And now for something completely different. Last year, I wrote a personal essay for a class. It was the first time that I’ve really written about my experience of losing my dad. Up to very recently, I haven’t liked to talk about it. Heck, I lost my dad before I started my senior year of high school, and I didn’t really tell anyone that it had happened. I avoided talking about it or opening up to anyone. I guess it was a coping strategy.
It’s been four and a half years since my dad passed away, and I still feel the loss nearly every day in one form or another. I’m better about talking to people about my experiences and feelings. And while I feel a bit insecure about sharing this, I think that some of the best writing comes from honesty and truth-telling. This is a bit different than other things I’ve done in the past. So, here’s “The Nothing.”
My childhood was filled with hot summer days, barefoot and free. I’d mull about in the dirt gaining grass and dandelion stains on just about everything, explore the forgotten back gardens, and get poked and caught on brambles and ivy. I’d get holes in my jeans from impacts in the dewy grass, and more grass stains on my sneakers from running to meet my dad when he got home from work.
The stains were easily washed out, but the holes in my jeans were ignored. Usually as the jeans would wear themselves thinner, a small rip would form into a tear, eventually becoming cut-off shorts that would unravel and fray around my kneecaps. A hole is overlooked, recognized as the absence of something. Without the bare skin peeking through a light-wash jean, the hole doesn’t quite exist. It is, essentially, made of nothing. It isn’t tangible, doesn’t have a taste, texture, or sound. For many people, it doesn’t exist at all. For others, they only recognize its existence, gaining their own holes from moving vans, obituaries, and wedding rings taken off for the last time. The Nothing takes on a mind of its own, a pale illusion of what was lost. My Nothing came in my father’s absence.
I first noticed the Nothing a few weeks after he was buried, when the stench of rotting flowers was beginning to dissipate. It came in stages, as it always does. A creak in the hallway that sounded like a footfall snagged my heart. A song on the radio that we listened to together pulled on the loose fibers. Even things that he would chide me for; I’d hear his voice in my head and remember to turn off the light or close the pantry door. The tear had begun and theNothing had come to stay—a constant companion.
The hole gaped at both of my brother’s weddings, the Nothing creeping in the shadows. I watched a father-daughter dance with a bride that wasn’t me. A dance that can only happen in imagined ways. I brought my arms up to dance position at the senior swing. Waltzing with myself, willing him to exist and take the lead. He never was much of a dancer, but he’d still dance with me standing on his toes. Only the Nothing was there now. The hole spread wider at graduation, the only one of my siblings to walk with only one parent present. People say my dad was there. If he was, I couldn’t feel him.
That’s the trick with holes. You recognize that they are there, because of what isn’t there anymore. The chilling wind of reality seeps through it, and you’re no longer protected from it. The harsh realness of your situation solidifies with the Nothing inside it. The longer you live with it, the bigger the hole grows; the more you notice it.
Eventually, I pretended to see things in the Nothing. I’d imagine his hand taking mine, I’d talk to an empty front seat in the car, write letters in a journal that I would never send. The harder I looked, the more I saw, and I realized that The Nothing is actually Something.
It’s an invisible cloth made of memories. It’s not a patch. No, patches can try and fix the damage that’s been done but only accentuate that something has been lost. Instead, the Something helps you to see that, in reality, you haven’t lost anything. It reminds you of what has been, of the fun and the pain, the laughter.
I remember now. We used to play a game. He would hold his gorilla sized hand out to me, and I would poke it, placing my tiny fingers into the crocodile’s mouth. I would bounce in my seat, anticipating the snap of his hand at any moment. When it came, he would grasp my hand hard and trap it securely between his fingers. I’d giggle and pull my hand away.
It reminds me of waking up in bed but not remembering how I got there. Of a stuffed rabbit, with me since birth that comforted me when I had nightmares. Or when he’d twirl my hair around a kitchen chair just before giving me a father’s blessing.
Each memory floods back, fills me to my core, like the box of remembrances and letters that sits beside my bed. The Something fills the hole with a bittersweet syrup.
It reminds me of the snowy white Decembers, of the surprises left every week. With a twinkling eye he’d watch my wonderment. The second Christmas I had without him, I woke early and traced the steps of a child down the hallway. I curled up on the couch next to the twinkling tree, caught up in the past. I felt a weight bend the leather of the couch, sitting in the crook of my stomach. I curled around him and felt the warmth. To anyone watching I was alone, butI knew he was there. Finally, I realized I could be whole.