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Tears fill my mother’s eyes as she places flowers on the grave of someone so important to my life. My sister stares quietly at the ground as I sit there feeling nothing. I can’t help but feel alone, detached from who I am. In the silence, I dig for it. I dig for any sign of grief that will make me shed a tear or think of something sad to feel pain. I lean on fantasies in my mind that’ll birth some sort of sadness, but I find nothing. Every single time I find nothing but emptiness, I fall apart. The guilt settles in my chest, and I am haunted by it.
My mother’s tears come from the death of my father. It was more than twenty years ago, but the memory of his life is still very real. Since his passing, my mother has gone on to remarry, have another child – my brother – and find happiness in new things, but my father’s death is the beginning, middle, and end point of our story. In fact, he is the pinnacle. All it takes is a faint memory or an old photograph to awaken the sorrowness she’s carried over the years. My new dad lovingly supports her as she takes trips to the past to see his face and revel in the times she will never forget.
When we talk about him, she says I have his eyes – the piercing brown ones shaped like soft, rounded almonds underneath lightly colored eyebrows. It’s like I’m staring into a mirror every time I see him in a photograph. The smile, the sharp nose, the olive-colored skin – it’s all him, but also, it’s all of me. The sight is beautiful, but the feeling is heavy. I don’t know this man. I don’t know his voice. I don’t remember his soothing lullaby or gentle hands or soft gaze filled with endearment. I don’t remember the sound of his breathing, the feel of his face, the angle of his back after sharing an embrace. I don’t remember the touch of his lips on my forehead as he held me for the first time in his arms that early November morning in the hospital room. I don’t remember his warm breath that floated onto my skin as he stared at me – his newborn daughter – with love. I can’t see it, I don’t feel it, and nor can I accept it. I’m haunted by not knowing.
I try to convince myself that the guilt is just self-betrothed pain – I was 2 months old when he passed, so I can’t expect to remember him. Yet, I feel like I should. I feel this obligation to know him as my own, since he is my own, and feel the same pain for his loss that my older sister and mother do. To call him my dad, to have his blood and to have his smile, and to look into his eyes in old photographs and say “he’s my dad” without feeling a source of love, erodes me.
The guilt grows worse when there’s an exhaustive effort behind remembering. Or, when I make-believe a feeling of love for someone I don’t remember. Can I be blamed? My mind believes I should be. To talk about the death of my own father without any hint of emotion or sorrow makes me feel inhumane – like I’m an insensitive soul that feels no grief over such a significant loss. Am I capable of caring? How can care be felt and exchanged between people when there is no tangible thing to care for? Nothing but a simple photograph and memories from others to build that love for you. The unknowing will live with me forever.
I look at a photo of my father for a long time. Up and down, from corner to corner, staring into his eyes and looking down at the baby in his arms, seeing that it’s me, but knowing it is not.
I am not his child.
I am, but I am not. I am a child with his blood, but not his child.
I wonder about that child a lot - the child he would have raised had he survived that December day. Would she love differently? See differently? Act or think differently?
I always wonder.
Instead, I am a product of the life I have lived, a product of the experiences I’ve been handed and a product of the people who have raised me. I see his photograph and I miss him. I miss a man I don’t even know and I long for an ounce of love to reassure me that this relationship is real, but I fail endlessly. I talk about him as if he is a stranger. Am I cruel? Do I go beyond measure to admit these things? But to conceal them is to conceal the truth. I live each day by the thought of not knowing him, by not feeling the pain of his absence and not knowing the familiarity of his love. I look down at his burial site and beg for more, wanting so badly to know who I lost.
Rebecca was fourteen-years-old when she fell in love with writing. Since then, the process and the outcomes have become an artistic endeavor she continues to work on each day. She is now a senior at Boise State University receiving a bachelor's degree in English: Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communications and a minor in Ethnic Studies. Other small passions of hers include running, cooking, reading, going on long drives, and listening to music. After graduation in May 2022, she looks forward to opportunities that lie ahead and hopes to pursue a career in organizational communication.