I don’t remember the exact timeline, but some time after he had passed on, I saw my dad.
Actually, scratch that. The year would have been approximately 2012, which I remember only because things took place at the grocery store that was local to my home at the time.
I had just finished paying for my groceries, when I noticed a familiar form standing just past the bagging area. Dad smiled at me with that uncertain smile that I had seen at so many holidays and family gatherings: his trademark expression of wanting to be a part of things but not sure if he was allowed to be. He didn’t say anything, just looked at me with affection and nervousness. It didn’t matter. My feet were moving and I was in front of him as if I had run at my best 100 meter dash speed.
For a second, his demeanor was void of any nervousness or hesitance. In the serene smoothness of his face and the spark of light in his eyes, I read the affection that had given me immeasurable courage through all of my less than ideal choices (which honestly led to some really sweet adventures. As the saying goes, no good story starts with, “She decided to have a salad…”), and which kept me from giving up after he was no longer walking beside me. That look faded with every word I spoke, every excited syllable that spilled forth with details of what I had been up to, how my life was going at that moment. Instead of looking happy for me, he looked uncomfortable.
From the back of my mind, a memory was inching to the forward. There was the memorial service, and the long, scary years when I walked as if every step was on the rotting slats of a suspension bridge held up with single ply toilet tissue. These thoughts made me speak faster, as if I could rewrite what had really happened.
I turned my gaze for just a second, but it was enough for my dad to disappear, and catapult me into wakefulness.
Not long after, I would learn the term “visitation dream”: when a deceased loved one visits us in our less-guarded slumber to provide closure.
In the years that followed, I endured. I existed. I wouldn’t say that I was living.
Fast-fast-fast forward to earlier this month. I took a deep breath, and I wrote a letter. It was addressed to one of my oldest and most trusted friends. Once upon a time, I could have told her anything, and I had. In my deepest heart, the part of me that still wishes and dreams and desires, I know this truth still holds. If I could push through my self-doubt and self-recrimination, she would listen to what I had to say.
So I tried, and it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, but I think she understood.
I want to go back to who I used to be: the me with big dreams and immeasurable hopes. I don’t want to continue with these doubts and regrets that tell me I don’t deserve to be happy. Even if that was true, I can’t imagine that my dad would want that for me, either. I think he would tell me to fight for what I want, to earn it.
So that is what I am going to do: earn it.