Home > Ask Him Why(5)

Ask Him Why(5)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I wanted to ask him what that meant. Also why people would do that. But my first question seemed a little nosy, even to me. He’d obviously already told me as much as he wanted to tell.

People think if somebody’s in your blood family, then you know them well enough to ask anything, but some families know each other better than others. We were mostly boundaries, with not a lot of permission to cross. Approaches were always handled with great caution, and the applications to do so took an abnormally long time to process.

As to the second question, well . . . it’s one thing to know what you think people will do next. It’s another to know why anybody does anything. It’s always easier to know the “what” than the “why.”

“I missed you, Duck,” Joseph said.

It was such a rare blast of affection from anyone in the house that it left me unable to speak.

The thing I’ll always remember best about that time is not how quickly our family fell apart. The memorable bit was when I first looked back at how we’d convinced ourselves we’d ever been together in the first place.

Chapter Two: Aubrey

I always broke the stereotype of an astronomer, I think. Even as a boy wannabe. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say that’s what everybody else thinks. Somehow astronomers have been typecast as mild mannered. Usually wearing those thoughtful-looking half glasses. But I never thought of having a hot temper and being fascinated by space as mutually exclusive. I think people watch too many movies.

I’m not meaning to stray off track. My temper is relevant. Because the day Joseph came home happened to have been a day I was sent home from school early for fighting.

Fighting is an exaggeration.

Actually, so is home. Because, although I left school with a note for my parents, I didn’t go home. At least, not for many hours. I skulked around town, keeping a low profile, burning with shame, the note a presence in my pocket I could psychically feel. It was hot and heavy and irritating. It meant my father would disapprove of me even more than he already did. And rather than dismiss it as unrealistic expectations on his part, I would have to admit he had a point.

Not that I would have put it in those words at the time. But it all seems quite obvious, looking back.

All I did was push Greg Butterfield. Well, hard. Well. What I did exactly, in detail, was to hit him in the chest with the heels of both my hands, hard enough that he stumbled backward and slammed into a handful of other people in the crowded hall.

What will forever be lost in the telling is what he’d done to incite it.

He had been taunting me. And taunting me. And taunting me. Because I was small, and because my name is Aubrey. But of course he called me “Audrey.”

To this very day, I wonder why, when a man wants to insult another man, he calls him a woman or a girl. Now that I’m grown, I notice that these are guys with wives and girlfriends and daughters. Don’t they see what they’re saying?

I’m getting off track again.

Greg had raised the taunting right up to my boiling point. He must have known where that was, too. Because his timing was flawless. At that boiling moment, he reached out and grabbed a big piece of the skin at my waist. Right through my T-shirt. And pinched and twisted.

Adding a sudden and unexpected stab of pain to my rage at that boil-over moment was too much. I couldn’t be responsible for my actions after that. It was wrong for anybody to expect me to try.

Once I was watching a football game with my father, and he told me that the referee will always catch the second bit of unsportsmanlike conduct. You know. When the play is over, and one guy takes a swing at another. And the guy swings back. The ref always sees the second infraction.

This little story I just recounted is amazing not so much because I actually learned something from my father that proved useful. Although that, too. But more because we were sitting watching a football game together. Like a regular bonded father and son.

I must have been very little, is all I can say. Either that or I’m remembering wrong. Maybe I was hanging in a doorway, listening to him yell at the screen. Maybe I was only wishing I was sitting and sharing the moment with him.

Yeah. That’s a much better fit with everything else in my young life, isn’t it? What was I thinking with that other ’50s sitcom thing?

When I finally slunk through the door, I saw that Joseph was home. Sitting on the couch between Brad and Janet. Nobody noticed me for a long time.

My jaw went down. My heart rate went up. Took off like my heart wanted to fly away.

It didn’t stay up long, though.

The story of my family: Everything that takes flight will be shot down. You need only soar to draw antiaircraft fire. It was the law.

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