Once, after his dad slammed 10-year old Matt’s head against the door to teach him to close the refrigerator so it was sealed shut, his mother pulled him outside the cabin. She draped an arm around him, leading him to the pier and saying how much his dad loved him. When Matt asked why, his mom said, “Sometimes the more you love someone the more you demand from him. Like God—the people He loves best, He makes suffer the most.”
When Matt’s dad wasn’t hitting him, he sometimes held Matt’s shoulders and whispered, “You’re way too good to be my kid. You must be someone else’s.”
That made no sense.
His parents’ friends visited: Jack and Sarah, with Alice, who was Matt’s age. The fathers took the kids fishing. In the middle of the lake, Matt’s dad cut the motor and baited their fishing rods with worms. Glare bounced off the water. For a second, things were still. Then trickles of sweat smelling like raw alcohol formed on Matt’s father. Matt noticed but no one said anything.
When Alice’s pole bowed in half, she shrieked. “Oh my God!” She had never caught a fish and threw the rod in the lake. Matt’s father reached for it but missed.
“Go get it.” His father ordered him out of the boat.
His father told him again and Matt said, “You do it.”
Alice giggled. His father took a hook, grabbed Matt’s palm, and jammed the prong through the flesh below Matt’s thumb.
Alice screamed. Matt closed his eyes but everything kept spinning.
Jack said, “It was a total accident.”
“You’ll be okay in a minute.” His father’s voice sounded high and false.
Matt’s father told Alice to sing. “Amazing Grace.” She had never heard it but Jack told her to repeat after him, while Matt’s father snipped the hook with wire cutters and worked the stem up and out.
Onshore, while the mothers dressed the wound, Matt’s father kept saying it was his fault. He was usually careful; it just happened. Matt went to his room.
Soon his parents were calling him. The friends were leaving. Before they got in their car, Sarah told Matt’s mother, “We’ll help you. You and Matt can stay with us.”
If Matt’s father heard this, he pretended otherwise. Later he knocked on Matt’s door and sat on his bed. Matt kept his hand hidden.
“Drink some of this,” his father said. “Time honored remedy.” Matt sipped the bourbon. “More.”
He couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Before dawn, he sneaked into the woods and spun until he towered among the pines. The trees swayed not with remorse but with glee. Matt had power over his father now. No need to use it right away though, since more was coming.