Today marks my idiot ex-stepfather’s sixtieth birthday. Like monsters and other things that go bump in the night, I remember Maurice Washington’s birthday for no other reason than because he made my life — all of our lives at 616, really — a living hell between ’81 and ’89. Of course, the years between ’77 and ’81 weren’t exactly a picnic themselves. The balance sheet of his time as my stepfather would make the national debt look like pocket change by comparison.
The days and weeks since the death of my sister Sarai — and my ex-stepfather’s daughter — have proven how little some people want to change. Four days after I arrived in Mount Vernon and at 616 to help my mother with Sarai’s funeral arrangements, my mother’s telephone rang. It was around 10:30 pm on that muggy, mid-July night, with fans blowing hot air through the otherwise quiet apartment. Quiet because my brothers Maurice and Yiscoc were out and about, and my youngest brother Eri had taken his son to see others on the Washington side of his family. The caller ID showed that the call was coming from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, and with my younger siblings out roaming the streets, I immediately became concerned.
I picked up the telephone, said “Hello?,” anticipating some bad news. “How DARE you, YOU BASTARD!,” a man yelled. I had no idea who it was at first. Then, when I heard, “How dare you plan MY daughter’s funeral!,” I suspected that it was my ex-stepfather, but I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t heard his bellowing and bombastic voice in nearly sixteen years. “Who the heck is this?,” I asked. “Who do you THINK this is? Who’s Sarai’s father? Who’s Sarai’s father?” the idiot yelled, as if I were still sixteen and living under the same roof with him.
I ignored the question, and with about a five-second delay as my ex-stepfather reloaded, I said, “I’m not planning Sarai’s funeral. I’m helping my mother plan it.” After that, the dumb ass continued to yell. “A funeral on a Saturday? A Saturday?!?,” he said, as if Sarai was a Hebrew-Israelite, as if any of us cared what he wanted, really.
“Put your mother on the phone! Put your mother on the phone!” he continued. My mother was fully asleep for the first time in nearly five days. I wasn’t about to wake her up. I said, “No. No I’m not.” As he continued yelling, I said, “Until you calm down and start talking rationally, I’m not letting you talk to my mother.” My ex-stepfather paused, then found some more bullets for his yelling gun. “Rational? How I’m supposed to be rational. Put your mother on the phone, boy!,” he yelled as I hung up the telephone. I turned the ringer off, knowing that the fool would continue to call until what was left of his brain would explode, or at least until the nurses drugged him up to make him sleep.
Why was my ex-stepfather in the hospital? Besides his daily need for dialysis, he managed to break his one remaining leg in two places. The broken leg became infected, turned gangrene, and was amputated, at or above the knee I believe. All this apparently happened in June. My ex-stepfather, a fourth-degree black belt in Isshin-ryu Karate, a man who could lift the sixteen-year-old version of myself and the eighteen-year-old version of my older brother Darren with each arm, was now fully wheelchair bound. This, of course, is irony that often can only be found in fiction books like Catch-22, Crime and Punishment or The Kite Runner.
I remember my ex-stepfather giving me two pieces of good advice in the twelve years he was officially with
my mother, either living together or married. Once, when I was fourteen, he caught me walking down the street with my head down, looking at my feet instead of holding my head up. He said, “Donald, your tall, be proud of your height. Don’t ever hang your head. Hold it up straight.” A few months later, when I was just about ready to move in with my father Jimme, he convinced me to stay with my mother at 616. The latter piece of advice was extremely self-serving, but it was good advice anyway.
On balance, though, the man did virtually nothing that could be considered fatherly by anyone outside of Idi Amin or Josef Stalin. Yes, there are worse men and women in the world, but most of them have substantially more power, money and influence than Maurice Eugene Washington. Still, few have literally paid the price for their evils the way he has in the past twenty years. A horribly bad back, Type-2 diabetes, an almost complete loss of kidney function, and a double amputee. That makes me feel sorry for him, even though a part of me doesn’t want to.