When I was informed of your passing over the phone, I was alone. And even though I am alone for much of my daily life, in that moment, I also felt incredibly lonely. There was nobody in my house. There was nobody to make me hot chocolate or ask me if I wanted to talk about it or back away to give me the space they think I might need. There was just me, alone, in my pajamas, sitting on my bed late at night with not even outside traffic noise to distract me.
You owe me the gallon of tears I shed for you. I cried for you, alone there, in my bed, to the point of dehydration. I wept that I had to be told over the phone. I wept that I did not get to say goodbye. I wept to mourn in what felt like the smallest way somebody could mourn someone that they loved. I cried again when I got the second phone call telling me when you were cremated. I cried trying to watch your taped funeral that I missed because I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to fly back home to attend it. I couldn’t even finish watching the tape.
You owe me stories. You owe me the tales of your childhood in your accent from the province in China that you gave up to fight in the war. I want to spend afternoons with you, listening to you retelling the best and worst parts of the fight. I want to grieve together with you for your fallen comrades and your lost friends. I want to hold your hand with all your wrinkles and all your years and marvel at the miracle of your survival that you could be here with me. I want to look at your war medals that you keep in a safe place and be careful not to touch them with dirty hands.
You owe me the chance to tell you my stories. You left before I really grew up. You left before I learned how to make oven-baked chicken with the proper baking tray and roasted vegetables. You left before I had stories of my own to tell and you left before I had the chance to share them with you. You owe me conversations that we will never have. You owe me life advice. You owe me the wisdom of your weathered age that my youth will never give me. You owe me the imparting of your expansive experiences. You owe me your ear to hear my mistakes as I beg you not to tell my mother, but to tell me what to do.
You owe me your approval, but more than that, you owe me your blessing. You will not be here for my milestones. You will never see me graduate or get married or have children. You will never congratulate me for my successes and you will never comfort me for my failures. I will pass my adult life unacknowledged by you because you are gone.
When I received that phone call, I was struck by how unfair it was. Not that you had died, because you were peaceful in your passing and it was time. I was struck instead by how unprepared I was. That it didn’t happen anything like the movies and I never got the last word in. I didn’t get my grand speech or whispered farewell and I have lost the chance to make things right.
I am bitter and I am angry that you owe me so many things and that I also owe you so much still. I felt like a fraud to grieve for you. I felt like my grief could not compare to somebody else who could have known you better than I because we still owed each other memories that will now never be. I just wanted to say, in this small way I can, that it does not diminish my love for you. I wanted these things that we owed each other. I wanted more time to resolve our mutual debts. I miss you for the things we had, but I miss you more for the things we didn’t.