letter to my father number eight*

Dear Daddy,

I go to work every day — I said it would probably be best to be busy — and it turns out that work is a good place to be busy. I’m so busy these days that I don’t have time to think of anything other than how busy I am. Between answering emails and teasing out answers to questions from all the rules and validations built into our electronic medical record software, I go to meetings and sit in on conference calls and all of it keeps me from thinking how fucking angry I am when I’m not pretending that I’m not terribly sad.

I know it’s just a phase, and it’ll pass. It’s a documented part of the process. I’ve managed to move beyond thinking that this all somehow has been some terrible mistake and that you’ll show up any day now on my porch and ask why I didn’t call, then rattle off my phone number, asking if it’s still the same, like phones don’t work two ways. I know that was my brain tricking me and that you are, in fact, dead. I know also that it’s completely stupid to write you a letter here, now, but it’s okay to be stupid sometimes, I suppose, and I don’t know what else to do.

I have all of this, here, in these moments when I’m not so busy and I have time to think about things other than being busy. I’ve thought of you every day, of the things I remember about you, of the stories I have of you. I think about telling the stories, about how I should force you out of my memory and into the memories of others, and then I think about how short my list of memories is, and how I don’t want to tell the stories because I know I’ll reach the end of them and then there won’t be any more.

You were always good at leaving. And damn you if you didn’t do it again. You always left too soon, and now this. And you won’t ever know that for the most part, I’m doing okay for myself these days. I have a good job in an actual career field that I stumbled into sideways and never would’ve pictured myself enjoying and yet even though I get overwhelmed with how much there is to do and how much I have to learn, it feels like a good fit for my love of projects and processes and puzzles. I have a house, I have a car (though presently, I do not have my car because someone backed into it a couple of weeks ago and now it is being repaired so I have a rental car that is very very red). I have great friends, some of whom only ever heard of you, like you were an urban legend. I’ve spent the past decade-and-then-some digging myself out of what a mess I was back a decade-and-then-some ago. Yeah. You know. I’m doing okay.

I know you wanted me to get married and have kids (just like my grandma! and David Sedaris), because Arabs are family-oriented people, and here I am, in my 30s, unmarried and childless. And you weren’t into dogs, so Sweet Pea doesn’t count, I suppose. I only ever fall in love with men who are primarily absent and who leave, and I suppose that somewhere in that is proof that I’m really fucked up, but I prefer to think it’s because I like both my space and a challenge.

I smile like you. I wonder if other people who knew you see it, when my nose crinkles. I see your face in mine, even though we didn’t look alike, really. I wonder what other ways I am like you, if there are other ways I am like you. I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

The thing that kills me, the thing that squeezes my heart like a fist until it feels like smashed pulp, is that I am your daughter and I don’t really know you. It’s your fault, but it’s mine, too. I’ve heard that you asked about me a lot, but you never called me. I never called you either, even though I had a number where I could’ve reached you in Yemen, I never called it, not once after that time we last spoke — when was it? October? November? — and I should’ve. Because the one thing I did know was that you meant well, but I was almost always going to have to be the one to reach out, and I didn’t do it.

They say that regret is a waste of time, but I think some things are worth it. It’s worth it to me to regret you, and the fact that I didn’t do my part. Your heart quit on you before I got over myself. Life has inconsiderate timing, but death is even worse. I will regret that forever. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so goddamn fucking sorry. And I know it’s not worth much to be sorry now, but I have to tell you anyway, even though now it doesn’t do either of us any good.

I don’t know what else to say. I will be alright. This isn’t the first time in my life that I have missed you, after all. I know how to live without a dad, and I wish it had been different, but it wasn’t and now it won’t be. In all your absence, there was a gift, too, and I know it, and I appreciate it, for what it’s worth. Thank you for giving me the freedom to grow into a person you didn’t understand. You never tried to control me, not even when you could’ve, and even though it meant that we never found a place where we were entirely comfortable with each other, I know you loved me and you knew I love you too. I hope your life was a happy one and that you enjoyed more than you didn’t.

I don’t know much about you, but I do know one thing. Whenever I smile, for the rest of my life, I will look like you.



*letters to my father one through seven were poems, the last one of which was written on Father’s Day 10 years ago.


4 thoughts on “letter to my father number eight*

  1. ah, jamelah. Your words reach out into memory and evoke concept, and strangely comfort. It’s all abstract anyway – saying I love you sends out feelings that come back as warmth or tears, but saying them helps. I’m so sorry for your loss. – judih


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