Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Rumor

I am in pain. Not today. But I was. And tomorrow? Maybe.

Pain can be my worst enemy. But more often, it’s where my words are conceived. It’s the feeling that sucks the life out of me, yet gives life to my page. For a split second, the pain will make me want to fall asleep forever, but fortunately, in my heart I am writer. And as a writer, the rush and urgency to tell the story is always stronger than the pain.

The problem with writing out of pain is that sharing it can be ugly. Will I hurt someone? Will exposing this cause heartache? Is this crossing the line? In my experience, the answer is usually always “yes.”

Most often, those are the stories I keep to myself. Those pieces are password protected on my laptop or tucked messily in an unraveling notebook in my drawer. I want to share them, but I never do.

It’s those stories that tell my story. They are the stories I’m most proud of. Those stories bring me to tears and from those tears, I find a rhythm and cadence and diction to write from my gut. As a writer, we take risks, right? We share our most vulnerable selves. We expose the unexposed. We are constantly unearthing our own emotions, and striving to make a connection to our readers.

Writing about pain is a risk. Today, I’d like to take that risk with you.

A Rumor

I heard a rumor that he’d died.

I heard he’d slipped from a high platform used to service the massive Boeing 747’s he’d been maintaining for years. He’d fallen. He’d died.

The details were sketchy and were delivered to me long before I knew how to search for specifics on the world wide web.

This news didn’t make me sad; It didn’t even derail my day. I felt small pangs of regret cloaked in large sighs of relief.

I didn’t know him anymore, and honestly, I didn’t care to. He was my father, but for the last three years, he’d been my enemy.

My parents split in a bitter divorce spurred by illness and neglect and depression and lies. Everyone was left feeling cheated and betrayed and accusatory – and alone. Without question or explanation, my allegiance to my mother was rock solid and unapologetic. I spent the next six years hating every fiber of my father, so when I heard of his death, I exhaled.

Eventually, the rumor was dispelled. He was alive, and I found myself holding my breath again. His alleged death had rid me of the guilt I felt for hating him and had promised that I’d never have to look him in the eyes to explain why I’d abandoned him.

Several years later, I found myself meeting him for dinner. It was our first voluntary face to face encounter in nearly seven years, and in that time, my bitterness and hatred had only multiplied. I’d graduated from High School. My life had changed. The alliance with my mother had been damaged. I was poor, entitled, and lost.

I’d asked for this meeting because I was looking for payment. I’d been suffering, and I wanted compensation. I wanted him to show me he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted him to apologize for what he’d not done. I wanted him to feel remorseful for missing plays and track meets and graduations. I wanted him to regret being stubborn and never giving in to my mother’s demands. I wanted him to convince me that he was willing to do anything to repair our relationship.

I wanted him to buy me a car.

I was going to lie. I was going to say what he wanted to hear. I was going to manipulate him. Use him. Hurt him. I was going to play this game until I got what I deserved. Until he paid.

Then I saw him, sitting in a large booth in a dimly lit restaurant, waiting for me. Waiting for his daughter.

As I approached him, I was flooded with memories. Memories from before his depression, from before the divorce. With every step, images of my childhood blanketed my calloused heart. I felt his hands on the small of my back, teaching my tiny body to do back handsprings and glide kips. I saw his gentle eyes urging me to tease my mother while we played Uno. I heard his voice sing “Ja, Ja, Ja, Jenni and the Jets”, and I smelled the Zest soap that danced in my nose when he hugged me goodbye each morning.

I tried to force those thoughts away as I slid into the booth opposite him. He was noticeably nervous and noticeably clean shaven. We spent the next hour discussing things I will never remember. Small talk. Surface talk. Things that neither one of us cared about.

His eyes were my eyes. I’d forgotten that. Or, maybe I’d never noticed before? He looked at me in a way no one ever had. Interested. Proud. Unconditional.

I spent the entire dinner trying to make sense of all the things that had gone wrong.

I thought of his mistakes and the mistakes of my mother.

I thought of all the hateful things he’d said to me, and all the hateful things I’d screamed at him.

I thought of all the times I’d wished he’d leave me alone and all the times I’d wished he’d been there.

I thought of being eleven and feeling justified and scared and angry and sad.

But mostly, I thought of how different things should have been.

My guard slowly dissipated as we spent many dinners getting reacquainted. In time, I began to love him. Again. I never asked him to buy me a car. I no longer needed compensation. I had it.

And every single day, I am grateful the rumor had been untrue.

Today's lovely post is from Jen, of Jen Has a Pen. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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