I heard you took our photos off the wall. I meant to open this letter a little more cordially, going through the necessary pleasantries, but that’s all that I can think about. I wanted to ask you how you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, tell you I’ve been fine, but all I can think of is how you seemingly erased us from your life.
Do you miss us? Do you think about the memories captured in those photos and long for our company? I know I do. I stumble upon photos of us, before you were bad, and I can’t help but cry. I see your smiling eyes and remember how fiercely you loved us for a time.
You used to be proud of us. Do you know I have my master’s degree now? I wish you could see your granddaughters. They’re so amazing, Dad. We’ve had so many moments you’ll never be a part of, and it still breaks my heart.
Sometimes I remember summer evenings at your house and the sounds of crickets and frogs by the pond. The drives we took to Butler and the little treats you would buy us. I remember spending every New Years with you and how we ate Twinkies and wore alien party hats for Y2K.
I remember playing softball in the yard and that time you accidentally hit a line drive into my shin. You used to let us drive down the driveway and let me crawl into the back of the Rolling Death Trap. You always gave the best hugs.
The longer we’re separated, the more I see the truth. I notice little dents in my memories I glossed over as a child. These imperfections put a shade over the happier times before I realized everything wasn’t as it seems. I’m starting to understand how much our relationship damaged me and how it now affects my relationships with men.
It’s getting harder to remember the good times. I became so used to your illness and distance that I distanced myself from the best memories to protect myself. I couldn’t separate who you used to be from the person you’d become.
Mostly I remember when you were bad. All the visits when you wouldn’t get out of bed and I sat in your room on the computer in the dark. All the times you made me feel guilty for not loving you enough. All the games you never made it to.
I’m sorry, Dad. I know I’m not innocent in all of this. I was so young and you were so far away from me. It hurt more to see you than to stay away, and I chose what was easier for me. Would you have been better if I stayed?
I don’t think so.
They say you can’t save anyone, but we tried our best. We wanted to show you how much we needed you; how important you were to us. You never believed us. You always thought we were against you. You lashed out online and used your poisonous words as ammunition to turn others against us as well.
I wanted to fight back. You called out my sister and questioned our faith all to prove your point. I wanted to tell you and everyone who sided with you all the pain you put us through. How you would just vanish. How you constantly told us you were worth more dead than alive.
Do you know what it’s like for a child to hear her father say he’s better off dead? It’s basically like getting stabbed in the heart. Long before we understood the implications, we had to process things like this. This is where I first learned I wasn’t enough.
You sent us emails threatening the end. Do you know what that’s like to know your father might kill himself any day? To see him casually talk about it on social media? Probably not, because Grandpap doesn’t even know how to use a computer.
We grew up never knowing if this downswing would be it. Every call I receive from an unknown number still gives me a moment of panic because I wonder if it’s the call about you.
I still pray for you. I don’t want you to kill yourself. I want you to come back and be the dad you used to be. I want you to remember how much you loved us and see how much we love you. I want to tell you I’m sorry for anything I did to hurt you and that I forgive you for everything you’ve done to me.
I remember the last picture I gave you. It was from a softball game and I was just a baby. You’re sitting at a picnic table and I’m beside you in my stroller. Neither of us are paying attention, so it’s one of those candid shots that somehow seems more beautiful than smiling. When you opened it, a big grin spread across your face and I felt like I had done it – I had brought you joy.
And then you said ‘look how young I was’ and starting talking about your glory days of playing church softball. You missed why I loved the photo because in that moment, you only loved yourself.
That was the moment I knew it was truly different now. The spark in your eye began to fade and I felt you slipping away. I wish I could’ve grabbed you, but I don’t think you would’ve held onto me anyway.
For years I carried the weight of what happened with us, but now I don’t. Thankfully, my God took it from me and now I am free to see you through eyes of love. I know you’re sick and I know your brain is against us. I know some of what happened wasn’t because of your sickness. None of it matters to me because you are still my father.
So how are you? What have you been doing? I’m fine and I’m really trying to be more than just fine.
I love you, then, now and forever.