It’s the eve of your birthday, and of course, I’m thinking about you. I think about you a lot lately. Moments when you feel so close, I can almost smell your aftershave. And others, others when it feels like it’s been decades. These milestones sneak up and choke me. I’m trying to pry the fingers off my throat, but it’s hard. It’s really hard, Dad.
I run my hands over your urn and have the strange desire to throw it against a wall, like I think you’ll be free somehow. This weird, irrational belief instilled deep inside me that like the Genie in Aladdin, you’ll come bursting out. And you’ll be here again. Be here with me. I need you here with me. I need you so much, lately. It’s getting hard again to breathe.
I blanket myself in this cloak of isolation every March. I know you wouldn’t want that, you’d be encouraging me to get out of the house and have adventures, like we used to do. “Go find the Magic Steps! Take one of the dogs, I’ll be with you,” you’d say, your voice like liquid honey. Soothing. Somehow always took the edge off my nerves, my anxiety. It made everything sweeter. More possible.
But you aren’t here with me. And Dad, I don’t remember where the Magic Steps are. It was some forest, or hiking trail. I was too young to take note of street signs or directions. Mom doesn’t remember what city they’re in. So I can’t go. Not really. Not without you. They’d just be steps. You were what made them magic. You had this beautiful ability to make even the most mundane somehow mesmerizing. You were like my own personal Hogwarts, leading me through castles and hallways. I couldn’t believe the worlds we created.
We created our own languages. We’d rap about Pokemon on the car ride home. We’d eat pickles straight out of the jar with our fingers, making sure Mom didn’t catch us. We’d sing songs, play guitar, get in the car and drive until we found something worth the drive.
Dad, if I could, I would drive until my car breaks down and explodes. I would drive until everything is too much and I rise from the flames, some Phoenix, ready to be with you again. I don’t know. That sounds morbid and scary, huh Dad? I don’t mean you to be worried. I just never thought I’d be able to continue so long without you. But I have, and in the darkest hours, I feel guilty. There’s this part of me that feels like I’m betraying my own grief, every time I feel close to being whole.
Because you aren’t with me. I want to be whole again. I don’t want to keep bouncing on this cycle. How low I keep dipping, and I see your face and some nights, it’s all I can do to not chase after you. Some nights, I want nothing more than to stop the aching and be in our own world again. Create a new language, the lost daughter and dead father, reading Archie comics and watching Arthur again.
But then I look at myself in the mirror. I see my teeth, crooked on the bottom, with awkward spaces and areas cosmetic dentists promised they could fix. And I said no. I said leave it. I see my imperfect smile and I see your perfect smile staring back at me.
You’re with me. In my smile. In my writing. In my flaws, self-sabotaging behavior. My obsessions, and self-doubts. In my optimism and overwhelming desire to help. In my heart, big and bloodied.
I see you in every bit of me.
Happy early birthday, Daddy. I’ll hold you with me. Always.