On the Anniversary of My Father's Passing...
I never thought emotional pain was like muscle memory. Yet, every year for the past seven years, I find myself depressed. Restless. Unable to Focus. Food stops tasting good. Sleep becomes elusive. I find myself throwing my energy into too many things as I try to escape the haze of sadness trying to engulf me.
I fight it, knowing that my life is good. Things are going well and my sadness has no immediate explanation. Until I remember that this time, eight years ago, I learned that my father was actively dying. And every year I find myself mourning, whether I intended to, or not.
My father was my world. From my childhood, he was my hero. I remember wanting to follow him everywhere, sometimes to my own detriment. I’ve always had a fear of water, while he loved it, so to spend time with him, I’d find myself in pools and waterslides, which I absolutely hated. But because I wanted to be near him, I’d go. On more than one occasion, he’s pay for me to go into a waterpark only to fuss at me because I refused to ride anything. He’d say, “If I pay for you, you have to go down the slide at least twice.” And I’d do it, despite my terror of heights ending in a pool of water because that was the only way I could more time with him.
He pushed me into doing things he thought I should do, regardless of my desire to do it. On more than one occasion we’d fight because I truly hated something but he thought it was good for me. He’d be manipulative, tell me I was being a coward to goad me into doing shit…his favorite phrase was “you have no heart.” The first time I remember him saying that was when he tried to teach me to ride a bike. It worked that time. Never again, though.
Looking back, I can see we were learning how to interact with each other. He learned that you had to either be very clear or creatively sneaky to get me to do what he wanted and I learned that my dad could be quite creative when he wanted to be sneaky.
But we understood each other. We were honest about things that people didn’t think parents should be honest with their kids about. I won’t lie and say that some of that shit was not in my best interests, but it was unavoidable. I was observant and a quick learner. I was also a problem solver, so when my parents had problems in their relationship, I wanted to help. It wasn’t right, though. And it took a long time for me to see that sometimes he pitted my mom and me against each other.
Like I said, he was sneaky.
He was also vain. He liked knowing he was the most important person to me. I loved him but as I matured, I didn’t worship him. I was aware of his vanity, his manipulations. I knew he could be and sometimes was a shit. I’d outgrown my idolization and he transitioned into mere human while I was still a child. It didn’t matter. He was my strength, my confidence, and the person I trusted with more of myself than anyone else.
And still he didn’t quite know me. But there was no way he could learn the things about me that I was still learning about myself.
He got sick when I was in college. My fear of losing him dominated my 20s. I floundered the entire time, unfocused, directionless. He knew I was fucking up and just loved me. He was also fighting cancer, a fight that lasted more than a decade. A fight that chewed me up and spit me out early.
After graduating from college, I went home to help. I spent nine months there, where I sank into a depression so encompassing that I knew I’d kill myself if I stayed. I wasn’t strong enough to stay and help the person I loved above all others, so I left. Then I spent the next six years hating myself for being weak and believing that I deserved to be treated like shit because I was a shit person.
He said he understood. He said that he knew I needed to go. He told me that I wasn’t born to take care of him and that he wanted me to live my own life – his illness was his struggle. He gave me permission to be selfish and shitty and I still feel like I let him down. While he was sick and alive, I had no ambition. I had no goals. I didn’t have the bandwidth to pursue anything for myself because I was consumed by my fear of losing him. As a result, I can never share any of my accomplishments with him. He never learned that I went back to school. That I actually have a career as a writer. He never got to see me begin to flourish, because I was unable to do it living with that fear. Yet another thing I hate myself for.
I hate that I can’t share with him the person I’m proud of being. That he only got to see me flounder and fuck up. All I ever wanted was to make him proud of the person I could be, the person he helped me be - even though he always said he was proud of the person I was. It still hurts. I think it will always hurt.
I’m fucking tired of it hurting but I never want it to stop because if it stops then it means I’m forgetting what it means to miss him. I never want to stop missing him.
I was there when he died. I almost wasn’t. I’d flown home while he was in the hospital, then went back to Atlanta to work out some time-off with my job. It was during that unsuccessful negotiation that I received the call he was in a coma and I flew back immediately. I was lucky; he woke up after I arrived. We talked, laughed, ate ice cream. Then he went to sleep and never woke up.
And here I am, remembering him, crying at the loss, and working though the self-loathing I have because I couldn’t bury myself in his illness and struggle to live. He lived ten years longer than they’d predicted. He survived two different cancers. It was the third, coupled with his age and weakness from previous treatments, that finally did him in.
It’s been eight years and I still ache from the loss of his presence. Some days I wake up and want nothing more than to hear his voice again, telling me that we will be okay, that everything will be ok. Other days, I’m glad he doesn’t have to see the shit that’s happened since he passed. He died knowing there was a Black president and that Michael Jackson and Prince were still making music. He also died wondering if I’d ever get my shit together. The answer is still “maybe one day.”
What I do know is that this pain isn’t fading. I’ve just gotten better at living with it.