My father is not dead- not by medical standards. Not yet. Tick tock- I’ve been waiting for him to die, watching, angrily, as the more innocent go in his place. He’s more..missing with an expectation of no return- I expect he’ll die, lonely, on his lifelong search for the unattainable. I tried. I tried to show him that maybe I could BE all he was searching for, but there’s no competing with the ever- sparkly temptress crack cocaine. She comes with immortal magic AND hookers. At some point, it’s just demoralizing to compete with that world ESPECIALLY when it’s for the attention of an abusive lunatic- the whores can have him. I let him go. He’s now an unrecognizable imposter still called my dad. He’s the walking dead. This kind of grief is very complicated- losing someone completely before they’ve actually departed. I tried to avoid the feelings for a decade, covering my heartbreak up with “forgiveness,” “acceptance,” and “apathy.” When I got sick and was stripped of all of my defenses, maintaining any sort of relationship with my father felt like voluntarily signing up for a causeless war that puts me in the front line alone with no protection or weapons. Being on a mission for total wellness, that would be insane of me. Instead, I faced my past- my devastating heartbreak, and, very recently, uncovered the love I had forgotten all about.
It’s SO easy to vilify my father: he’s an abusive crack addict/ alcoholic, narcissist with sociopathic tendencies, cheater, liar, and he left my family in shambles. I spent most of my childhood tortured by fear, wishing my parents would divorce, or wishing him dead. He was a scary, nasty, and handsy drunk that I could honestly say, I did not love. SO when, at my very impressionable age of 9, my Dad sobered up and ripened into a tall, dark, handsome, and rich man, I was bamboozled into falling in love. I didn’t know how to brace myself for a love like that so I just let myself fall like the naive child I was. I was totally taken by him. My heart went all fireworks every time he held my hand or gave me a hug or said something nice to me. When he wanted to be with me, when he wanted to take me on a date, I put on my best dresses and sat cross-legged across from him at fancy restaurants as I tried to be his peer, his most beloved. Sound a little weird? TOTALLY. It is weird. It’s unhealthy but kind of sweet at best and like super creepy at worst. It’s the truth, though, my father was my first all-encompassing love. And my first (arguably my only) shattering heartbreak.
In 2001, after just a few short but poignant years of sobriety, he started drinking again. There were signs. He was being cruel, and he had that look again: that feral look. I lived with an unshakable faith that my father, MY FATHER, would NEVER use again so it was very confusing for me the first night he didn’t come home. At 6 AM, on my way to school I asked my mother what happened. She said, “ I’m not sure what happened- I think Dad’s in the hospital. Maybe a car accident? He’s drinking again.” I was dumbstruck. I thought about it for the rest of the day in a sort of daze- a world where my dad drinks again? The puzzle pieces didn’t fit- it just didn’t fucking fit. I admittedly have an active and dramatic imagination, but I could have never thought up what was about to come.
2001-2003 were bad years- challenging and disorienting, but they were also the hopeful years. Yes, the downward spiral was picking up speed, and, yes, really nasty things were happening in the home, and, yes, my father was not only drinking, but also snorting coke, and not coming home and acting unstable at best but, he still had a job, and it appeared from my 15-year-old perspective that, at any minute, he’d change his mind and it could all just magically go back to “normal.” I attempted to sway him- believing if he loved me enough, he’d come around – be my knight in shinging armor again. He had an office in a dark corner of the house. It was filled with all of the expensive things that he purchased at the height of his simultaneous success and sobriety. In 2001, he sat behind a big oak desk, smoking cigarettes, clicking away at his computer, and taking business calls that he always sounded so authoritative and intelligent on. By 2003, it was a drug den. He locked the door, and left the lights out so there was always an uncertainty about whether or not he was even in there. His oak desk was now piled with clutter of all sorts and his drawers were filled with the paraphernalia of his new lifestyle. I sometimes knocked on the door. I often wondered if he was around, if he would be willing to see me- if he would maybe hold me once more, and tell me it was OK. I would write him letters and slip them under the door with high hopes of how they might affect him.
He responded to one of my letters, and I saved it all of these years. I think I saved it because it is this one piece of loose leaf that proves what he and I had together- the love we shared as father and daughter. It slipped out of a book the other day, and inspired this post. From late 2003:
There are just some things I have on my mind that I want you to know. I want you back in my life…You haven’t hit rock bottom yet because you still have a family who loves you…don’t let that slip away. I hate seeing you do this to yourself but I believe in you. I have hope that you will pull through this. You have a problem that you understand better than any of us so all I truly get is that you are in lots of physical and mental pain. I see the anxiety and guilt in your eyes. I just ask one thing: please don’t turn your back on me and pretend I don’t see what’s going on. I see it, but I still love you soooo much and am extremely concerned about you. I just want you to know that people still care…especially me..hitting rock bottom is when you lose that. I LOVE YOU. I hope you can feel this deep in your soul. LOVE, JACKIE
and on the back of the piece of looseleaf, he returned this…
When did you get so smart? So mature? Sorry I am giving you this particular lesson this way. Yes, I am in a really bad place filled with fear and guilt. It’s nobody’s fault and no one can help. It’s all up to me. Unfortunately, the same things that have given me success in life bring me to this place. It’s part of who I am and I have to overcome it. There is no denial on my part. I see and feel everything which is why I will prevail! I need you to stay strong and stay on course. I feed off that. Ultimately, this will make me stronger and a better person. Don’t cry baby- let me see your strength. Show me how people like us handle things! You know what I mean- I know you do. God damn I’m proud of you! Love, Dad.
I remember reading that letter and feeling so much hope- dad was on the horizon! The very next thing I remember is Crack-the fucking Devil’s drug- I’ve never seen anything like it. That drug hijacked what was left of my father’s heart, his spirit, in the middle of the night, leaving no time for me to say my goodbyes. That letter is the last thing I have from him that resembles the man I loved. The years 2003-2005 were the most violent, destructive years we lived through. I wondered often whether my Mother would get out alive as there were ever-increasing attempts to take her out. I wondered nightly whether or not my father was alive. I heard his screams in the middle of the night (if he was home). He’d convulse on the couch so fiercely that his crack pipe would fall out of the pocket of the terry cloth robe his body was now too frail for. If he was alive, I considered killing him myself which, by the way, I am VERY GLAD I never fully attempted. He lost his job, our cars, our house, and my parents divorced all in those 2 years. The last engagement I saw between my parents as married people was October of 2005 when my dad said, “Jackie, there’s one last thing I want you to see me do to your mother,” and then he spit a wad of yellow phlegm right on her face so it dripped off of her nose. That was not great. See- IT’S EASY TO VILIFY MY FATHER.
I thought I walked away from all of that unaffected. It was my mission to move on and be unaffected. I numbed it- who could begin to deal with all of that garbage AND continue living a life? I talked about my past like it was some story- someone else’s life. “Yeah like that time my dad had hookers in the house and beat my mom and threatened to eat my dog,” I’d laugh while others would crane their necks in silence. I moved 6,000 miles away from home, and I decided to be the best daughter I could be regardless of who he was. All that meant was that we maybe talked once every six months, and I sent him a “Happy Birthday” text. The last time I saw him, 2 years ago, he was so high that I swore/ hoped I was leaving him for dead, and I had NO PROBLEM leaving. Five minutes after I left him, my doctor called to let me know that my Lyme results came back still very much positive.
When I got sick and my father was what he had been for 15 years (absent and high) I fell apart. I lived, I think, with some reservation, that if I ever needed my father desperately enough, he would show up. Surely, if I got sick, he would revert back to 1999 Dad. When I had to face the reality that my father was no help whatsoever but only a hindrance to my well-being, I was faced with a level of grief so painful, I thought I’d never get over it. As a coping mechanism, I again turned to hate- vilify the asshole. I felt and often feel the anger, but he’s not just this one thing. He’s not just “monster.”
When I found that letter, I remembered everything I ever loved about him, and I remembered how much he loved me. There was good there- there was even something innocent there, I think. I can take an eraser to my hard edges that leave no room for mistakes. I can see the whole, messy, imperfect picture. It’s weird, I know, to talk about him in the past. It’s so complicated to grieve the loss of someone who is still bodily alive…somewhere…I don’t even know where. Today, I wish he was dead just so I could talk to him. I really do miss that man- the man in that letter.
I remember my father telling me one day in 2004 while we both fiercely sucked down cigarettes in his Porsche, “The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is not caring.” I TRIED so hard to not care about my Dad- just to show him. Wouldn’t it be so easy to not care? But I’m on a fucking mission to heal, and that has meant unveiling all of the nasty shit, facing it, and finding what lives underneath- an innocent, unshakable love. It also means, staying the hell away from the toxic, lunatic man he’s become. But, dammit, I love you, Dad- can’t wait till you find peace.
Fun and Love,