Grief is strange. Maybe it had been withholding itself. Maybe it was waiting until it knew I was capable of doing it in a safe space.
Someone I thought I loved scolded me for grieving you, telling me, “Well, it’s been four months.” As if four months is the magical number, the point where I should’ve stopped grieving the death of my father. I knew it was so incredibly wrong, but something inside of me seized up at that moment, and unconsciously tried to protect itself from such cruel and selfish words ever being said to me again.
Just like the days leading up to your funeral when I was scoffed at for listening to a poem, one that connected you to my heart; the one that I ended up sharing a bit of at your service; the one I based my whole speech around because it moved me that much.
I didn’t say why I was listening to it at the time, but I shouldn’t have had to. I wept silently as the author spoke the words when my body was begging me to let it out. I laid curled up in a ball at the very edge of the bed when I should have had two arms to safely fall apart into.
I’m so sorry that I had to keep you at bay for awhile. I’m so sorry if you ever thought I wasn’t thinking about you.
And so now that I am in this place, this new, safe, healthy place, my heart has broken for you all over again, like it should have been able to all along. I cry for you all the time; in the strangest moments, and in the most obvious ones; in the quiet moments, and the overwhelming ones.
I cry for you now as I write this, and my sobs are getting too big to keep my eyes open, but my thoughts are not willing to wait, and so I keep typing, eyes blinded by tears, hoping that my hands alone, can say what is so clearly spilling out of my heart.
I cry for you and I don’t wish the tears away because they are a connection to you. They honor you. Each one spills over my cheek bone and down to the edge of my jaw, dripping into the hollow between my collar bones, just like the single tear that ran down your cheek when your eyes closed for the last time. I tasted it when I kissed your face, and that moment comes back to me when I taste my own.
The last trip we took together was to the ocean, your favorite place. Your sacred place.
I had to drive us because your body was shutting down, but we didn’t speak of that. Instead, I sang along to the radio and made stupid jokes, and you told me stories; stories of your childhood and stories of us; stories of searching for pretty shells and sand dollars, and chasing down the waves together. I took each one in like a deep, deep breath, never wanting to exhale them out.
I was driving around a sharp corner when you asked me if I wanted your trick kites; the ones we used to fly together when the wind whipped at our backs and the sand stung our eyes and our laughs were lost in the crashing of the waves. I remember it so vividly because the sharpness of the corner mimicked the sharpness of the pain that stabbed my heart when you asked. I said yes, against my own will, because I knew that was your way of saying goodbye. You didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t either. But we both knew what your question and my answer meant.
At that moment I silently pleaded with anyone listening to please take it away. Please. Please give it to me instead. Please let me take your place. I will fight it. I can fight it.
No one listened. No one answered me.
And so I listened to the playing of Taps in a gymnasium filled with everyone who loved you, and watched my dear friend and fellow veteran, present my mother with an American flag.
I didn’t get to fight it for you.
I lost you.
Most days I feel lost, myself, and I am scared to look for you because what if I can’t find you? What if I find nothing? What if everything people say about you being here with me always is just a bunch of bullshit? How can anyone truly know?
So I went searching for shells, like we did when I was little, at one of the beaches in Costa Rica. I was the only one there that day. I found purple ones and red ones and I knew which one would have been your favorite right when I saw it; it was smooth with orange markings, and you would’ve told me they looked like tiger stripes. I chased down the waves, and they chased me back, the water so warm against my legs. I screamed at the ocean in anger, and wept as I walked along the shoreline. I threw fistfuls of sand and it went nowhere, and I asked a million questions of “why?”, with no one to hear.
Why did it have to be you? Why did you have to suffer? Why wasn’t I able to save you? Why didn’t they let me take your place?
The absurdness of it all made me laugh and I couldn’t help but think of you laughing, too. I was so far away from everything, but I’d never felt closer to you.
And then I came back, and I couldn’t find you anymore.
The city feels so big. My own walls feel suffocating, and too many buildings take up too little space, and I can’t feel anything except for business and money and ego and everything else that is everything but what you were.
I couldn’t see you.
And now it’s Fathers Day, the first one without you. There’s a weight on my chest and my heart is so tired. It’s hard to get a full breath, and each one is a constant reminder that all of yours are gone.
In my sadness I forget how close I am to what you so dearly love; to what you made me fall in love with.
So I walk the three blocks down to the water’s edge. Ferries are making their way across the Sound, and I imagine how I would’ve rolled my eyes at your excitement over the beauty of it. I would give anything to be able to roll my eyes at you again.
Slowly, the city is drowned out by waves and the smell of salt water and the sound of my breath and the warmth of the sun on my freckled shoulders. I ask the waves why you don’t get to have any more days and I ask the breeze how I’m supposed to go any more on my own without the sound of your voice. I ask the current if the ashes that I sprinkled into the Costa Rican waters have made their way here, because I had asked each drop to hold you tightly. Because I had begged them to take you on their travels; to never let you go.
And I’m so caught up in the fact that I don’t feel you here like I so badly want to, that I barely notice the stranger that has been standing behind me. He is older, and he has bright blue eyes.
You had bright blue eyes.
Before I could say hello, he says, “You are beautiful.” I blush hard, and I smile, surprised and silently knowing that he is so completely unaware of the ocean of salty tears that have been pooling up behind my aviators long before he crossed my path.
It’s then that I am so aware that sometimes the darkness and the light take up the same space at the same moment, and they are both so very holy. Both so very beautiful. Both so very needed; each one a highlight, a reminder of the other.
As I thank him out loud, I thank you inside, because maybe that was it. Maybe that was you, telling me I’m beautiful. Still your beautiful little girl. Still okay. Still here. Still yours.
You’re still mine.
I see you.
If you’re able to hug your dad today, I hope you get to hug him every Father’s Day, and everyday, for forever.
If, like me, you’re no longer able to, my heart is with you.
Happy Fathers Day to my favorite guy. My first love. My best love.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Jen Weddle / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Morgan Olson