I’m claiming this time and these words for me. We are in our new place, have been sleeping here for over a week now, and a home is taking shape. We have been working hard and we fall into a dead sleep every night. Tomorrow night we leave for Texas. We will drive and drive and drive, just as we did in September 2011. I thought that might be the last time I would ever see him alive. But I was wrong. He managed to live another year and three months. It was September 3, 2012, when I last saw him alive.
I was pregnant with my daughter, his granddaughter. I knew it’d be the last time I’d be able to travel for awhile. Still, when I said goodbye, I did it casually.
The time before, in May, when I said goodbye, I sobbed. I held his hand, told him I loved him, and confessed to him my anguish. He looked at me helplessly. He wanted to say something but he couldn’t get any words out.
This has been the story of our relationship.
We both wanted to say things and couldn’t get the words out. Or the wrong words came out. Every once in awhile, we got it right. Like the last two times I visited him at the nursing home. He looked over at me and smiled and said, “Little Leslie.”
I always wanted to be his little girl. That typical relationship, the one with the overprotective father threatening boyfriends with a shotgun? I wanted that. I wanted him to protect me, to be proud of me, to love me. And I know he loved me, in his way. The only way he knew how. How do you go on when your brain has been overwhelmingly, violently altered by trauma?
You just go on, but not the same as you were.
I’m looking at those words, “the same,” and wondering what that really means. Things don’t stay the same. I always seem to find myself saying, “That was when everything changed,” but the truth is everything changes all the time.
This picture was taken before everything changed.
It was Christmas 2008, and in less than six months, I would have a baby. That baby changed everything. This was the last Christmas before his health deteriorated to the point where he needed to be put in a nursing home.
I look at this picture and I realize that neither one of us has any idea what will happen to us in the next year. I have no idea that I will birth a baby and be crippled by postpartum depression, that my old demons will rise again, and that motherhood will force me to reckon with who I really am. He has no idea that he will lose his (relative) freedom and be placed somewhere so he can be tended to, which is something he never wanted (no matter how much he needed it). In this picture we are four years away from being separated forever.
People are fond of telling me that we will see each other again, in heaven, in another life, and so on, and I appreciate their point of view. It’s very comforting, but it’s just not a view I really share. I want to believe that my dad is my guardian angel, watching over me, taking care of me in the afterlife the way he couldn’t in this life, but it isn’t something I really believe. I want to. How amazing that would be, to know he’d always be with me in that way.
Instead I feel alone. I feel angry and abandoned. I feel everything that I felt before, everything that led me into therapy years ago, the rage, the devastation, the horror at having a father who couldn’t be a daddy. Only now there’s the added knowledge that I will never see him again. There are no more chances. There are no more opportunities.
So now what?
Drive and drive and drive to Texas. Drive to the town of my birth. Drive to the house that he built for his family over 30 years ago and spend a few days with ghosts of a past life, and with my family. Attend his memorial service with his grandchildren in tow. Return him to his mother as his ashes are buried at the foot of her grave. Bring part of him home with me in a small urn. Return to our new home and begin building the life we’d like to have. Write. Remember. Grieve. Heal.
One mile, one step, one day at a time.