. He never saw him again.”
Immediately, I felt my heart soften toward my dad. All I could think about was a poor little boy who had lost his daddy and how sad he must have been. I wanted to cry. I barely breathed as my mother continued her story.
“Your daddy’s mother got married again to a very rich man. But this rich man didn’t want any children. He made your daddy’s mother give him away. He said she couldn’t live with him in his rich house if she had any children.”
My eyes grew wide at the thought of such a horrible demand. I could feel the beating of my heart in my ears as I whispered to my mother, “But she said no, right?”
Mom shook her head back and forth. A single tear trailed down my cheek as I tried to comprehend what she was telling me. It was too awful to imagine. I was afraid to ask the next question, but I had to know.
Mom told me then how Daddy’s mother gave him away to her own mother. She wanted to live in the big house with the rich man. Daddy’s grandmother was very poor. She had her own son to raise who was only a few years older than my dad. They never had enough to eat, they were always hungry.
By now, I was crying openly, my six-year-old heart unable to understand how a mother could give her child away. I could almost feel the hurt in my own daddy’s heart. But the worst was yet to come.
My mother continued, “One night, the rich husband and your daddy’s mother had a big party for all their friends. They invited everyone to their fancy house for a fish fry. The rich man had built a pit with a big fire and was frying fish. Your daddy and his cousin had snuck over to the big house and were hiding in the bushes watching the man fry the fish. It was dark and they sat in those bushes for a long time watching all the people having so much fun, laughing and drinking and having a party as the rich man fried up platters of fish. They could smell the fish and it made their empty bellies growl. As they watched, the man dropped a big piece of fish to the ground as he tried to place it on a platter already stacked high with fish. The piece of fish just laid there on the ground and your daddy couldn’t stand it.
“He was hungry. All he could think about was getting that piece of fish for his grandmother. He told his cousin, “I’m gettin’ that fish for momma,” and he took off running. The rich man looked up and saw him running toward the fish. He reached out with his foot and kicked the fish away into the fire. Your daddy stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the man. He watched as a smile started to snake its way on to the man’s face and he thought maybe he would get some fish after all. Maybe the man would give him some fish to take home.
“But then the man turned to reach behind him and came back with a shotgun that he pointed at your daddy. Your daddy’s cousin was in the bushes screaming for him to run, but your daddy was frozen to that spot. His feet wouldn’t move.
“BOOM! The man fired a shot over your daddy’s head. The noise scared your daddy bad enough that he finally turned around and started to run for the bushes. BOOM! BOOM! Two more shots went whizzing over his head. He finally made it back to the bushes and all he could hear as he and his cousin ran back home was the voice of the rich man shouting to him, “Don’t you ever come back around here again! You hear me? Never again!”
The room was deathly quiet. Tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t hold it in any longer—I let out a sob as I fell into my mother’s arms. I no longer hated Daddy; I hated the rich man who was so mean to him. I cried for a long time as my mother held me in her arms. When my tears finally subsided, she pulled away to look at me.
“That is why I never want to hear you say you hate your daddy. He has seen enough hate already. He loves you; he just doesn’t know how to show it sometimes.”
I just nodded my head. I was in a state of shock. I was trying desperately to understand how such cruelty could exist in the world. From that moment on, no matter what happened or where Daddy’s temper took him, I gave him a free pass. I figured he deserved it after what happened to him when he was a little boy. That day changed me forever. It marked me as Daddy’s defender. In my mind, he had a built-in excuse.
I believe to this day that my father’s childhood traumatized him so severely that he was never able to fully trust or love anyone. He just wanted someone to love him, but he didn’t know how to accept it. I know he loved my mom, my brother and me in the only way he knew how. But he was destined to walk that love/hate tightrope his entire life. And we all paid the price for that fish in the dirt.