Seven days after you passed away, I found myself on the rooftop of one of my favorite hotels in West Hollywood. I had spent the last week in bed wrestling with my emotions, falling in and out of tears, at times overcome by sadness, at times feeling nothing at all, mostly trying to grasp how I was supposed to feel, and finally deciding that maybe what was best for me was to stop thinking so much and resume living. Funny how you had been preparing us for your death since before I can remember, and maybe the preparation worked, because what I felt most of all after the initial shock of losing you had passed, was a calm – like your death was the end of a beautiful, but broken, love story.
The story began in Portland, Oregon in 1981, when we were acquainted for the first time. You took me under your wing immediately, mostly because Mom was preoccupied with her Gerber baby who required a bit more attention than I did. And so we became. Of course we did! I was my father’s daughter from the start. You were always the model of the person I wanted to become – independent, strong, proud, quick-witted, charming, worldly, sophisticated, and beyond intelligent. I always wanted to be close to you, even if it meant playing with tools in the garage on Delma Way, learning how to check the oil in your car, or accompanying you on various errands around town. And more than anything I wanted to make you proud of me, which is why I relished those nights when we would watch Jeopardy as a family and I’d shout out the correct answer only to sneak a glimpse of you from the corner of my eye, hoping that you’d noticed. Even to this day, I have an absurd obsession with mail, because when you and Mom were divorced, I felt honored that you gave me the responsibility of collecting your mail. And I’ll never forget the day you moved out – you were in the garage packing the last of your belongings and I sat watching until I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I snuck off to weep privately as I didn’t want you to know how much it hurt me to see you go.
You told us that nothing would change, but of course everything did. And I probably knew that it would, which is why the moment will never escape me. It’s the most vivid memory I have of you from my childhood. Leaving.
Much of my adult life has been spent observing other fathers and daughters and wishing our relationship could have been like theirs. We never held hands. We never had sleepovers. We never took trips together. We didn’t talk every day or even every week or month. Our affection was limited to hello and goodbye hugs. You didn’t move me into college. You weren’t there to help with my homework. You never sat down and had the “father talk” with my boyfriends. You never even knew about them. In truth, there was a lot I wanted in a father that you didn’t deliver on. But shame on me for letting the hugeness of that swallow what we did have. There was immeasurable depth in the moments we spent together, limited they were.
About ten years ago, when I was living in San Diego, you drove down from Sacramento to visit a woman you were seeing. At the time, I was just happy to have you there, as I’d invited you on many prior occasions, knowing that you loved the city I had chosen to make my home because of its similarities to where you had grown up in the Caribbean. I had you over for Thanksgiving dinner – made lasagna, your favorite meal – it was probably the only Thanksgiving we ever spent together since the divorce. I remember buying you a pecan pie, and being nervous that it wasn’t good enough because I didn’t bake it myself. My own happiness was so intricately entwined with yours, always. Naively, I believed I could make you happy. I thought I could fix your life, heal your wounds. My relationship with you, at least on my end, was exclusively devoted to the cause.
A few years after your San Diego visit, after I had broken up with my long-term boyfriend, and was going through an intense period of growth and reflection, it occurred to me that you didn’t come down to San Diego to see me. You came down to see a woman you had barely known. And though I’d asked you many times, there was always a reason why you couldn’t. But you could for her. And then I started thinking about our relationship over the past two decades since you left Mom, and I realized that other women, and other things, always came before me. Before us. And then everything changed. My life at the time was a series of fragments – and that revelation was the glue that pulled them all together. I understood myself better than ever. But in gaining self-knowledge, I lost something incredibly valuable. I lost you.
A year and a half ago, I was sitting in the office of my therapist, discussing whether or not it would be a good idea to call you on your birthday. We hadn’t spoken in some time, and somehow I felt I wasn’t ready to forgive you for your latest slight. She told me that we don’t always have to have relationships with members of our family, especially if doing so causes more pain than good. I made the small decision not to call you and wish you a Happy Birthday. But it wasn’t just about the phone call. Really what I was deciding was that I wasn’t going to have a relationship with you anymore, because you’d hurt me one too many times. I remember driving back to my law firm after therapy and considering the ramifications of my decision. You might die, and if you did, that would be how our story ended. Of course, I didn’t want that to be the ending. I wanted you to be my father, the hero, the knight in shining armor. I wanted you to save me, save us, by loving me the way I loved you.
The day I left for Paris was one of the most exciting days of my life. I was setting myself free after having been broken, sad, and caged for far too long. It was the culmination of everything I had learned about myself in the last few years of being alone. It was me mending my own broken heart and taking back my life. So when Cecile called to say goodbye to me when I was driving to the airport, and then gave the phone to Amala, who gave the phone to you, I didn’t have it in me to talk to you, so I hung up. Any other day and it would have been different. I had waited months for that phone call. And I had given my entire life for the happiness of you and everyone else. But that was my day.
The first book I read in Paris was Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things.” In responding to a letter from a single mother who had been abandoned by her child’s father, she writes, “One day, years from now, your son or daughter will have to account for his or her father (and for you, as well). There will be a reckoning. There is always a reckoning. For every one of us. Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we all do when we do the work of becoming whole, grown up people.”
Here is mine. You left us, Dad. We were your children, and you left us. And then you came back when you wanted to, or when you needed something, but once you were gone, you were mostly gone. And there was a huge gaping hole in my heart the shape of a father who walked out on his little girl who loved him more than she loved herself. And for years, I put everything I had into filling that hole, but to no avail. They loved me the way you loved me. They left me the way you left me.
But that is not how our story ends. Seven days after you passed, a guardian angel found his grieving daughter on a hotel rooftop in West Hollywood. You’ve been with me ever since. And seven days after you passed, a wonderful gentleman found your grieving daughter on a hotel rooftop in West Hollywood. And he’s been with me ever since.
I know you’d love him, Dad. Thank you for watching over me and sending me someone to finally fill the hole.
With love forever,
A year ago yesterday, I left for Paris. At the time, everyone lauded me for my bravery. It takes immense courage to quit your job and embark on something new and different, they said. Strange how I didn’t feel brave at all. The decision was made on a whim and everything after that felt effortless. The pieces fell into place naturally, as if it was my destiny to be there, then. And it was!
Towards the end of my adventure, I felt a tiny bit nervous about returning home to a familiar life with a future unknown. Again, as if destiny were the theme of 2015, things worked out quite brilliantly and the transition back was smooth and pain free.
And that’s where my story took a turn for the worse. Not surprisingly, I felt the storm brewing in the last days of the year – I was anxious and not at all excited to say goodbye to what had been the absolute best year of my life. I had an inkling that what lay ahead would require the bravery that was generously bestowed upon me when least deserved.
It’s been a battle. Every day feels like a new fight. To get out of bed. To find the motivation to live out my true dreams. To make the day count. To make the year stand for something other than complete confusion. Inside I feel defeated. It feels like everything that gave me value in my past life has been stripped from me. I feel worthless. Which is a feeling I can just barely tolerate. What’s too much to bear most days is the sense that I’ve got myself so mixed up in this maze called life that I can’t find my way back to me. It’s like I’m stuck in a labyrinth in the dead of darkness and I’m waiting to see a glimmer of light. It’s been the longest night of my life, so it seems, but I’m still here. But what’s neverendingly beautiful in the midst of this delirium is that life isn’t going to make it easy for me by leading me back to my old self. That’s cheating, and every last one of us can do better than taking the shortcut to our becoming. I’ve got to pave my own way through this damn darkness and in the process I’m transforming into a better, stronger, braver me.
Perhaps its fitting with Valentine’s Day, but February has been most interesting on the love front. For starters, history tells me that I’ve got a penchant for the unavailable. Fleeting attention is my jam. If you live halfway across the world and reach out only once in a blue moon, chances are I will morph into a hopelessly devoted. I’m a sucker for pleasure (and concomitant pain). I want to suffer, burn for my love. It feels awkward, unnatural, if its delivered to my doorstep wrapped in Tiffany blue and accompanied by roses. When it happens the way it should, my instinct tells me to let it alone. Meanwhile, I’m going all kinds of crazy over him and him and him, all of whom make appearances in my life with the infrequency of the changing of seasons. I know it’s unfulfilling in the long-term, but still, it’s incredible how many times I can re-play our last love story in my mind, each time remembering a new detail like it happened just yesterday. Somehow it keeps me going over the extended periods of no contact. It feels like home. Clearly, unavailability is my comfort zone.
So this year, I resolved to step outside it. Because I want real love. The kind that remembers your favorite flower and has it delivered to your office “just because.” The kind that drops everything to be there for you when you are going through a tough time and can’t stand to be alone. The kind that loves you for all the things you love about yourself, but are pretty sure no one else notices. The kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night to give good love and then holds you tight until morning.
I started off on the right track, at least it would seem. I limited my dating pool to men who live within a 50 mile radius of my home and who were unencumbered. I was feeling confident about the prospect of something real. But then, the universe went and threw me a curve ball – someone from my past who most definitely did not live within a 50 mile radius of my home. And then another. And another. So I took a swing at them all. (The heart wants what it wants). And just like that, I found myself back to my old ways, back to my old woes.
And now here I am, lying in bed on a Tuesday night, insomnia threatening to steal the night away from me like a good lover, wondering if this is a test, if I’m perpetually undeserving of the love I desire because every time I’m given the opportunity to not mess it up, I somehow manage to do exactly that. If it is, it seems I’ve pulled the ‘Go to Jail’ card in monopoly (do not pass go, do not collect $200). But then again, maybe the real lesson of love is that we are meant to make the same mistakes over and over again until someone comes into our life who inspires us to make it right this time? After all, we are imperfect humans, every last one of us. We have hearts that lead us astray time and time again. But at the end of this journey, we don’t get a special accolade for playing by the rules, for saying no to the wrong temptations, for closing ourselves off to the beautiful feelings that are borne even from mistakes. We don’t get anything at all except the opportunity to look back at our experiences and realize that we’ve grown from them. And growth doesn’t prejudice itself to right. In fact, most of the time, it would seem the opposite is true. So I’ve probably made about twenty mistakes this month alone. Of course, I know better now, but no matter how hard I try, my heart keeps sending me back to dance with hope – the dream that maybe this time will be different. So I failed the test. But fuck, it was good – it always is. And maybe next time will be different.
Last summer, in a swimming pool on a rooftop in Istanbul, I met an older American gentleman who was loaded with interesting tidbits of information about life, love, and the female/male dynamic. The conversation flowed naturally, so though I had no interest in him, and he was technically a complete stranger in a foreign country thousands of miles away from home, when he offered to be my tour guide for the rest of my Turkey trip, I gladly accepted. The next day, he swooped me up from my hotel on his Vespa and so the adventure began.
In another life, I would have coldly engaged in conversation for a few minutes, and then excused myself to play around on my phone. In this new life, I allowed myself the privilege – yes, privilege – of openness, and as a result, a friendship naturally ensued. I said yes to him. Because it seemed more exciting than saying no. Turned out, it was. Turns out, it almost always is.
In the past year, the best moments of my life were had on the whim of a yes. To call it accidental would be unfair – saying yes to anything and everything was a resolution I made for 2015 (see here). I ate snails in Paris at the urging of the most handsome Australian who I’d met only hours before. I traveled to Northern Africa alone, after much debate about the safety implications of doing so, and discovered a magical little gypsy world I would have never known existed if I gave way to fear. I escaped to Rome for a quick 24 hours to meet a former lover who would break my heart one last time. I flew to Mexico with a group of Aussies I barely knew to snorkel in a cave full of bats – and I’m terrified of bats! I jumped into a shark cage in Cape Town. And then gladly grabbed the reins of a parachute after launching off of Lions Head. I fell in love. Then I fell in love again. I made dozens of new friends in the most unlikely of places. And by years end, when I was deciding what my resolution would be for this year – I made a resolution for life instead. Because yes turned out better than I could have ever expected. Even when my limbs were flailing outside the shark cage while pushing myself up to the surface, it never once crossed my mind that it was a bad idea. Even after the night I didn’t get a wink of sleep because the yes that led to falling in love led to what felt like the last heartbreak this many times broken little muscle in my chest could endure. Even though that slimy French snail wasn’t a smooth swallow.
This first month of 2016 has not been easy. Most days, an anxiety attack seems a foregone conclusion. I’ve learned it takes a lot of damn courage to get out of bed every day when you’re living life on the fringes of the absolute unknown. You take for granted certainty, until it’s a thing of the past. But with certainty comes safety comes comfort (something like the road well-traveled) – a mediocrity that swallows up tomorrow before today is even done. And that other thing, uncertainty? I can tell you this much. There is a huge world of adventure hanging about immediately adjacent to that little ‘s’ in yes. And that is an uncertainty I’m happy to welcome, even if it means almost daily anxiety attacks about the rest. The takeaway is quite simple, my loves. Just say yes.
New Year’s Eve was a tough one for me this year. Last year, I rang in the New Year knowing full well that I was leaving my job in a few months and moving to Paris, a plan which I executed brilliantly. Let’s be honest – when Paris is in your immediate future, there’s no way you can be glum. This year, however, I felt melancholic all day. Mostly because I don’t have a plan, but I know it’s time to stop running away from life. The time has come for me to settle down and stand still for a minute and stop talking about figuring things out and start doing it. Right now, life feels like a puzzle. The universe has given me all the pieces and I’m sitting, staring at them dumbfoundedly, trying to figure out where to start. I’ve been here before and I know the first step is the hardest and once you start moving, you’re on your way. And I even know exactly where I need to start – which piece comes first (the corner of course). But still! You can’t help the fright, anxiety, frozenness that comes over you when you’re embarking on something new and different. You just kind of have to close your eyes and dive in deep, comforted by the knowledge that you know how to swim, and that’s something you can’t lose, ever. It’s like breathing, living. So no more putting it off until tomorrow. Today is day 1. Happy swimming. Oh, and Happy New Year too my loves!