Pap,
I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you died
You were one of my favorite people
the one who would let me sit in your lap for hours
reading me the same old stories
you’d let me lay on the horn of your old pickup the whole way down the road, which I thought was the best thing ever.
with you
judgment or cruelty
were foreign concepts
and love was an easy smile
a quiet contentment
unspoken between two bashful souls
afraid of words
who could never speak it
but when it came to you and me
the important stuff was just understood.
and for a little girl whose father used “bitch”, “stupid”, “ignorant”
as pet names
your love was a thing
-necessary-
you were the closest thing to father-love that I ever got.
And how did I repay you for that?
by telling myself that heart attack victims surely died right away or not at all
by flaking on more than one hospital visit, thinking I’d see you when you got home
By letting you die, wondering why
the person who understood you best
never showed when you needed them most
How a 5:30 am phone call
couldn’t shatter my denial. How a funeral on my 15th birthday didn’t
hit
til I saw your casket.
And afterwards, when J— and I were put on suicide watch with Nana; an entire year spent taking turns alone with her night after night
a fifteen-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old boy
trying to fill adult shoes
fill the emptiness you’d left
stuffing our own grief out of reach because at least we weren’t trying to fucking kill ourselves
and who consoles grieving children when the entire support system is grieving themselves? or screaming about how they wished they were dead
looking to kids for comfort we didn’t have words for
and with you gone
no one left who understood my silence
that same silence that would rage in me
blind panic
years of sleepless nights
numb nerve endings
fainting spells
dread that permeated my skin like the damp mold of your grave
it took three long years to come out of it
not realizing how easy I got off until I started counting the scars down J—‘s arms and legs
both of us trying to confound our demons
with temporary sacrifices
I spent many nights praying he wouldn’t die
afraid my silence would cause it
or my voice hasten it
I knew the memories he wanted to escape
But…my guilt over letting you down, it’s kept me rooted
helped me stand by him through it
it showed me the selfishness I had to kill
along with my predilection for silence
to be calm in the face of death
because yours was so
life-shattering
I know what it is to face the worst, not just to lose someone you loved but someone you needed
and I think you’d be proud of me
because I sang to Grandma when she could no longer speak
and on Christmas day I sat by your brother’s deathbed
I whispered hymns and told him how jealous I was that he’d get to see you soon; even Dad showed, we made sure he didn’t die alone.
It’s my life’s burden that every time I think of you
it’s bittersweet
that
now that I’m no longer
afraid of words
that to tell you I love you,
that your love was everything,
that I’m sorry I let you down
will just have to remain
those things between us
left unspoken.