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In life, people come and go: some stay and influence your decisions, your hopes, your dreams, and your future. Others--who should be important parts of your life--leave you without a word and turn into nothing but ghosts in the memory of a little girl: shadows passing through the walls of an incoherent mind.
Family is the kind of entity that stays with you throughout your life, unless situations occur and the “God” that we are so preached about in Sunday school decides to tear them away from you.
It was about ten years ago, last July, actually. July 4th, 1997. Since it was so long ago, there are many areas that are broken in my memory: I can’t recall every detail as well as I would like to... I do, however remember what happened the months following up to that hot summer holiday. The holiday that, for the rest of my life, would become a day of mourning and loss between my mother and I. This is not a story plucked from the imaginations of some girl: no, this is a real story. This is my story:
I was born to a mother and father who could not take care of me. Mom was only 18 when she found out she had made the mistake of becoming pregnant. She had never been a very good person—having a disruptive life herself—she turned to drug abuse and alcohol at a very young age (and, to my knowledge still does it to this day). Her only option was to put me up for adoption. And thank God she did, because I don’t know what kind of terrible drugs and abuse I would be doing at this very moment. Her father and step-mother adopted me. This is the confusing part—my real mother became my sister, what was originally my grandma and grandpa became my mother and father, and basically everyone in my family became a step closer to me by title.
That is where my life began: in the arms of a kind, aging women and man, whose hearts were big enough to accept me as their own. And for six years the three of us lived a life of extravagancies, happiness, we made one another complete. I don’t remember much of this history of my life except what I have been told, and little clippings of familiar routines that seem to be arranged in my head by random.
I have been told that when I was two, there was apparently a crazy curling iron fiasco. I’ve always been a curious child, so when I saw the winding black cord leading up to a place above my sight, something inside me compelled me to tug on the cord and down fell the scolding iron, right on my foot. The scar still gives chills down the backs of those who were there and heard the blood curdling cry that came from my mouth. I remember thinking that it was always there: that it was something every human was born with and that the foot that didn’t have the scar was an abnormal mutation (which is why I never wore sandals until I discovered reality).
I remember watching football on the brand new, firm green couch with Dad. I remember his giant glasses that, when I put them on, would transport me to another world where I was an owl who had to hunt for mice. I remember swinging upside down in the warm sunshine on the rusted, white swing set. I remember that whenever I was upset, dad would drive me around, anywhere, spending hours sometimes, just to get me to rest and fall asleep. I still see the yellow lights of the freeway running overhead, making me want to close my eyes to escape the light and recede into darkness again. …I remember… the first day of kindergarten. How I was too scared to say hi to anyone, including the teacher, until, while grasping my dad’s hand like it was my own survival, he nudged me and suggested I go ask the blonde haired girl in the corner if she wanted to build a sand castle with me. My dad’s name was Nick. And with his help, I was able to feel like I was always at home. Because of him, I sensed a feeling of calmness and I felt protected and safe while grasping one of his enormous fingers.
And then, one day in the middle of May when school was over, he started complaining about pain. He used to smoke a lot. His designated smoking area was in the downstairs bathroom—which still smells of smoke to this very day. He used to cough all the time, but they started growing worse. Mom knew that Something was wrong with him: what it was, she did not know, but she knew it was Something. Something unseen, growing beneath his flesh. The “Something,” we were later told, was cancer. Cancer cells were multiplying in his lungs, destroying all of the healthy tissue.
I remember his face: warm and loving, caring and stubbly. I can still recall the hairs that tried to escape the caves of his nose and the redness of being alive that always consumed his cheeks and his nose: much like my redness surrounds my face during the winter season.
…I remember, after he entered the hospital, how that redness began to disappear, and how his life began to fall away. I still envision the room where he spent his final days. Before entering the white, sullen room, Mom and I would have to put on the doctors masks that always smelled funny and tickled my nose every time. I hated it. Why should my father have to lie there and wait to die in this room where there was no love or compassion: where he was always alone and withdrawn, even when we were there. After the surgery, he never looked the same. Even a six year-old could see the death in his eyes and all throughout his body. I had no idea what it was or what it was doing to him. I didn’t know that that would be the last time I would ever see him. I didn’t even know how to say leukemia—the disease that had taken control of his soul. His red face faded to gray and eventually to white.
I was only allowed to visit Dad once or twice while he was in the hospital. Or, I guess I should say I only wanted to visit him a few times… I am so ashamed that I didn’t spend all the time I could with him. That is something that I will always regret until the day I die. But seeing him so fragile in that bed… it was just scary. It was a degree of frightfulness that I have never felt since or before then, something I hope I never have to feel again. I knew that he was dieing. But I didn’t want to see it.
The doctor’s said he only had a few weeks to live. But my dad was stronger than what they perceived him to be. He held on for two more months. And Mom later told me that the night before he died, he made her promise that she would take care of me. That she would make sure I went to college and had a good life. I guess that’s why I try so hard at everything I do: I want to make him proud.
…The last time I saw him… I drew him a picture of him and me holding hands, being happy. That’s the last thing I remember about him while he was alive.
We held the funeral about a week later. The way I recall it was in a humongous church with dark wood and bright stained glass at the front, and red carpet. His casket sitting in front of all the pews—there was a podium and a microphone resting on top of it for people to speak their memories of my father. I remember mom’s tears rolling down her cheek and falling on top of my head while she practically squeezed all the air out of me. I remember all the bright colored flowers, used to try to lighten the atmosphere of ultimate depression. I remember Nick’s picture on top of his ornate box surrounded by these flowers. The picture now stands, bold and strong, on my shelf across from my bed.
I used to be in Girl Scouts. And I think back to the first time I went to Girl Scouts after his death. The Girl Scout leader could see the sadness in my eyes—so she took me aside from the other little girls and asked me what was wrong. Without saying a word, I burst out into tears; I couldn’t hold them back anymore. They poured down endlessly because at that moment, it hit me. The impact of his death finally sunk into my head and I thought “I really am never going to see my father again.”
But now I realize that that isn’t true. Every time I close my eyes during a long drive and see the same yellow lights flash on and off, I see his face illuminated through the darkness. I hold on to the memories inside my mind. When I have children of my own, I plan to do my best and teach them the lessons he taught me: the rules of football, how to trust, do the best you can do, and be all you can be, to hang on no matter what and to not give up.
I want him to live forever in the memories of our family. But most importantly, I want to remember.