Tonight, out of nowhere, I remembered something about my dad. Not specifically about him, because, outside of a handful of times when I was a baby, too young and probably too poopy to have really taken note of him, I’ve never known him. He left a long time ago in a flurry of hurtful slurs and denials, and went on to marry a woman with a daughter my age whom he adopted as his own, because sometimes, the things we do to make up for the glut of guilt and the gaping holes we’ve created in our lives, need no analysis.
I told this story, and a friend, a kind and caring one, apologized, hoping that the topic he raised didn’t cause me pain, talking about my dad.
I had to think for a moment, really think. Maybe my feelings were hurt and I was crushed and maybe there was an edge of sadness to everything and tears were pooling in my eyes and my chin was all wobbly and I just hadn’t realized it yet.
I tried to take note. Be still. Reflect. Observe. Here is what I observed: my laundry piles of clean clothes are out of hand. My dog snores like a human being and maybe I should get that checked out. I want a new iPhone case but I don’t actually need one, I just want one? That’s very first world country. Also, is there a second world? No one ever knows when I ask them. I should Google that. I wonder how Google feels about Google the brand becoming Google the verb? In all actuality, I don’t even use Google. I use Yahoo! because I’m nostalgic that way.
I miss the Dewey Decimal System.
In 2006, I was supposed to fly home to PA, take a small trip in my aunt’s car to a house at the end of a long wooded street in my hometown, a house that faces a rocky slope that leads up to the forest, through which you can cut and find the cemetery where my little sister is buried. There are two horses that run around in a wide paddock at that house, and a dusty black Cadillac that is parked crookedly on the street, and a pick up truck, maybe a Chevy, in the driveway. My father lives here. I was supposed to meet him, at that house, at my cousin’s, at his mother’s, maybe at the little cafe in the town of about 300 that was once a bustling town that made its living on the timber business, the same town where my mother lived when she was pregnant with me and was nearly killed in a house fire, just a month before I was born. We were supposed to meet for the first time since I was a baby, and I was going to say things like, “I’m not angry with you. I don’t hold any grudges and I don’t want to make this difficult for you.” And other things that weren’t true but I thought I should say. And so, I flew three thousand miles, and my aunt drove me to the town and I had blonde hair and a tan from a week at Myrtle Beach, and I looked the best I’d ever looked in my life. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking–I need to look like someone he would be sorry to lose. I walked up the drive and my cousin was waiting for me at the door, and she was smiling in that way people smile when they are about to tell you that your pet hamster was eaten by your other pet hamster.
And my dad never showed. He could not, he had said, because it would make things too hard for him.
When I flew home, my plane hit a terrifying patch of turbulence, and dropped hundreds of feet in the air, food and drinks flying off of seat-back trays, and luggage falling out of overhead bins, and passengers screaming and clutching each other. And I sat, unperturbed, staring at the seat-back in front of me, and hoped the plane fell out of the sky.
It was a rough few years after that.
Tonight was the first time I realized…somehow, in the nearly 7 years since, after years of therapy and drinking too much at times, of forming bad relationships that were meant to keep the wounds open and unhealed, something had happened. I didn’t care anymore, and I don’t know when exactly that happened?
This is the thing about healing that has constantly surprised me. It reminded me a bit of a scar I had on my right forearm. I was pulling a baked ham out of the oven, and in my hurry, my arm seared against the side of the oven. Later, it turned into a soft white scar that resembled a bird in flight. It was my favorite scar of my life. It lasted for years, defying all possibility that it might fade, still bright and glimmering three or four years after the incident. Then the day came, years later, that I looked down and realized, the bird scar was gone. It had healed and faded away, and I had never noticed it, until someone asked about scars.
I am covered in scars, inside and out. I realized tonight, maybe I am covered with less than I thought I was. I had become so accustomed to this clinging sorrow over my father’s own inability to be my father, that it was this permanent companion, the Annie Sullivan to my Helen Keller, blind and deaf to my own life’s progress. I would think, I’ll try to stay positive, look at the good things in my life, appreciate the relationships that I have, and someday, someday, I’ll be able to let this go, even while secretly, I believed that someday would never come. Now, I see, in some quiet moment, when I was sitting around the dinner table with my best friend Natalie and her large and loud Colombian family, or when I was holding the hand of someone new and wonderful who called me sweet pea, or when I was looking upward and figuring out Jupiter and its moons in the sky or when I was learning the Hebrew word for peace, that someday had come and gone and I never realized. The scar had faded.
I don’t know what happened between my parents, or what lack persists in my father that keeps him from being the kind of parent I could be proud of, who could see past his own discomfort to give of himself. I have accepted that I will never know, and that, in the end, what explanation would be good enough anyway? Now I feel…sad for my father. But wait…that’s not true either. Now I feel…glad I was born, and glad for whatever circumstance caused my coming to be. Now I feel glad he didn’t show in 2006, because what might I have been saddled with then that could have held me back in my own upward flight, what scars might never have healed, what new wounds opened? Now I feel glad that life is exactly as it is, and that I was unsuccessful in my efforts to force it to be something else. Maybe, in the end, I just needed to have faith in the inexplicable, faith in the idea that I don’t need an explanation to be able to let go.
For little girls everywhere who yearn for fathers who never were, let yourself heal.