I am writing to you, on this day, the 15th of July. It was midnight when your dad died. You’re just eleven.
Just two days ago, your mom took him to the hospital in your city, and she asks my dad to look after you and your sisters for a while. I could picture you then, swallowed by the sofa, a book between your lap. The adults are talking in lines, but you’re too smart for that. Too smart not to notice the pills on the bedside table, the eyes of your mother outlined in red. He’s beside you and apologizes to my dad, tells him to call if there’s a problem, apologizes again for borrowing the rocking chair because it helps him sleep.
No one thought your dad was terribly ill, because he seemed like the sort of man who would take in his pain quietly and keep his words behind his tongue. Sunday afternoon, he complains of pain, tightness in his chest, etcetera. It has probably reached the level of unbearable, and it’s too late now. You’re whisked away into the night, the roads car-less at 2:46 am. It could be the longest ride of your life, or the shortest. I wonder if you had started crying then, the last of the shadows before dawn stretching its legs over the city.
Three days ago, I hear you coming back from your friend’s house, the gates banging loudly behind you. My dad and your dad are on your porch, two men of different generations talking about our generation. One with silver hair with reading glasses perched on his nose, the other a raven with a cane. For us, they are the best fathers anyone can dream of. Your dad remarks how everyone in the neighborhood knows you’re home, and chuckles, but it’s cut short as he takes a sharp intake of breath. It must be his back again.
I know how your eyes shift from your dad to your old sneakers, a Christmas present from him. He isn’t as strong as he used to be. I wonder if it tires you to know these little details, to watch these things you know of your parents fade with each year that rolls in. You wonder if they feel the same way about you, how they marvel at you, running around, a mess of arms and legs, and look back to when you were tiny and hairless in a bundle of blankets.
I had decided to write to you, and hope someday you find this letter. When you’re older, maybe, or next year. I have a habit of writing letters to people and not giving it to them personally. Today I woke up to a missed phone call from your mom and my father in the kitchen, stirring soup. He breaks the news as I butter the bread, and we eat the rest of the meal in silence.
I’m no expert in loss, and I won’t pretend to be. Honestly, I’d have wanted to put off that experience for as long as I can, but what happens, happens. I’ve learned that you just deal with things that happen, not with your idea of when and how it all should have gone. It’s six years since mother died, but every time I think about it, I feel like I’m being sucked into some black hole in the universe, vacuumed in the darkness with the memory. I don’t remember much from that year; the things I ate, the songs I listened to, the films I saw. It’s like I crossed out that year from my existence and the page is blank, and I put the book back into the shelf and forgot all about it.
People are going to tell you bullshit about how your dad’s in a better place, how he isn’t suffering anymore– but how about you? Don’t you need to mourn? Aren’t you suffering? This society will teach you how it is unacceptable to wear your shredded heart on your sleeves, will slap into your face the paradigm of positive thinking, but glossing over? Something like loss isn’t anything that goes away with a dumb quote juxtaposed with the image of a sunrise. Fuck that, honestly. But you can’t say that to them, to tell them to shut up. Hell, I’m not supposed to be saying that to you either, but you know. I know you know. We can’t help it, can we? We have those words to make ourselves feel better, to make others feel better. They’re useless words said over and over again, and the receiver merely accepts it with a solemn nod, but it won’t make sense until years later. Maybe never.
I won’t pretend to understand how you feel, because I couldn’t even put into words how it felt to have lost a parent. I had been nineteen then, and I was probably doing worse then than you are now. But if you decide to thrash out your room, break a few things, not want to go home for a few days, I understand. You might feel it a burden to go back to school, to write down pointless equations and solve long divisions, to go on like nothing happened, like someone cut you up in the middle of the night and took out your organs and you had to wake up ok. You might hate how the world is the same, how the sun still burns bright, and you’d wish a hurricane comes along and then you can point at it and say, that’s inside me.
If suddenly you hate your father for not taking of himself better, if suddenly you hate yourself irrationally for being a son who did not make his father proud enough, just feel all those things, the way you felt the rain on your face when you stood out in the middle of a raging storm, and your mother was screeching at you from the window to Get back here! Your vision is fractured, and the world is transformed into a fishbowl of blue and grey, and everything else is a bubble of color in your periphery. If you suddenly feel that there should have been someone else in his place, you, or an abusive alcoholic of a father who would be better off dead, or an old man with too much money and little use to society, or a random person on the street who has no family to mourn him when he dies, accept it first. As humans we are selfish, and if we were always guilty about what we like, we’ll never be happy, in the same way that if we indulge on everything, we will never be satisfied.
When you have felt every raindrop seep on your shirt, and your sneakers are soggy with mud, shake yourself off, leave your shoes out the door. Let your mother rub your head with a towel, even if it’s a little too harsh and you feel all your hair stuck permanently on the towel. Let your sisters fix you a mug of chocolate, the same one you make for your dad while you study history together.
They say you can’t bring back the dead, and it has taken me years to undo this belief. If you look in the right places, they’re all still there. When you look at your bicycle, it’s as if your dad is sitting beside it, aligning the chains. Remember the oil in his hands and the smile on his face when he manages to fix it up so you can go around the park in the afternoon. Remember the books from my library he helped you carry back into your room, the way he dusted the covers of the old ones so your allergies won’t be triggered. Remember the stern voice he uses when you’ve teased your sister to the point of tears, remember how he wants both of you to get along because you’re a family. Remember how he had stayed beside your bed when you had a fever that won’t go down, how he had been proud of the time you won your first spelling contest. Remember how he’d cook barbeque with you and pretend not to notice when you sneak a few bites in before everyone else.
He’s in all the nooks in your house, in the sofa, watching a football game or a dumb variety show you laugh at together, in the kitchen preparing your lunch, in the garden, sweeping the yellowed leaves from the yard in the middle of the angry heat of June. It feels like he’s gone, and that knowledge kills you, a heartbeat at a time, but later on, you will know that no one ever really leaves. It is up to you to define that presence in your life.
I admit there is danger in being consumed by reliving this history you share with someone, but time, no matter how much time it takes, you will realize the loss is still there, but you will find other things in this world to make you happy. Not just memories of the past – there is the rest of your life ahead of you. I cannot speak for you, or for others who have lost people dear to them, but I will let my demons walk with yours, until we reach the edge of the road where we can open our palms and let the wind take away what we hold dear, after we have let them light the dark places in ourselves.