The sun is bright in my windows, warm in the curtains. Spring blooms outside the glass. I am content in my life. And this song plays, Hurt, and an old pain comes back, overwhelming in these lyrics. I still hear his voice, strange, how you don’t forget the voice of a loved one that died. And his smell.
The facts are I spent my life hurting him. I hurt him bad. Because I thought he’d live forever, as we all hope parents will do. I wanted to because I told myself he was an alcoholic, so he wouldn’t feel it. Because I told myself it was his fault I wasn’t safe at home with my stepdad and mother. Because I was so screwed up and had so many bad memories I couldn’t place, so I placed them on him. I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry for blaming you. Even when I broke into your house, your room I found upstairs shocked me, stopped me from breaking things, because you had pictures of us up on your cracked walls, because you had our letters from when we were little in a pile next to your bed, because you were so poor and alone, because the tape of me singing Patsy Cline when I was five was on your nightstand, because the same old blankets were on your bed from when we were little and spent weekends with you. You lived in your car for awhile, and I’d walk by it all the time and look in the windows. All the times I’d see you walking downtown and I’d ignore you, look the other way. The time I found you and yelled at you for hurting me and what did you do and you were so gentle and kind, asking me what was wrong. That was an opportunity for me to be held by you, and you would have, but I missed it, I was so angry, blaming you. I didn’t tell people you were my dad, because everyone knew you were in the bars starting at ten in the morning. Old Style, that’s what you drank with Pa out at the farmhouse when we were little, and you were so gentle and shy. And after you died, my sisters and mother and I had to go through your house (we didn’t know where it was) and pick out what we wanted. We were 20, 21, and 22. Your house was empty of everything except garbage and old pictures and beer. Not even towels in the bathroom. It was cold. It smelled. Your mattress didn’t have sheets. We were numb and cold too. And then we opened your closet, and we could smell you, as if you were there and we were those little girls again, playing at your feet. We took out your shirts (the same ones you’d had 17 years ago) and buried our faces in them and finally wept for you. Our own private hurting, I remember smelling the shirt and crying into it, with a whirlwind of thoughts in pictures going through my head–how I’d wanted you to save me, how I’d wanted you to be my daddy, to be the parent I didn’t have. What I didn’t realize until then was that you had always tried, you’d tried so hard. But you were sick and always drunk in a sad way, and it wasn’t enough, like it wasn’t good enough to allow you into our lives, when really we needed it. I’m sorry. You were good enough, you were. You were more than that because you loved us, because the hurt you caused us didn’t compare to the pain our stepfather caused. And at times, our mother. Being in your house before the funeral, it was so hard, it was such a sad, lonely, awful place. No place for someone as gentle and frightened of the world as you to live in.
We have always felt like forgotten children. With all our parents. That pain is bigger than anger. It makes you a very lonely, it makes you feel unlovable, it makes you seek out love in places you don’t belong, desperate. And then you died, and we had to swallow our own choices. And we were the ones, even though we were the kids, that forgot you. And that’s what hurts the most. We carry this guilt, and being in your desolate, beer and memory buried home reminded us that you were human, that you had feelings, that you loved us, all those letters by your bed, our school pictures wrinkled in your empty wallet. You were our dad. And you were so far gone in the alcohol and it had you by the throat, it was too late to escape. And you tried so hard to. You showed up at our house crying because you wanted us back, we were in middle school, and the condition was you had to stop drinking, and you couldn’t, and you wept, in front of mom and our stepdad. You wanted us. And being wanted was all we ever wanted. That hurts too, wanting to be wanted. Your room was proof we never forgot you, as hard as we tried. And we’re tough girls. Maybe too tough sometimes. Maybe too used to people leaving. You showed up at Nikki’s graduation as I told you to do, and when you were there I shunned you as you hugged her. And I hurt because I knew I wouldn’t see you at mine. Or Jodie’s. But I was willing to take that hit, as long as you showed up at Nikki’s…she was your girl. And I hurt for her. I always will, even after all this time. A girl only gets one daddy. I feel like with you she was able to be just a little kid, angry when she wanted, loved when she needed it. That changed. In the “new household” with our stepfather she learned (we learned) to obey, that we were nobodies. He hit me and he touched me, and you weren’t there. You would have been afraid of him too I bet, but you would have held me I like to think. And I like to think you’d be proud of who I am now, of what I’ve overcome, of what I went through alone. There are certain things that tie sisters together, and you were one of them. We shared in the love you gave us before we moved away, we shared in the letters you mailed to Nikki, we shared in you not answering mine and Jodie’s, we shared in forgetting you, we shared in hurt, we shared in the abuse of our parents, and we shared in regret when you died. And now, the sun is going down and this song brings not you back but the very memory of how we loved you, how we blamed you, how sorry we are. And we share in the pain of lyrics ringing true to words we can’t say. And we don’t have a lifetime of memories with you but that only makes the few we do have all the more precious. We have a lifetime of feelings about you, for you. You were the one parent that never left us, in a way–you loved us just like you did when were young, you bragged about us to people you knew, they told us, you showed off our pictures and you played the tape of me singing over and over–Aunt Carol told me that. You always knew where we lived and some of the things we were up to–I saw you in a bar, the last time I saw you alive, and you knew I was in Eau Claire, you knew Nikki was in college. And I had a beer with you. I had a beer with my daddy. And I told you “I love you, dad,” and it hurts that my sisters didn’t get that chance.
I want to hold you in my arms, I want to ask you if you’re proud of me. I want to look at you looking back at me. I want to see who I come from. I want to take your pain and mistakes away. I want my daughter to hear your voice, and know the warm chest of the dad I used to rest my head on, the arms that pushed us in the swing under the apple trees. The memory of your love is a soft, quiet thing. It’s as gentle as you were.
And I am asking myself why, when something like a song comes up or a memory, does it still hurt so bad. The tears are overwhelming. And I think that aside from all of this, it is because I hurt you. I hurt you on purpose at times, and I hurt you in ways only you know, because really, you had no choice but to go, and we chose to leave. After you died, I like to believe all is forgiven, all that happened was meant to happen, and that you can feel us now, and be a part of our world that still at times wraps itself around your neck and whispers “I love you.”