Three years ago today I was crying.
My chest cavity had been pried apart by the ugly hands of abuse, history, death, and pain and my insides pulverized. I could barely breathe for the sheer magnitude of the storm of my feelings: grief, relief, anger, pain, and, yes, even happiness that he was finally gone.
So far today, I have been successful at holding back my tears and keeping intruding thoughts of his death at bay. But I have only to think of him and his tyranny on my and my sister's emotional landscapes while he was alive and of his excruciating, pitiful death at the end to feel the backs of my eyelids prick and my throat grow thick with unvented emotion and tears.
I am unsure how to approach this anniversary; where to log it in my brain. It is a great relief that he is no longer on this planet. First, I don't wish suffering of any kind on anyone and my father had layers of it from all points in his life: physical, mental, and emotional. Secondly, my life is better with him gone. I no longer worry he'll show up on my door step unannounced and unwelcome or that I'll get another filthy email or feel obligated to mother him or have to sit through yet another diatribe about - who else? - him. And lastly, I simply don't have to feel the pain of our relationship as a living, throbbing beast always hiding in my darkest corners. In the last three years of his absence I have shown the light on those corners and I have begun to let myself off the hook: No, I wasn't a bad daughter; No, it wasn't my fault he wasn't a good father; No, I didn't deserve to be ridiculed and mocked; No, I really am a good human being; No, I AM WORTHY.
I consider myself a generally nice person, so to feel this much relief over my own father's death is unsettling to me. And, honestly, I am happy he is no longer here. It means that his death has negated that I ever give any emotional real estate to our relationship again. It's fucking over. OVER.
So why don't I feel better about it??
When I got the call from his friend that he was, essentially, dying and would I be interested in talking to him it took me about an hour to decide that I would do this thing for him. Because it certainly wasn't for me.
Talking to him, a weak, sick and dying man, was not for my benefit. It was my parting gift to him so he could rest with a lighter heart. We spoke of nothing but his cancer and how it was viciously attacking his insides. So much, I thought, like he had attacked ours over the years. Wasn't this Karma at its height? That a bad, bad man like my father would die tortured in a hospital bed alone and penniless? Well, I can tell you that even witnessing a lesser man die a big death doesn't make it feel any less violent to your heart and soul. It can crush you nonetheless. For this reason, I would never watch a killer die. It's still a life lost. Someone's baby choosing the wrong path...
I couldn't just leave him on this earth with only phone calls between us so I went to him when he was in hospice. My family and I steeled ourselves for the worst. I was expecting him to be emaciated and frail. He looked quite the opposite. He was huge and looming, like my memories of him as a little girl. The only change in his appearance was his hair: it was shock white and fine as a baby's, cut close and sticking straight up.
He smiled, happy and afraid. He had given up on us, he said, and had been afraid all these years to reach out to us. Such was my father's outlook on life. - Never mind that I spent years of my life fighting for a better relationship with him.
We spent several days in Phoenix with him, visiting him twice a day. Outside of hospice we spent the rest of the time collectively drunk and sobbing, laughing at fart ring tones, and yelling to perfect strangers, "I'm SHY!!!!" I cried every hour, tears streaming down my face like a waterfall. It felt like my face was trying to flush my eyes down the drain of my neck.
Only once did my father address his behavior towards and treatment of me during our time there. He seemed somewhat apologetic. I wanted to believe he was sorry, but still felt in my gut he was mostly scared for his own soul than repairing mine. I felt brushed aside, much as I did during my childhood, as he gave a more fervent, heartfelt and fearful apology and embrace to my sister. She whose heart shown gloriously in its strength, beauty, and capacity to forgive in the face of his ugliness and depravity. I felt ashamed that I was jealous of the attentions he was giving her, even in this moment, but let it settle on my shoulders with resignation. I will always be a little girl dying for the attention of her father, no matter what's happening.
And what I did as a little girl to get my father's acceptance and attention was take care of him. Therefore, it was fitting that I be the one to sign cremation papers for him. I was his little mother AND his next of kin.
It felt wrong doing all this for a man who never liked me, who abused my sister, and who hurt everyone who ever cared for him. I was losing a piece of myself as I signed the paperwork to authorize the burning of his remains, yet I was doing it for him because he was my father and I loved him.
Yes, even after everything, of course I loved him. And that's another feeling that has no home in me. Where in the hell do I put that?? I loved a crippled, abominable man. It's not the kind of love you put next to the love of a friend or your baby. It's a love you're embarrassed about, because how could I possibly??
But it's true, and I still do. And I wish more than anything that he were still here as a different man. Someone who I could look up to and rely on and call in a pinch for a laugh or advice. Now July 8th is a day to remind me that all hope of having a Father in my father is really and truly gone. My relief at his passing, while great, is still no match for my heart's yearning for a Dad. A real, bona fide Dad. Someone who was trustworthy and kind and, above all else, a safe place.
Maybe I've romanticized what it's like to have a father, but you can't blame me. I don't know what it's like. I'm sure it's as complicated and frustrating as having a mother (and I definitely have a Mom), but as someone who never in her life felt as though she had one I think it'd be pretty fucking awesome and I'd welcome it.
After everything, I feel as though I was a wonderful daughter to him. Especially in the end. Even after leaving hospice and the hours of sitting in his room watching the rise and fall of his chest behind I continued to be there for my father. He would call me, delusional from the pain meds, afraid and confused. He talked to me about coming to my graduation that winter and of being a grandfather to my unborn kids. I told him he was welcome to it all, knowing in my heart that he wouldn't survive that long, and if, by some miracle he did, I still wasn't sure I could open my world up to his pervasive emotional sickness. I've never lied to a dying person before. I don't regret it, but the words still haunt me. I hope he knows why I did it.
Finally, my aunt, my father's sister-in-law, called me to tell me he had died. It is a moment frozen in time. I was standing in my kitchen, in the walkway area. I buried my face in my hands and Rooster held me. I wish like hell I felt one iota better about him today than I did then, but I don't, and I haven't. Maybe I never will.