A Letter To My Father I Will Never Send

Dear Dad,

There’s something about trauma they don’t tell you. It isn’t always this singular life-changing experience. It- even if the inciting incident never changes, you do, the feeling does, and our language surrounding it shifts.

What was once a burning rock, forcing its way up through shallow lungs, a tightly closed throat, and a stubborn mouth that wouldn’t open to say the words and make it real; it’s not the same. It’s not a rock anymore.

It is tattooed on my skin, literally branding me. People ask me questions about my stories, and I can tell it- mostly tell it, without crying anymore. It’s a part of me.

Sydney died. It happened almost 13 years ago. It’s the kind of trauma that puts a period on your childhood; a permanent end, rather than a question mark. The phone call happened. The hospital happened. The funeral happened.

But you didn’t do that. You didn’t drive the car that hit Sydney. You drove me to the hospital. You watched as my hands shook, hanging up the telephone,  picking up the car keys, dropping them one, two, three times on those seven short steps down our back porch. You wouldn’t let me drive. I needed to be there, but you wouldn’t let me drive and for the entire car ride to the hospital- god, I hated you. I didn’t care how I got to the hospital, I needed to be at the hospital, and you were driving so slow or at least, it felt slow.

The whole time, you kept reassuring me. The hospital was good. The doctors were some of the best. You’d known them a long time.  There’s an advantage about having a doctor take you to the hospital. You were doing your best to make it better, and all I could do was hate you.

We got there. We parked- I don’t remember walking from the parking space, but, we must’ve parked. I don’t remember the usual whoosh of sliding doors. If I focus, I feel like I might be able to hear the voices over the PA system, but I don’t like to focus anymore.

I remember the waiting room. I remember it being crowded. I remember pieces of conversations. You’ll be right back. I’m sorry, I have to take this call. What happened? I don’t really remember faces attached to these endless string of words that continue to ring in my ears.

Except for you. You’d be right back. You were one who said you’d be right back, and all of a sudden, I felt the most alone, in a room full of people, having conversations-because that’s what you do, but not really being able to hear much.

Then there’s a scream. Sydney’s dad, I think. Pieces are still fuzzy, despite having played it over and over again. It’s almost like a copy of a copy of a copy; the original image is distorted.

But you’re sitting next to me. You’re using your calming voice; the one I imagine you use when you tell your own patients bad news. God, I hated your calming voice. I know it’s supposed to be some profound moment. I know I’m supposed to remember it word for word. Instead, I just remember your tone of voice, patronizing me.

And then you did something unexpected. You started to cry. Maybe because a 14-year-old girl had just died. One of my best friends. Maybe all you could do was play, over and over again, in your mind, all the times you had told me on the car ride over that you were sure it wasn’t as bad as it seemed and you felt like you’d lied to me or let me down or rendered me anything less than prepared for the fact that she was dead. Maybe because, despite it all, you were being a good dad and it hurt you to see me, your son, red-faced and sobbing, incapable of taking a sufficient breath in, only able to produce a tremble of a sob.

I don’t know why you cried. One day, when I’m capable of having this conversation with you, you can tell me why, although I have my guesses. But in that moment, I just really hated you.

You were a doctor. You weren’t supposed to cry. You were a father; as if that absolves you from having any humanity. You weren’t supposed to cry.

I was supposed to cry. This was my trauma. lost my friend, and you were crying? Even saying it now, it sounds like the rantings of a petulant child rather than a grieving 17-year-old.

But I’m done now. Done being angry at your empathy. Tired of reliving the trauma. I forgive you for something I have no right to forgive.

Instead, thank you, for your compassion and your empathy; traits I frequently curse, but I know I possess because of you. I know you were crying for me that day, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to recognize that.

Sincerely,

Your loving son

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