Today is my Dad’s birthday and it’s occurred to me, I haven’t really dealt with his death. I cannot wrap my head around the fact he’s gone. How do we come to understand half of us is gone? I’ve always toyed with the idea that I would one day be an orphan. I tried to never feel bad for myself, because I thought, even as a child, if nothing else this pain fosters a growth that nothing could replicate. I used to be mad at my father, resentful, we were so close; that same dry humor, that same nervous tap of the foot when that addict brain was working, and that habit was long before I ever took a drug. I loved my Dad, for loving my mother and I the way he did, for introducing me to Alice in Chains, Tool, Nirvana; my parents both had spectacular taste in music. Today the memories flood into me, like the levy has broken. I wish I could talk to him. Don’t worry Dad. Come as you are. You were just down in a hole. Overthinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind…
The thunder roared, and lightning struck across the sky illuminating the yard of what the kids in the neighborhood called the creepy cat lady’s house. Donna, the not so crazy cat lady, lived across the street from me growing up. I would always hear my mother talking about this woman on the phone, in the kindest capacity. Donna had watched the slow death of her husband and two of her children. I find so much relativity with this woman now, watching the decline of my parent’s health my whole life. “And I need to watch things die, from a good safe distance. I live while the whole world dies…” I remember going to help pull weeds in her yard and I didn’t know as a kid how awesome this lady was. She had tapestries of the Grateful Dead and coffee mugs that said, Drop Acid not Bombs. Donna and I had much in common.
Charlotte in the 90’s had the craziest thunderstorms. Anyone who wants to argue with Al Gore about global warming, well let’s see, the difference in weather patterns in Charlotte alone is a testament of its proof. Oh yes, and the melting polar ice caps, this is a conversation for another time. Such a hot topic, isn’t it? I remember jumping when the wind was so fierce it caused our screen door to bang, scaring the dogs and I both. I think we both ran with our tails tucked behind our legs. Like all addicts, my Father had such an intense capacity to love and hence had such an intense ability to feel. What did my Dad do with these feelings, like all of us, he ran from it. I believe, too, with his tail tucked behind him. I remember when the thunderstorms were bad enough; I would run and hide in the closet, taking with me my most valued items in life at the time. A landscape Polaroid camera, a black and white Marble notebook, and yes I wrote all the time even then. I always felt like I had a voice in my head that needed to get out, she had something to say, even if my young, meek self could not utter the words at that moment.
Sometimes Dad would get in the closet with me, easing my anxiety of what I believed to be the soon to come tornado. I was convinced a cow would fly through our living room; I think Twister had a profound impact on me. I’ve always been fascinated by weather patterns. It’s funny, and I use this word charitably with my dark sense of humor, because one time when my dad got into the hall closet with me, he too was scared of the thunderstorm. As my Dad rushed me into the closet, I noticed he didn’t quite look the same, his pupils were huge, he was so sweaty, a little frantic, constantly peeking out the window, right before he finally shut the door behind us. And as the thunder ensued, we sat in that closet together and my Dad was convinced it was someone banging on our door, who knows, the feds, a drug dealer looking for that money he constantly owed, whatever it was had him spooked. I had to say, “Dad, it’s okay, it’s just thunder.” And in this moment, I believe I began my fearless attitude towards most things in life. I would be my father’s rock, no problem. He was too busy checking the carpet for crack rocks to be mine. This would not be the last time I would have to reassure my father everything was okay, switch roles just for a moment. I remember sitting next to his hospital bed, a decade later, uncertain if he would wake up and telling him that I wasn’t angry anymore. It’s strange to think about because this is someone who I ate dinner with every night, someone who picked out every school outfit I had in my class pictures and then poof, as quick as a strike of lightening. He was gone.
I understand my Dad more these days, in retrospect, because getting my feelings back in recovery has been both a blessing and a curse. In life I tend to see the negative when it comes to my own life, you know low expectations, never let down. It was different with my Dad; I guess I’ve always kind of given him a pass on things. It’s okay I only got a birthday card or Christmas card on these days, only this year. I believe becoming an addict was my destiny, it has taught me things I cannot read in a book. No, I certainly didn’t grow up thinking, Gee golly, I’d love to be a heroin addict one day, but alas here we are. I tend to be so critical, likely because I don’t want just anyone to see the bleeding heart on my sleeve. I think about my life and realizing I’m an addict and I see all the signs of the storm to come now. I see the compulsive and obsessive behavior, the constant need for perfection, so you wouldn’t see what was truly swirling beneath the surface. I see the winds building and I see the clashing of hot and cold. I realize now all along, I have been trying to tame a tornado inside of me. I guess I always saw it coming and the forecast kept getting more and more accurate for what I feared I would become. And once the storm built, it was all I could do to keep it from tearing apart everything I owned, every part of who I was. My Mother always told me for that addict to really click on for someone as resolute as I was in life; it just took the exact combination of things happening. Mom called it the perfect storm. It wasn’t just one issue, it wasn’t a moral failing, it was predisposition, and it was my own exposure as I dabbled and lived recklessly. And in the end, with the relapses, it was a damn choice and I don’t ever want to be told any differently. I remember my Mom telling me my father once told her, “I hope she’s not, you know like me.” It’s okay Dad, you may have given me a genetic predisposition but you only gave what was given to you, you also gave me wicked high cheek bones and the ability to keep a straight face at any moment, taught me the ways of nature, and what it’s like to practice patience. And I’ll never hold against you what you couldn’t help.
I imagine my father and I running in a field. Its storming out and I can’t quite see him through the winds and heavy rain. I am calling for him and I hear his voice, but the thunder, it crackles too loudly. I know he wanted to get me to safety, but how could he? The storm he was caught in, the same one I am in now, it’s at times too much to bear. It’s like that common theme in psychology, you first have to give yourself oxygen while the plane free falls because if the care taker has no oxygen, how can they save the child? I forgive you Dad, I know you were just trying to catch your breath, all the running, you were just looking for shelter and in active addiction the storm is relentless. The lightening brightens the sky and for brief moments in my life I see him, images in my head of him flickering past, and just in the moment, I catch my breath to say hello and he was gone again. But mainly I am standing, no shoes on, socks sopping around in the dirt. No need for me to have shoes on Dad, because well, I’m already walking a mile in yours. I wish he was still here so I could say, “Hey Dad, I made it out of the storm.” Sometimes in recovery I have to ground myself, where are your feet, Kris? And I look down and I realize my feet are dry, my socks are clean and the forecast looks brighter every day.
Dedicated to you Dad, may you be at peace.