Grudges Part One: Joe

We have all been hurt by someone in a way that causes us to want to cut ties with them. Sometimes that step is necessary; but, there are other occasions when holding a grudge is harmful. I have held grudges toward two people in my life, but luckily I was able to overcome them and we ended up establishing positive relationships.

I first met my stepfather Joe when my parents were still married. Joe and his wife would come over and play cards with my mom and dad. Fast forward a year or two later and my mom asks my dad for a divorce. Who is the person who comes to help her move out and falls into a relationship with her right after? Joe.

It was obvious then, and even more so now, that Joe was a large part of the reason my parents split. After the divorce, mom, despite being our primary caretaker, spent all her time at Joe’s house, leaving us kids alone. I was around 12 at the time, my brother Danny, 15 and my sister Ashley, 9. When mom did decide to show up, she brought Joe with her. He would try to verbally discipline us or yell when he thought we were not treating our mother with respect. I remember thinking “Who the hell does this guy think he? We barely know him.”

Every couple weeks or so mom would show up and try to “be a mom.” I’ll never forget the time she arrived at the house with Joe and I had not gone to school. (Why would I? What child would choose to go to school without an adult to tell them they had to?) On this particular day, mom showed up and tried to force me to go, physically trying to drag me out the house. I, of course, argued back. In that moment, Joe got right in my face, screaming at me to show some respect and “get the fuck to school.” I felt his spit as he yelled, smelled his cigarette-laden breath . From then on, I avoided him as much as possible.

I hated him — hated the way he yelled at us, the way he took our mom away, and how he tried to act like our father. I already had a dad.

Eventually we lost the house we were living in (though it was never “home”). Where did we end up moving? Into Joe’s house. By this time, I started living with my dad. I would only see my mom and Joe every other weekend. I wanted to continue hating Joe but, in the end, it was more work than it was worth. I was going to have to stay at his house twice a month, so I decided to try to move on from our tumultuous past and move forward.

I am SO glad I did.

Once we moved in with Joe, I saw another side of him. He owned his own business (even though it caused him a lot of stress), worked hard and always tried to make sure us kids got whatever we wanted. He ended up treating us like we were his children. When Joe met my husband Dan for the first time, he threatened him. Informing Dan that if he hurt me Joe would “stick his foot so far up his ass it would come out his mouth.” That was Joe. He was vulgar, an alcoholic and mean sometimes but he could also be the biggest teddy bear. He and my mother’s relationship was toxic, but he never let that interfere with the new positive relationship he formed with my siblings and me.

On July 26, 2007 , I went into my daycare job like any other day. About halfway through I was walking the children to the gym when one of my coworkers approached me. Her husband was Ashley’s boss at Dip n’ Dots (“the ice cream of the future!”). She told me she was “very sorry” to hear about my father. I immediately told her my father was fine. I could tell by the look on her face that she realized she just told me something she shouldn’t of. I went and found my cell phone. There were a ton of missed calls. I knew something was wrong. I called Danny first. He told me Joe had a heart attack that morning and passed away. I couldn’t believe it. It was Joe’s birthday. I planned to call him after work. I was shocked. It wasn’t until I got home that night that it truly hit me, and I broke down. I felt like he was taken from us too soon and he was. But he was also an alcoholic, long-time smoker and diabetic, and his business was not doing well — he was practically bankrupt. All this, plus the toxic relationship with my mother caused him a lot of stress. It’s awful but I truly believe that is what caused the heart attack. While we were planning the funeral, Joe’s brother Danny (You don’t have to tell me. I know there are too many Daniels in this world!) told us that Joe always told him, “Fionna can move out but those are my kids, and they can stay with me if we want.” That meant more to me then I could ever put into words. Joe had his own daughter many years prior that he didn’t have a relationship with, and I think we were his way of making up for his past mistakes and regret. I am going to tell Autumn all about Joe and explain to her that even though we had a rocky start, I wouldn’t trade any of it because we ended up having a special relationship that I will treasure forever.

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