You would have been 58. You would have been sheltered in with us, cooking too much with onions and garlic. You would have burned the garlic. You always did. You would have let your hair get a little longer and we would be salt and pepper together now. You would have been blasting music. Old music. You would know every word. Your daughter would switch up the playlist and play something she likes and you would not know a single word, but you would smile anyway and think to yourself how can it be that my daughter is going to be 18 in a month and a half. You would tell her once again about the day she was made, in the summer, after a perfect day at our secret beach right off the Intercostal waterway. Sun tan and sun kissed, grilled shrimp, red wine, cheese and bread.
That’s what you are made of, you would say.
She would be totally grossed out but then just the other day she said to me.
What was the name of that house where I was made?
You would wonder how we baked a cake when flour is no where to be found, and found a candle or two, for one wish and one to grow on-for good measure, for good luck. For one more year. You would look at your daughter, then look over at me, then look back at your daughter and you would tear up and wonder how life could be so sweet. You would have that same look in your eyes that never seemed to go away-even when you were the happiest. Even then. I can close my eyes and still see that look. I saw it a lot towards the end. I just did not know what I was looking at and how deep that look went. But you would get all mushy and hold me tight and pull me in closer, closer, closer and then pull our daughter in to the fold too. A giant, family of three circle hug.
You. You would say.
It’s because of you. That I am here, that we are here that we have this amazing daughter.
I would brush it off and count the years and we would all end up in the living room watching something on the TV. I would fall asleep and then you and your daughter would make your way towards the freezer for ice cream to go with one more piece of birthday cake before the day is done. Who cares if it is ten o’clock at night?
But no. Not this year. Not last year. Not the last five years. You would have been 58. We don’t post outdated pictures of you on social media with artificial sentiments. You would have hated that. We keep your birthday’s small. With a wish and a prayer. We cry. I cry at the loss. I cry at what I can not fix for our daughter. The whole mega load of motherfucking loss. 7th grade was gone because you died and we stayed in some kind of whatthefuckhappened fog. 8th grade was a struggle with bullying and trying to figure out being happy, sad, angry, hormones, the thought of high school and then. And then. You were not there. That never changed after 7th grade. No matter how hard she wished it would. No matter how hard she wished she had hugged you one more time. She wishes she had not gotten angry at you. She says, outloud, sometimes:
I think I am always trying to find dad and fix him. She knows she never could have.
High school was a mixed bag of grief. We moved into a new home, in a new neighborhood and we settled into life surrounded by gables and gardens and boxes…lots of boxes.We found happy. We found life. We figured it out along the way. I finished my masters, held on tighter, afraid to let go, but we had each other. She made it through each year with the things she should have. Now we sit in the unknown for what is to be. Prom? Graduation? Gathering? Ever? Again?
I am so sick of loss
That’s what our daughter said.
I am just so sick of loss.
She wanted a punching bag and I got her one. She wanted to look through boxes and boxes of pictures. We do. She found your old yearbook. It had gotten wet when the pipe in the basement rotted out and water went everywhere.
We are drying it out so she can turn the pages.
Each year, we do something for you, from us, on your birthday. We talk about how the old house has turned into all the things you had hoped it would be. An art studio, earth, nature and room to grow. Cool people live there and it shows. Some of the dead trees you planted are still dead. So I have heard. I don’t drive past the old house. I heard the starlings are back after a 6 year absence. The owner called to ask if I knew what that sound was. Like the time we had squirrels in the eaves and they would run around at 4 in the morning and then take a break for morning squirrel sex and then sleep. After listening to the video the owner sent, it was defiantly the starlings. Remember how they found a way into the eaves and built all those nests and then attacked you every time you walked up the stairs? We had to wait until baby starlings hatched and flew away before we could seal up their entrance. Damn starlings, you would say. And they would shit on your head. Remember how the chickens from the neighbors house would follow you everywhere and the roster would attack you? Remember how you would say the old house would tell stories if we just listened. The people who live there now say the same thing. You would be so happy to know everything you ever wanted for the barn has come true.
I found all your old journals. I knew you knew that one day I would find them and I did. I read them all. I never knew you kept journals. Thanks for leaving them for me. For us. I am sorry you were so troubled. I am sorry you never realized your creative genius. I am grateful you found the love you were looking for when you met me-and when our daughter was born. I am sorry it was not enough. I am sorry you left your daughter. You left her with so many things to figure out, some of which she never will and she will have to live with that and find a way to express it. I still have a hard time with that one and I curse you on some of those days that are hardest of all. I curse you. I do.
She got into college. I cried when I read the acceptance letter and I cry every time I read it. She landed right were she was supposed to be and I know she is going to create remarkable chapters in her book of life. I wish you could see her. I wish you could know her.
She hurts. She does. She is angry. Even after 5 years she is angry. I have a feeling she will wrestle with that anger for a long time. I get angry too. I get angry at you for leaving her behind-but then I know, and I soften and shake my head and shed a tear. We talk a lot about you. I follow her lead on how she wants to handle things. There are some days I don’t know what to say to her anymore, because those will be the words she needs to hear and learn on her own.
Tell her it was not her fault. Find a way, some way, to tell her it was not her fault.
I laugh at so many things that no one would ever understand except you.She does too. I wonder if you ever would have found peace. I don’t think you would have and I think you knew this and then I cry some more.
Our daughter looked at me the other day, in this strange, full catastrophe of every day a new disaster in these quarantined times and she said,
Dad would have hated this. He would not have been able to handle this.
She was right.
I wonder if you would know me now. This blink of an eye that seems life a life time ago. I wonder if you would see me. More importantly, I wonder if you would have ever been able to see yourself.
The way we did. Even in the darkness.
On your birthday, five years since, we still make a wish for you. With one to grow on.