Thursday, February 23, 2017

Letters to My Father (1.14.17)

Dear Dad,

I trusted someone. I really trusted someone and they broke it. 

“You’re only broken if you choose to be,” You said to me after my first heartache.

“I know, I know,” I say to you out loud in the heavy darkness of the guestroom. I can’t sleep in my room. I can’t spend more than two minutes in there.

“Get out of your head. Stop replaying that part. Stop thinking about it. You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t let this break you,” You say.

But it has.

“What if I can’t do it on my own?” I ask you. 

No reply.

They come over, one after the other, in the afternoon when the sun is setting just below the treetops. The living room is painted pink by the sunset. That used to make me smile.

They tell me they can’t see beyond the wall I’ve put up. They say when they search my eyes for recognition they can see I’m inhabiting some other world.

I remember this world. I remember it too well.

Their arms are like anchors around my body trying to pull me out of the heaviness of my heart.

“I can’t do it,” I say to myself.

I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine I was never heartbroken. I imagine I don’t know what I know now.

I imagine I am free.

My throat feels tight. My eyes are sore from being washed out over and over again.

I dare a breath. It’s small but it’s there.

“You can do this,” You say.

I sit up and I feel protected. I feel you here with me.

I can sleep again.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I say. 

And I sleep. 

Written: 1.14.17

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Warm Lighting

The day after Thanksgiving my family typically starts to decorate for Christmas. My grandma still says that if the tree isn't up before December 1st, then it is bad luck. 

In 2013 my cousin Sarah, who was eleven at the time, had come over to help decorate. 

I always joked that we needed the extra reinforcements at our house since Momma is an interior designer and was determined to set up three Christmas trees in the living room, each of them a different size. I called it her little tree village. 

That year I had also convinced Mom to buy the white-wired Christmas lights. Sarah and I went all around the house draping the lights around mirrors, bed frames, curtain rods, windows and the borders of the rooms. 

Howard said that it looked pretty. 

After he died I ended keeping the ones in my bedroom that were wrapped around the metal frames of my bed for over a year. 

I would leave the those lights on during the night. I couldn't sleep in the dark. I was scared of it. 

Two days ago I found the white-wired Christmas lights bundled up together in a box that I kept at the top of my closet. I unwound them all, lined them up around the edges of the room.

I then hung them all up, draping them haphazardly across the walls and ceilings.

I waited until it was past midnight and all I could hear was the steady hum of the air conditioning. I plugged in the last of the lights and just stood there motionless.

It was like looking at the stars. It was a comforting warmth that I could feel all the way to my toes. I closed my eyes and still saw the lights trying to get passed my eyelids.

I let myself revisit that time. I let myself be vulnerable in the warm lighting. I know that I don't do it as much as I probably should. I know I need to take more time for this. I know all of this too well.

After I let a couple of moments pass by I opened my eyes and sighed a great big sigh. I felt exhausted and restless at the same time.

I walked over to unplug the lights and there I stood, in the enveloping darkness.

Nothing on my mind besides his words.

"They look really pretty. Maybe we could keep them up for a while," He said.

I did.

Written: 2.21.17

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Can't Stop Time

I used to think writing was a sort of superpower since it felt like stopping time. I remember exactly when I found the love for books and for writing.

Mom used to take my brother and me to the library on the weekends when we were kids. She was a single mom in college at the time and needed to find time to study while looking after us.

I used to run through the automatic doors at the Metropolitan on a mission with a wide grin. I had a lot of favorite books, but I used to be a big fan of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park. There were 28 of them. I am pretty sure I read them all about three times a piece.

We used to spend hours at the library and I would leave with about five books to take home to read at a time. My grandmother used to call me Matilda.

In third grade one of the projects was to create a short story and illustrate it.

I wrote about a young girl whose father was a pirate. All I remember about it was her father was going to sail away for a long time. The girl didn't want her father to go without her so she hid under the ship's deck.

After a violent storm came through, her father found her and asked her why she came along. She said that family was supposed to stick together, no matter what.

I remember that I wrote a happy ending for that first book. I used to live in a rose-colored glass kind of world.

The first time I read Jane Austen I was 13. Howard used to give me all of the English romantics to read. One year he packaged up an old Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Hardy.

Sometimes I blame Howard for making me the incurable romantic that I am. I still want a happy ending. I still look for the goodness in the story.

Something I have learned about the difference between novels and journalism is that one is supposed to always tell the truth.

I don't think I could have appreciated the classics that I read when I was a young girl the way I do now.

Seeing something tragic changes everything. Hearing or reading about tragedy through my job on a day to day basis changes things.

I'd like to think I have become more appreciative of the small details. I have come to always say "I love you" to my mother and my family members every time we say goodbye.

Because the truth of the matter is, we don't know if that will be our last time. We don't know if tomorrow we are going to wake up.

Although that thought terrifies me sometimes, I think it will make my quality of life much more fulfilling than living in the fantasy world that I did so long ago.

So no, I can't stop time. I know that now. But I can make the most of it.

Written: 2.16.17

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

80s Hair Bands and Early Mornings

It's funny how music can bring up memories in an instant.

Last week I was driving down I-235 to pick mom up for our weekly lunch (typically at McNellies Pub, because it's as Irish as you can get in Oklahoma) when a song came on the radio.

The song was "Your Mama Don't Dance" by one of Howard's favorite bands, Poison. As soon as the song started in on its contagiously fun rhythms, I couldn't help but smile and laugh.

The summer before Howard died he started listening to his old records that he kept up at the top of his side of the closet. I remember when he pulled out his old record player and speakers with wires tangled all over the place. I remember 3 weeks worth of listening to music from famous hair bands from the 80s.

On the weekends I would wake up to Howard jamming out abnormally early in the morning.  Since I am not anywhere remotely close to a morning person, this used to drive me crazy.

I would throw off the covers, head down the hallway through the living room, dining room and kitchen to Mom and his side of the house. There I would find him, reclined in his Batcave rocking out.  Sometimes he would even pull out his old cream and blood red electric guitar and strum along.

"Are you crazy?" I would ask, sleepy and cranky.

He would smile a guilty smile and say something peevish.

"Did I wake you, princess?"

"Why are you listening to rock music right now? Can't it be something more mellow? What about relaxing harp sounds? Why can't it be that?" At this point I would usually yawn and place my hands on my hips to make a point.

"This isn't just rock music, Kateleigh. This is magic." He would say.

I would roll my eyes and he would lip sync the lyrics to whatever song was playing. He could always make me smile, even when I didn't feel like it.

"Well since you woke me up, can you at least make some breakfast?" I'd ask. And of course he would nod.

It's memories like that that help me remember how fun and loving he was. It's memories like that which help me remember what he looked like.

Sometimes I wish I wouldn't have seen him that day out in the woods. You shouldn't have to see a loved one like that. You should remember them for who they were, not how they looked when they died.

Mom told me someone said that the tree had knocked him unconscious when he died. I never went to see his body after it happened. Mom said I told her I didn't want to go. I don't remember this.

She said that Howard looked like Howard, although when the tree fell it broke his nose.

I wish I could wake up listening to 80s hair bands. If that was possible, I wouldn't be cranky. I would just go in and spend time with him. I would spend as much time with him as I could.

Written: 2.14.17

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Voice in My Head is You

My father was the most rational person that I knew.

He could help anyone pull themselves out of an emotional breakdown.

He knew I was an over-thinker... a really destructive over-thinker. He would always pull me out when I would bury myself with the world. 

He would ask me how I could take something so small and insignificant and somehow warp it into something that didn't resemble the original. 

I didn't have an answer to this. I joked with him that my over-thinking could be helpful when planning a plot twist in one of my novels, but we both knew that it was a problem.  

I wish he was here to give me advice. I am going through an emotional earthquake as of late. Yet, I know what he would tell me to do. 

"Don't let anyone have that much control over your emotions, Kateleigh."

I still hear his words in my head, although his face has started to fade. I haven't managed to figure out how to implement this life lesson. Sometimes I wonder if I can. 

He was so calm and collected. He was also the best listener.

 He would listen and listen until it was clear that I had let out all my frustrations.  Then I would look up and he'd be sitting there with his fingers interlaced in front of his face, contemplating the best course of action. 

I always used to joke he had the best poker face... Or that he should become a professional chess player. This would make him chuckle.

Mom told me three days ago that I am more like him than what I realize. However, something she said to me really had me thinking.

She said that Howard was an open-book. That she could always tell what he was thinking. I told her that is what most people said about me. She shook her head.

"No Kate, you are better about hiding what you are really thinking."

What I am really thinking?

Did I even know what I was really thinking?

Had I even figured anything out about anything?

The voice inside my head used to sound like me. Now it sounds like him.

Maybe he knows I need protection. Maybe he is talking to me.

Or maybe I just miss him. 

Written: 2.9.17

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Everywhere and Nowhere

Dear Dad,

You died a year ago today.
The foggy recollection that this is no longer an approaching inevitability, but rather a fact that I need to accept is mind-numbingly painful.

I still try to remember that day, the day you left us. Sometimes the memories seem hazy, but other times I see it in a monotonous pattern constantly on replay.

A year ago it was sunny and unnaturally warm for the first day of December. It was a Sunday and I had come home straight after my weekend job at the little mom-and-pop café. When I got home you were dressed to do yard work.

“How was work?” You asked.

“Fine. Kind of a slow day, actually,” I replied.

You smiled and gave me a hug. I was glad to be home. I had a test in Physics that coming Thursday and wanted to study as much as I could.

Mom was cleaning the kitchen, preparing for dinner. You said that you wanted something spicy to eat. We planned on watching Masterpiece Theatre that night.

“Are you going outside to work?” I asked you.

“I’m going to go cut down some of those cedars,” You said.

I nodded nonchalantly and you smiled down at me. You were in one of those odd cheery moods, probably because it was so nice out.

It was always your hobby to fix things. When the burn ban warning was issued you seemed worried that if one of the cedars caught fire we’d lose the land and the house. What you didn’t know that day was a fire was coming to tear down everything that we held so dear, just probably not in the way you thought.

“I love you,” I said, making a goofy face at you. It wasn’t in your nature to be overly affectionate, so I didn’t expect a reply.

“I love you too,” You said with an equally goofy smile. I was astonished.

Did you know those would be your last words to me? Had you seen it coming? Was it painful when you died?

It was around 4 in the afternoon when I saw Mom come screaming out of the woods. She went outside because the smell of the cleaning sprays had bothered her. She heard your chainsaw idling. 

She found you.

When I saw her I couldn’t fathom what was about to come next. I remember feeling confused. Never did it cross my mind that you were gone. 

Mom threw open the front door hurriedly reaching for the phone. She was hysterical.

“Mom? What’s wrong?”

“Hurry… hurry and call the police… we don’t have a lot of time,” Mom said thrusting the phone into my hands and rushing back out, leaving the door gaping open.

I ran after her. I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t feel the bruises and scratches and stickers that were lodging into my skin. I didn’t realize until after that I left my shoes.

From here it gets foggy, but I do have bits and pieces of memory.

I remember the operator on the phone asking me to describe what I saw. I remember sobbing. I remember seeing the tree on top of you. I remember Mom trying desperately to pull it off. It was too big. I fought every instinct to drop the phone and help her.

Your face was purple. Your hands were warm. I remember grabbing your wrist, feeling for a pulse. I remember trying to convince myself as the achingly slow seconds ticked by that I felt something… that you were still there.

Mom told me to lead the firefighters and paramedics down our driveway since the house couldn’t be seen from the road.  You had always loved how secluded the house was.

I ran to the entrance as fast as I could. I remember sobbing the whole way. I cried as each car flew down the driveway to race to your rescue. I remember the last of the paramedics picking me up at the top of the driveway. They asked me what was going on. I couldn’t speak.

Some of them ran to you as fast as they could. Some of them walked towards were you were. This angered me. Why were they walking? Didn’t they know you needed help?

Mom asked the firefighters to help her pull the cedar off of you. They told her they couldn’t, that the tree was too big and that they needed to cut it off of you.

I fell to my knees asking God for help. From there I blacked out. A couple of the officers and paramedics came to me. They were talking to me but every word fell on deaf ears.

Searching for logic somewhere in my brain, I knew this was real. I knew that when your body was carried away in the dark blue body bag that it was real. I knew when people started showing up to the house that it was real. 

I knew that sleeping a whole week straight, going in and out of consciousness that it was real. I knew that hearing voices I couldn’t recognize saying things like “I can’t believe it” or “This is just dreadful” that it was real.

Mom still cries every day.  I know you would want us to be okay. I know you would want us to try and be happy, but we miss you too much.

This house feels like our coffin. You are everywhere in this fixer-upper, from the floors you put in to the paint you picked out.

You are everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Written: 12.1.14

Sunday, February 5, 2017

She Told Me I Was Holding Back

I have to be honest about this process. I write these passages often times with tears rushing down my face, gasping for air by the end and praying that I could find some peace. Sometimes the salt from my tears irritates my skin and dries it out. It stings.

I have to tell you what my mother told me a couple of days ago.

First, I want to mention that my mom reads this blog. She knows that some of the most personal ways that she coped is on here for everyone to see. She doesn’t say anything about being uncomfortable about it.

I asked her how she felt. I asked her if there was anything that she didn’t want me to share. She told me that helping others understand is more important than any other insecurity she might have about it.

She also told me that she could tell that I was holding back. I know what she means. I know I have to say it eventually. I know the day is coming when everyone who reads this will want to know how he died, if that isn’t already the case.

As she said this to me, she was so calm.

 But now I sit here listening to the washing machine run and the fan drying a couple of sweaters on this old antique couch and I feel so angry.

I am angry that I didn’t talk about it. I am angry that I didn’t cry for almost two years straight. I am angry I didn’t let people in. I’m angry that I don’t know how to trust myself to make wise decisions. I’m angry that I have these newfound issues that I don’t know how to fix. I am angry that I’ve isolated myself.

I am angry that I still feel the need to search for him in crowds. I am angry that I never find him. 

I want to go back to feeling safe. I want to go back when he was here. I want him to help me out of my debilitating need to make everything perfect. I need him to help me reconnect with the rational side of my brain, wherever that is.

He always told me I needed to conquer my emotions. I’m overly emotional. I know this and I can’t stop myself. I want to know how people feel. I want to feel those same feelings with them.

I know I need to publish this letter I wrote to him a year after he died. It was the first time I wrote down what happened that day.

But I want to be clear about something that has been causing me a lot of anxiety lately. 

I do not write on this blog to receive praise. I write on here because it helps me cope.

I write about him because I didn’t cry about him. I write because I know he won’t be there for everything I thought he was going to. I write to share him with everyone, so they know how lucky I was to be able to call him my father.

I write about him because I loved him so much and when I saw him lifeless it destroyed me. 

It destroyed the safety I had growing up. It destroyed my trust in believing everything was going to be okay. It destroyed who I was.

He wouldn’t want this for me. He wouldn’t want me to be this way.

So now that I have tears stinging my cheeks I think I’ll grab some tissues and sleep.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Wearing Traces of Him

My father was a little odd about buying things, specifically clothes. He never wore anything that had any labels or any other traces of a brand. He always said that wearing them was basically free advertising.

He bought his clothes a little bit oversized. My father was over six feet tall and of average build. He said he didn't like clothes fitting too close.

I knew that he didn't quite like it when I wore his sweaters, but they were cozy.

When he died I slept for days in the same forest green fraying sweatshirt. I knew it looked like it swallowed me, but in a way I already thought that the world had swallowed me.

Mom slept with his shirts rolled up and under her pillow for over a year. His clothes were the only articles that still smelled like him. When I wore them I still felt like he was there. When I wore them I felt safe.

Giving away his clothing was really hard to do. I was sometimes afraid to walk into their closet because the clothes lingered there, like apparitions. His side of the closet became a graveyard.

I told mom I was only going to keep a couple of his shirts. I only wear them when I miss him or when there is something heavy that is weighing me down.

Sometimes after the day is over and I'm laying in bed with the forest green sweatshirt on, I'll shut my eyes and wrap my arms around myself. The sweatshirt still smells like him, even after 3 years, even after it being washed over and over again.

Written: 2.2.17

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Secret He Kept

In the spring of 2015, Mom began to pack some of Howard's things away. She had kept all of his clothes and shoes in the same place for around a year and a half.

"What if he needs them?"

She would mumble this sometimes when I asked her if she needed help, even though we both knew he wasn't going to need them. 

I remember the day she found a heavy grey metal box in the back of their closet. 

Mom yelled my name, she sounded like she was panicked. I ran to her as fast as I could. It had reminded me of the way she screamed my name the day she found Howard in the woods. 

When I found her she was sitting on the floor with a screw driver trying to open the box. It had a lock on it. She was trying different angles on it, sometimes hitting it hard on the hinges. 

"What are you doing?" I asked her. 

She stopped trying to pry it open and looked up at me with misty eyes. 

"Have you seen this before?" She asked me. 

I shook my head. 

She said that it had to have been Howard's and that she had found it, stashed away like a secret. 

She got up and proceeded to call my Uncle Ron. He had all types of tools in his garage that he could've used to open it. 

After their phone call, mom told me we were going over there so he could open it with his table saw. 

We drove the 30 minutes across town in silence. Mom occasionally sighed very deep. Her hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. She was nervous. 

Once we got there mom and her brother talked discreetly about it. I watched silently as my uncle began to open the box. He began sawing the hinges, which had traces of rust and seemed to be weak. 

The sound of metal ripping open metal was deafening, but we had to know what was in there. We thought it might have been coins or some type of collection, because it had been so heavy. 

After the lid was removed on the box we all stepped toward it slowly. 

Inside was manuscripts, novels, plays, floppy disks and notes that he had written. My father was a writer. 

I couldn't believe it.

Mom stared at all of them in astonishment. She later told me that he spoke to her about the novels he had written, but when she asked to read them he would shyly say "I don't know."

I had always thought I was the writer of the family. Everyone else had been based in mathematics, nursing, business or something technical. Howard had even been an architect.

Reading his words at first was like opening up a part of him that I never saw. He had always been quiet and thoughtful. 

When you had to talk about something serious with him, he would always pause between his thoughts and you could see in his eyes he was searching for the exact way he wanted to say something. 

His writing is different. He writes in these long and descriptive patterns. It almost reminds me of Joyce's 'stream of consciousness' style, but it is more poetic.  

As I read and remember more, I am happy to have shared the same passion as him... even if his had been a secret. 

Written: 2.1.17