:: Family history can mean a lot more than what you write on your medical forms.

CW: Child Abuse, Animal Abuse

I’ve been having a lot of medical tests recently to try to figure out some medical weirdness. Nothing too serious, just weirdness that keeps manifesting in weird ways. (How’s that for vague.)

One of the things that the doctors need from me is a family history. I know a lot about my close family—my mom, dad, and sister. We’re all very close. (Like, we all live within a mile of one another.) But I don’t know a lot about my family north of them. For example, I never met my father’s father. He died when my dad was young—of heart failure of some kind.

He was also a grade-A asshole.

My paternal grandfather was an asshole in lots of ways. But the one way that really sticks with me is this: he had very particular ideas of what it meant to be a man—masculine—and my father, a sensitive kid, didn’t measure up. Before the term was ever coined, my grandfather was walking, talking toxic masculinity.

In retrospect, my father never would have measured up to his dad’s expectations, even though he was successful at sports, and made good grades, and did everything right. It’s a miracle my dad turned out to be a more-than all right person, one who raised two fiery daughters to throw a perfect spiral forty yards (with a league-sized ball thank you very much).

Some of the stories my dad has told me about his dad are harrowing. But the one I’m about to talk about was the most harrowing to me, even though, in this story, his dad didn’t lay a finger on him.

My grandfather gave his child a kill order.

I wrote a poem about it, back when I wrote poetry, trying to put my finger on that pain with words. I’m sharing it with you today.

Here’s to family history.

Too Late

1.
I want them dead when I get home
from work, he said to his boy,
my father, twelve, who took

his pellet gun and aimed,
unaware of the futility
of a pellet gun even against hairless

pups, eyes yet unopened.
He shot them, buried them
still

squirming, little
grub worms almost.
Their terrier

mother found them later
dug them up
too late—

2.
The neighbor lady picked him
up from high school
early one day,

saying, He’s very sick,
your father,
he’s at the hospital now,

your mother is waiting
for you.
He arrived, climbed

the stairs of the small building
to where his father waited
dead already.

He walked
into the room, said, You can’t be dead
you can’t be—

###

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Alt Text: Monochrome photograph of a rain shower on a brick walkway. Image via Pixabay.

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