Find An Open Hand

When everyone has gone to sleep and you are wide awake
there’s no one left to tell your troubles to.
Just an hour ago, you listened to their voices
lilting like a river over underground
and the light from downstairs came up soft like daybreak
dimly as the heartache of a lonely child.

My father would awake in a lonely chair out in the living room most nights, all of us in our separate rooms having long since turned away from the sight of him slumped and slack-jawed, drunk and vacant. Sometimes I would still be awake when he made his way from the living room to the bedroom. I’d hear the door to the hallway open and he’d stumble along in a vodka-induced haze, still struggling against the dark that he was not yet accustomed to but had to live with daily, even in daylight.

There was a rail that ran along the middle of the wall and he’d slide his hand along it as he made his way. My bedroom was first and I would often lie there listening to him, the hand dragging, dragging, until he’d get to my door. Sometimes he’d pause there, hovering, waiting, and I would hold my breath. And when he’d move on, I’d feel a mix of relief and deep despair.

I missed my dad long before he passed away.

Other times I’d still be up reading in my bed and I, with heart racing, would reach over to shut off the light at the first sound of the door opening. I’d lie there in guilt and darkness and sadness. The weight of it heavier than 1,000 blankets piled upon me.

The times I didn’t turn my light off, he’d catch glimmer of it slicing under the door and would give a gentle knock before cracking the door open. He’d search the room with his one eye with the tunnel of good vision for my shape.

“It’s late, you should go to sleep.”

“I will after I finish this chapter.”

Silence.

“Ok.”

The distance between us felt the expanse of the Grand Canyon in my heart. I don’t know how else to convey the cavernous sorrow of that situation.

If you can’t remember a better time
you can have mine, little one.
In days to come when your heart feels undone
may you always find an open hand
and take comfort wherever you can.

This memory arose from the ashes during a conversation about comfort. I’m not particularly adept at finding comfort in others. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom during all that turmoil listening to music, reading poetry, writing in my journal. That’s why people can now say to me “you’re so good at expressing how you feel in words” – I am in writing thanks to all those years of my journal being my place of refuge.  I may be an extrovert but there are big parts of me that are introverted, that only feel comfortable entirely alone. My tween/teen years weathered more than just the regular hormonal angst. The cycle of alcoholism that whirled our house into its destructive tornado left me at a loss for solid footing.

So cry, why not? we all do
then turn to one you love
and smile a smile that lights up all the room.
Follow your dreams in through every out-door
it seems that’s what we’re here for.

I forget about Father’s Day. I was 18 the last time we would have celebrated it and I can’t recall what, if anything, we did for my dad that day. He wasn’t living with us. I barely talked to him. I feel so sad thinking of all the memories we didn’t get to make because his alcoholism took center stage. I feel so mad that I don’t have a dad, that my dad stopped really being my dad years before he died. The times when I did have him are so distant in my mind, those memories are hard to grasp. I know my dad loved me the best he could. I just can’t stop wishing life had played out differently for him so I could have had more time with him, maybe hugged his frail body again, held his rough, tanned hand, looked into his gray blue eyes and said, “I love you”. And he would have replied, “love ya, too”. I just know it.

***

Lyrics from Deb Talan’s song “Comfort” which was the only thing I wanted to hear after my therapy session last night. Thanks for writing that song, Deb.

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15 thoughts on “Find An Open Hand

  1. I am a child of two alcoholics. My father died last year…I found out last month. My mother lives, as much as you can call a life still devoted to the casino and boxed wine.

    This hits home on so many levels for me, thank you for sharing.

  2. Alcoholism is a horrible, horrible disease. I am so sorry that you didn’t get to enjoy time with your Dad more. It’s such a void in one’s life, I imagine.

  3. This brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t grow-up as a child of an alcoholic (well, I might have. . .it’s complicated), but alcoholism is very prevalent on both sides in my family. I watch my brothers struggle even now.

    Something that touched me is when you said “I may be an extrovert but there are big parts of me that are introverted, that only feel comfortable entirely alone.” I was just thinking last night how I only can let people so far. And the rest, I need to go alone. I try to make it seem I am so open and my emotions are all right there, but the hard stuff-the really hard stuff-I go it alone.

    Here’s to learning to take the Open Hand

  4. Oh Sizzle, that post just made me cry. I know that feeling all to well- that they are gone before they really are. My dad was an alcoholic too. And when he died I couldn’t help but think of how I never knew him and he never knew me because of it…and that now we will truly never know each other. I always tell myself that he did the best he could and loved me the best he could. But sometimes, that just isn’t enough.

    Thank you for writing that and sharing the story with us. Big hugs, my dear Sizzle.

  5. The hardest thing for me to accept was, even though everyone in my life did the best they could with what they had at the time, I still got screwed.
    Dealing with getting screwed and having no one to blame is hard. The reality is that everyone gets screwed up by their family. And for me, it doesn’t matter why anymore, I just need to try to fix the damage.
    And I love you, far more than toast. And you know how I feel about toast, dude.

  6. This post made me cry, not because I had alcoholic parents (other shit), but I know that feeling of not having solid footing and having that part of you that just wants to be alone. I get it. I also love that song, it means a lot to me, too. Sending you big hugs this weekend—I’m sure it’s tough. Much love, friend.

  7. My alcoholic father has turned it around. Sober for over 20 years. And this, of course, does not provide you with any comfort. But I have a father now – an amazing father. And it was my step mother who saved his life, demanding that he be sober if he wanted to be with her. I think what I want to float out there is that while alcoholism is a terrible disease – it IS treatable. If you love an alcoholic and if you can rest somewhere outside of codependency enough to step up and demand that your loved one get treatment, you can change the world. And then as I read this over I realize how easy I make this sound. It’s not. It’s brutally hard. But what I hear in these comments and from the blog entry is how much everyone wanted a parent to love them and one that they could love. Addiction ruins the connection between parent and child and it is a tragedy. Thank you, Sizzle, for telling this piece of your story. I literally felt my heart move inside my chest.

  8. Thanks for sharing lady. Beautifully written. Sending loads of big, comforting hugs your way through the interwebs.

  9. My father was not an alcoholic, but neither was he there for us. He was warm and funny and charming with other people, but rarely had a nice thing to say to his children. We were never good enough to win his approval or affection. He focused on our perceived shortcomings, and belittled our achievements. Every failure, big or small, was a personal affront, as if we’d done it on purpose to embarrass or disappoint him. I hated him most of the time, and was relieved when he died. The tears I shed at his funeral were for what might have been, if only my father had been a different kind of man.

    So I too know your pain, and send sympathetic hugs from another fatherless child.

  10. I’m a regular reader but never comment, however, this post was so devastatingly beautiful. You have a book in you. Your writing is raw, colorful, and real. Thank you for being open with your life in a way that, I’m sure, is often difficult. Xoxo

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