My stepdad, Kenneth Shank, existed and I loved him. He committed suicide on August 16, 2006. Every concrete memory I had of him was lost in my divorce. They were in a special box that belonged to my ex husband where we kept things like that safe. I haven’t seen them in years. All I have is a driver’s license picture now.
He loved AC/DC and we bonded over the band. I had met him a few times during visitations as a teenager, but when my biological mom signed us away to my real mom, the visits stopped. When I turned 18, the first thing I did was contact them. Ken and I grew close. He was a great role model, loved by many. He was a career custodian at the former St Joseph’s Hospital in Hot Springs. He did his job with love too. He knew his job was important and he was passionate about it. He would tell me stories of the joy and pain he witnessed in the hallways there. Some moments never leave you.
We went on vacation to Blanchard Springs and the Buffalo River that summer. Even when the car started overheating, it was still such a fun adventure. I remember going to the lake and getting a severe sunburn all over my body. Ken showed up late at night when I got home and brought me a sunburn survival kit. It helped ease the misery.
Ken volunteered at the Oasis, handing out food to the less fortunate. He gave his time and his energy to help others. I remember about two weeks before his death, I went up there. He was taking me to buy new shoes because I was 19, had no car, and walking to work just to be on my feet all through my shift. There was a man there who was having a hard time mentally and Ken had stepped aside to talk with him after the food service was over. That man left with a happier demeanor. Then we went shoe shopping.
He was going through a lot with his boys but he never let his personal battles prioritize over someone else’s.
I never knew he was struggling that way. He was always so happy and gave the world such joy.
He called me Rocker and I called him Pops. He knew I had the best dad anyone could have had and he never tried to force the father figure on me. It came naturally, but it was different than I expected. I was angry with my parents at the time and Ken would always remind me of how much they loved me. He would say things about tomorrow not being promised and encouraged me to mend things as soon as I was ready. Little did I know that tomorrow really wasn’t promised.
On the evening of August 15, 2006, I was at work at No Clothes downtown Hot Springs. He called me there. We were busy so I rushed him off the phone. He called again two more times. I told him I would call him after work. I was so exhausted after walking home from my shift that I went to sleep.
The very next phone call I received was the call from my grandmother, telling me that he had shot himself in his bathtub.