I love learning. Ever since I could read I’ve had my nose in a book, getting high on information. Imagine my reaction when I got my first internet connection! In those days, the ultra fast 24.4 baud meant you could download entire articles within minutes! I definitely spent more time than was healthy staring at that 13″ screen, radiation pulsing through my wide eyes of wonder.

Reading is something I took for granted. I never thought much of it until a couple years ago. I always knew my step-father had some trouble reading, but I never picked up on the difference it had made in his life. As an adult I see it clearly. He was turned down for jobs, he had trouble getting the accreditation he deserved because he was unable to complete the tests, and when asked to read in public, his face would turn red, sweat would form on his furrowed brow and he would haltingly stumble after the words until he had finally finished his passage, other men pretending not to notice or be embarrassed for him.

He has dyslexia, and aphasia on top of that. When he was a six year old boy he was beaten nearly to death. He had been a bright, inquisitive little guy, but when he recovered, all that potential was locked behind the brain damage that took away not his intelligence, but his ability to express it.

He couldn’t talk. He had lost the power to speak. After years of struggle he finally managed to stutter out a few words at a time, but sometimes the words wouldn’t come, it was only the stutter.

So he developed his body instead. He grew stronger and stronger until he could silence the people who laughed at him – with his fists. This got him in trouble with the law more than once and it’s safe to say that he was a little rough around the edges. When my mom met him, he was an angry young man, smoking and drinking too much and I think he was still on probation.

My mom’s a smart, sharp, red-headed woman. She saw something great in this broken man who sat with the strength of a gorilla, anger simmering behind green eyes and a dented forehead. She brought out his laughter and his humour. He played the guitar and he would have us dancing for hours, five little children laughing at his silly looks and handsome smile. It was his first glimpse at what a real family could be.

They married, despite the parole officer’s deep concern about my step-dad’s frightening history and file thick with red flags and warnings. In the first two years he stopped smoking. One night he tried to come home drunk to his fiery new wife and she kicked him out on the street. He stopped drinking.

I won’t lie to you. There were some deadly serious and heartbreaking times through it all. That we have all made it out alive is an honest to god miracle. All my siblings carry hurts and scars from those times. We also carry strength and happiness. My step-father is a good man, and he and my mother did so many things right for us. They loved us and nurtured us and gave us every advantage they could. We were poor, but lived well thanks to mom’s wizardry. We have so many happy memories to draw from whenever we need them, and we have black memories to keep us grounded. The dark times allow me to relate with all those others who have been hurt, but haven’t yet healed.

Would I trade the pain now that I’m grown? Probably. But I carry it, so I might as well do some good with it.

A few years ago, my step-dad found a tutor through P.A.L.S. who was able to teach him how to work around and with his dyslexia, and he began to really learn. He worked diligently and hard for year after year. Imagine my shock when he started telling me about a book he was reading!

Even now as I type this my heart is filling up with warmth and I’m chuckling, tears forming in my happy eyes. I’m so proud of him. He’s so good to the grandkids, and he always tries to do the right thing. He always did.

Flawed as life and people can be, he is still my hero.

Four Directions
Walnut Ink
on Paper
2007