I was looking for something tonight that caused me to end up digging around in a box of old papers and photographs. One of the things I found was a DVD my dad had made out of some old 8 or 16 millimeter film footage from my first birthday. Its the only childhood home videos I have and there is only about two and a half minutes worth of film.
Watching this again, as well as looking at some of the pictures and letters, I realized that most of the things saved in this box of mementos really only have meaning to me anymore. Both of my parents are dead, as are almost all of the family friends who made up my childhood family. Sure, I have friends and family that I’ve made along the way, but nobody any longer who really knows the first portion of my life. I recognize this is something that eventually happens, but it doesn’t seem as usual for people at my age.
I looked at old photographs of my parents, from their childhood to adulthood. How much do I really know about these people? I looked at photos and documents they had saved of their family members, people who I don’t know. And I realized that the photographs I have, the ones that document my way through this life will end up the same way someday. Since I doubt I’ll ever have children, it isn’t like I’m going to pass these items and their stories along to anyone else. Or at least not to anyone who has a vested interest in listening.
One of the things I ran across was a letter from my father. It is very brief and undated, but I think it is something he sent to me in 2003 after I had moved to New York. I didn’t end up staying longer than a few months, and I’m sure I didn’t put a lot of stock into this letter at the time, but it has another layer of meaning now that he is dead, especially considering the tumultuous time in the spring of 2010 when his physical and mental health took a drastic turn for the worse.
A bit of history: I ended up stepping away from the situation in 2010, which was what it seemed like he wanted at the time. And once out from the eye of the storm, I realized that I didn’t need or want to go back inside. The last time I saw him was probably in February or March. I spoke to him once by phone, probably in June. And then nothing. A few days after Christmas, I got an envelope in the mail from his partner that had a copy of his death certificate, showing that he had died weeks earlier. I never knew he had fallen, or that he had pnuemonia and spent the last weeks of his life in a hospice.
As a teenager, my father was the reason I didn’t stay with my mother when she died, like I secretly wanted to do. Instead, I delivered the letter to the hospital she had signed that instructed them to take her off of life support. I did this while my father waited elsewhere in the hospital, unable to look beyond his own grief. I walked down the long hallway alone the same evening I returned from spending time with a family friend and learned that my mother’s situation was more drastic than I could have imagined. He protected me from the truth until I came home, and then I suddenly had to take on the tasks he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do. I was fourteen. And suddenly at thirty-two, he again had made the situation such that I was left with the realization that I didn’t get to be there for either his or my mother’s last moments of life.
There’s a lot more to this story, but this isn’t really the place to pour all of that out. After my mother died, however, it seemed that we both kept leaving each other. He left me to move to Seattle and I stayed behind in Renton to try and at least keep my day-to-day life at school the same, even if I was living with neighbors from down the street. A few years later I got married and started building my own life, leaving him as a spectator on the sidelines. Later, when I divorced and came out as gay, we started to forge a new relationship as adults. He had never really come out himself, but after my mom died it became pretty clear that he was also gay. And yet, I was in my early twenties and still learning about who I was. I moved to New York, then I moved back. Soon after I again moved to the east coast and then came back again.
After I went back to school, my life started to seem more stable. It seemed like I was on a track to do something. I was in a relationship with a man I loved, and still do. My dad’s health was clearly going to be an issue as he moved into his early 70’s. I tried to talk to him about what he might want in the event of an emergency, but he brushed off my questions. And then, when the situation occurred, whatever plans he had put in place for me to help him he disassembled, either from his own delusions or due to the influence of his partner. I’ll never really know. And then, less than a year later, he was gone.
Saying goodbye is the most difficult thing in the world for obvious reasons, many of which you are too young to understand at this point. I am going to be lost without you in a world that often is too confusing for me to understand. Please take care of yourself. I need you very much.