The bullet hole never bothered me until I loved him. He faced away from me in the swimming pool, splashing water and playing with us in a way that was rare for him with his quiet nature. Yet there it was, staring at me, sunken and scarred in his shoulder.
And I had all my father's guilt to bear for it.
My father had shot my father. Calling the victim my stepfather didn't change that. He was the one there doing the hard stuff day by day. He was the one who forgave me for breaking the window glass in a fit of wordless anger and who dealt with all the baloney six kids can dish out day after day. He was the one who dressed up and went to church with us on Sundays, simply because my mother thought it was important--and my mother was important to him.
One bullet through the rear window, glass opening to accommodate its violence. Another bullet, more accurate than the first. The blue station wagon jerked and stopped. This man who would become my father in my heart leaned through the door, spitting blood.
My father held his weapon at the ready as he made his way methodically across the empty yard. His own friends sat in another car swigging beer, enjoying the show, doing nothing.
Did he even notice I was there before my small body hung from his arm trying to stop him as he raised the rifle for another shot? Did God see us there, each struggling in our way to make time move backwards? He must have. The rifle jammed and my father left in a car full of onlookers.
Only minutes later, I stood alone in an empty yard, watching the ambulance leave with my new father, leave with my mother, a confirmation that our lives would never be normal.
But the years went by and life became normal--hectic, loud, and full of drama instead of the peace I always wanted . . . but normal. We were a family, for better or worse.
My new father taught me responsibility, watched me graduate, bought new tires for my car when I was too proud to ask for them.
My blood father battled alcoholism and the demons of his past almost up until his death, but we found forgiveness and a closeness that surprised me. His unquestioning acceptance embraced me during times of confusion.
I called them both Dad and avoided speaking of one in front of the other. I loved each for himself and knew my affection was returned. But who's to say which is more my father? Blood is thicker than water, but surely there's more to being a parent than blood or a whole world of children wouldn't be aborted, abandoned, and abused.
I had two fathers . . . and they both loved me well. And I thank God for them both.
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