My father called me a few weeks ago.
We had just started talking again for the first time in years. He was at the end of his wits.
“I need to do something. I know I won’t get better, but I need a break,” he croaked, and I could hear his radio playing an old country song.
Despite everything he had done to me, everything I am still trying to process, I wanted to help him.
“Do you want to know my favorite memory with you? It wasn’t when we went to the beach, or camping, or even the park,” I stated.
I had missed the bus. At this point, being absent from school was a regular occurrence for me due to my physical and mental health.
Mom was gonna be so mad at me, but subconsciously I wanted to miss the bus.
I hated school.
I hated being bullied for things I couldn’t control about myself.
I hated myself.
My chest tightened.
I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, and my hands became numb.
I knew I was having a panic attack. So I grabbed my flip phone, which had a squishy purple, case and clicked through my contacts. Everyone was either at work or school, except I didn’t know what my dad was up to.
My thumb grazed over the phone case as I attempted to regulate my breathing. I had not talked to him about this, or anything so personal, in a long time if ever. He was a part of the problem for me, and yet before I could convince myself otherwise, I had pressed the call button on his contact and heard the dial tone in my ear.
It only took two rings, and then I heard his voice on the other end. I felt my now tear-filled face as I cried out to him. I managed to spill everything that had been building up over the year between sobs and deep breaths.
“I’m coming,” he uttered before hanging up abruptly.
For 45 minutes, I waited and didn’t move. I didn’t walk back up the hill to my house, but I didn’t inch closer to the main road either. Suddenly, I saw the little silver Honda that belonged to my dad’s girlfriend pull up. I wordlessly shuffled into the passenger’s seat.
Would the school call my mom? Why couldn’t I be normal and get ready for school on time?
The guilt began to settle in, and I pressed my forehead against the cool glass window of the car. My dad had something playing on the radio, an old country song layered by the static that comes with living in the mountains.
As he drove, the overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke attacked my nostrils and despite my asthma, I found it comforting.
Eventually, we pulled into the short driveway of his then-girlfriend’s house where he was living at the time. We walked through the sliding glass door and watched television in the small living room. My mind was obviously elsewhere, and he could tell. He went into the kitchen and turned on the radio. I followed him and saw that he was beginning to cook an omelet for me. I appreciated his silence more than anything because I knew that meant that he could see how hurt I was and wanted to help, rather than going on and on about himself or berating me for “crying over spilled milk.” Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen” came on the radio, and we both sang along loudly.
When the omelet was ready, he cut it in half and plated each half, beginning to carry a plate on each hand into the living room. I saw his gaze wander over to a cabinet, and he changed his course to take the short two steps over to it. He placed the plates on the counter.
He turned to look at me, and with an empathetic expression I haven’t seen from him before or since that moment, said, “Daddy gets sad too.”
His calloused fingers opened the cabinet door, and my eyes instantly landed on an all-too-familiar orange bottle. Those words and his actions that day, letting his guard down and allowing me to see something so personal, made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a freak or failure.
Other people felt like that, too. Even my dad, who tried to act like he had everything together to impress my siblings and I. He was sad too. He needed medicine for it, too. And that was okay.
After telling him how much that moment meant to me, trying to make him know he’s not alone just in the way he made me feel, the words that came through the static of my phone were, “Really? I don’t remember that at all.”