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.”
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.