I've been writing this blog in my head for the past few days. These sentences that will follow aren't in the same format or even in the same order as the ones that have been swimming through the grooves of my brain. But they'll do.

Today marks 18 years since my father died. I was 16. He was an alcoholic and the years upon years of drinking had torn up his insides. He had been bleeding internally for months but hadn't done anything about it. Finally, something drastic happened and my grandparents took him to the hospital. I don't really remember what the impetus for their calling the paramedics was. They called my mother late Friday March 21, 1986, and told her that my father was in the hospital. We went to go see him Saturday morning.

He looked so small in his hospital gown with the sheets all tangled up around him. He had tubes going in everywhere but I mostly remember the large red one that went down his nose into his stomach. Obviously bandages can't be used on one's insides so they were pumping air into his stomach in an effort to stop the bleeding. He was conscious so he was able to see me break down into tears. I remember that my hair was being held back with two bobby pins, that I was wearing an old blue sweatshirt, and that I didn't say much of anything to my father. All I could do is try to keep myself from crying. (I hate that his last memory of me was of me in tears. But I didn't have much strength then, you see. I still had to earn it.) My mom is the one who spoke with him. Little did I know this was the last time I would ever see him alive.
I didn't tell him I loved him.

That haunted me for a very, very long time.

The next day I was at choir rehearsal. It was Sunday March 23, 1986 at around 6:30 p.m. or so. I was worried about my father but I hadn't gone to see him that morning. I was in Chamber Singers at school and we were due to leave the next day for a competition in Hawaii. My mom came in to the rehearsal room and with one look at her face, I knew.

I still went to Hawaii. I spent the entire week by myself. Everyone left me alone. I sat out on the balcony of the hotel room smoking Marlboro Reds and staring at the ABC Mart across the street. I took pictures of my view to commemorate the occasion. Mechanically, I did my part, I sang the songs but I wasn't really there. I could have stayed home but truly, what reason was there? So I could go to a funeral with a bunch of people who were acting like they actually gave a damn about my father but didn't really? I don't regret going to Hawaii.
I regret not having told my father I loved him.

I got back from Hawaii and went on with the business of living. It was very difficult the first few months. Those truly were the hardest. I would cry myself to sleep and wake up sad with puffy eyes and a headache. There were no happy moments. I eventually got so tired of being sad that I considered suicide. I made a half-assed attempt at it by taking a few muscle relaxers I had but it truly was the stereotypical cry for help. I wouldn't have gone through with it. I went into counseling after that.

I grieved. I screamed at the ceiling of my dining room with tears coursing down my face. Yelling at my father for dying, yelling at God for allowing this to happen.

I wrote. I wrote poetry, I wrote a letter to my father telling him how fucking angry he'd made me.

I dealt with it. I became distant, closed off, cynical. If I allowed no one into my heart, they didn't have the power to hurt me.

I realized that wasn't the answer. I'm more cautious now than I used to be when letting people in. There are really only a few people who truly know me. Whom I trust with my deepest love. This was a very hard lesson to learn. I love easily. I also let people go more easily now. I can care about you deeply but losing you won't come anywhere near to killing me. There are only two people in this world whose loss would cause me debilitating pain, whose deaths would hold the power to destroy me.

So many memories flash before my eyes as I think about the time since my father died. Locking myself into the practice room in the chorus classroom during lunch breaks so I could curl into a fetal position and cry. My grandmother (his mother) becoming ill a few months after he was gone. Seeing her in the hospital with my grandfather leaning over her bed sobbing, begging her not to leave him. The rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and the sound of her breathing as congestive heart failure stole her life. Visiting the cemetary the Christmas after they died and being thrown into a vicious rage at the stupid, inane, hideous decorations strewn about over his and my grandmother's graves. Kicking plastic santas off of his grave. Allowing only a single red rose to remain as the testament to my love.

Some years March 23rd would kick me in the gut like my father's death had just happened. Some years I don't even realize the 23rd has gone by until much later. This year I remember but I don't feel sadness. I've come to terms with his death. I've learned lessons that will be with me until I'm dead and have become a pile of so much ash.

I've learned that telling those you love how much they mean to you is one of the, if not the most important things in the world. I've realized that my life is better, that I'm a better person, because of my father's death. That lesson hurt. Can you imagine what it would be like to know that the greatest gift your parent ever gave you was their death?

He doesn't know that of course. He didn't die for me. He killed himself. It was a passive form of suicide but he knew he was dying, he knew his body was in trouble.

Yet he did nothing. Maybe somewhere in his heart he knew my life would be better without him. Maybe I didn't factor into any of it at all. Of course I'd like to think that I did but I doubt it. His greatest love in life was in the bottles of Jack Daniels I found in his room when I was helping my grandparents clean up his belongings. In fact, my primary memory of him before he and my mother divorced when I was 4 is of the six packs of Coors he'd buy. They were the cans with the wide silver band around the bottom. Vivid memories of those cans.

He was the first person I was close to who died. He hasn't been the last. Years later, I joke about being the expert at death. I can grieve with my eyes closed. So many people I care about gone forever.

Thanks to my father, I can handle it. I can suffer loss and come through fine on the other side.
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