I remember riding in the car with Zane, thinking what a fantastic gift it would be to have him as a father.
With his bright blue eyes, receded hairline and prominent mustache, he looked plucked from the very ether of the 70s. I’ve never met a man since with such a distinct combination of quick wit and sure fists. His tongue could cut your mind into pieces, and if that didn’t dissuade you from whatever crime you were committing against him, Zane wasn’t afraid to take it outside and settle it the old fashioned way.
He would teach his sons how to box, how to play basketball, chop wood, work on cars. But there was a balance to him as well—he also taught them how to garden, and how to cook simple meals. He would share his love of gardening with confidence, in such a way that you could tell his words were an invitation, a more subtle way to stick his chin out, daring any to take a swing at his masculinity. If they did, he’d be sure to challenge them on their notion of manliness.
In that way, as well as others more generic, he was rather progressive. I loved him for that. I felt as if my small world was safer when Zane was in it. I imagine many felt that way, even his sons who had experienced Zane’s darker side.
Certainly with so much anger, even one so gentle and balanced as Zane had to have some issues. He would get wound up in his rightness. So confident he knew how his children should be spending their time, such that their disobeying, their rebellious teen nature…well. His tongue did not suffice. He knew no other recourse beyond his fists.
Soon though, his sons became strong. He had taught them as much. I remember one day, John telling me how he had fought his father and this time had won. There was a mix of unease and relief about him as he relayed this to me. Finally, that much of his nightmare was over. As much as he respected his father, and as much strength Zane had instilled within him, there was that darkness. When it crept up, it would leave him scared and in pain.
People like John and Zane don’t like to be made to feel helpless. It can be said that no one enjoys that, which is certain. But these two had no coping mechanism. Especially John, only ever brought down by the one man who taught him to never be brought down.
John would call me when he was scared. He would only ever cry over the phone if he could help it. Maybe he didn’t hold me in as high regard as I held him at the time, but there was a trust there. A knowledge that I had been through enough to help him process these emotions. Enough to be able to confidently tell him that it would be okay. Maybe not right away and maybe only in a way that is slightly less violent, but it would be okay, and a greater light was waiting for us beyond the confines of our familial entrapment.
I enjoyed when he trusted me in that way. He only ever had to reach out further when it was explicitly clear he needed to share with someone who had abusive father issues. It was difficult for me to relate with that in more concrete terms of shared pain, since my father took a more long distance approach to his neglect.
I asked Zane about his day. Trying to glean anything I could from such a brilliant man. (Forgive my younger self, for abuse was all he knew. The terrible acts of this man were no different than, I assumed, those of every adult.)
Zane was upset. He told me he had a court case to go to, because he had fought with a referee at a basketball game and charges had been pressed. He knew it was foolish and that he had to stop acting like a child. He had kids and a wife, he has a teaching job. People depended on him, and he couldn’t get himself thrown in jail at 47 for fighting over a bad call.
What is it with men and sports?
I remember that moment almost as well as Zane housing me, yelling about how he was going to beat the shit out of Bob for hurting my mom. Such an array of emotions I felt. Yearning for that fight to occur, the ecstasy I would feel when that piece of shit I lived with finally got his. Anger at myself for not being strong enough to do it on my own. Sadness that, deep down, it was all talk either way. No one ever did anything.
Three men threatened to do something to Bob throughout my teens and three men did nothing. Even when I called the police when it got too terrible, too violent, my mom and I had already fled the scene. Even when I prayed for Bob to die in his sleep, old fucker that he was, nothing happened. I was trapped forever in this eternity of anxiety and fear and sadness, and no being would lift a finger to make it stop.
I remember listening to Zane talk about his failing, in that voice of weakness and self-hatred. I remember thinking that, just because he was stronger and more confident with better hand-eye coordination, it didn’t mean he was someone to aspire to be.
I felt lost in that moment, but also glad. I knew I could never really be a Zane and it became more clear why in that moment. I thought too much. I thought about the consequences of killing Bob. I thought about how he would get more violent if I jumped into the fray, and would cower in angry fear if I called the police instead. I thought that I was weak, but really I was just an abuse survivor, doing the only thing I knew how to do—survive.
Last I heard of Zane, he had beaten cancer, and continued to teach history at my old high school. That was years ago. Since then the closest I’ve been to him was my falling out with John, who drunkenly revealed his racism and wanted to fight when called out on it. Instead of driving 50 miles to fist fight someone from high school, I ended our friendship.
Naturally, this inadvertently cut off the closest thing I had to a father during my teens, which is probably a good thing.