The fact that Earth continues to orbit the sun after you have lost someone is a by-the-minute betrayal, every second spent living without them feeling like an act of treachery. It isn’t fair that you get to breathe a breath they don’t. And so it goes that life does indeed go on, but how do you go on?
When my dad passed away last October, my reality untethered itself from everything that had come before his passing. What had come before was a life full of things, and what came after was an unreality that felt hollow, empty of real substance. Suddenly it seemed impossible that I would ever have it in me to take another step forward. I didn’t want to go places my dad will never know I’ve gone. I didn’t want to write words my dad will never know I’ve written.
Three weeks after my dad’s passing, I was in a hit-and-run car accident that totaled the beloved blue hatchback my dad bought for me in high school. And months before my dad passed away, my grandmother had passed away. With all this and world circumstances that had already set off all kinds of self-destructive tendencies, I was at my wit’s end. I was ready to withdraw from school. I had already withdrawn from the world. Instead, I went back to therapy.
Perhaps there are several things in my life that may have turned out differently if, each time, I had chosen therapy instead of self-destruction. One such thing is my college experience, which I’ll always look back on and remember endless nervous breakdowns over things that felt like the end of the world at the time.
Something you learn in dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, though, is that one of the ways you come to accept painful events you had no control over is by acknowledging there was a course of events that lead to this moment, that reality has to happen the way it happens. I can’t go back and change all the stormy yesterdays that, despite the thunder and lightning, got me here. My college years will always be marked by suffering; this is simply how reality has happened. But I don’t want them to be marred by suffering. I want to remember what I have lost these past four years while also being able to remember what I have loved. The happy crying, the sad crying, the dancing, the partying, the late-night talks, the daytime walks, the overwork and above all else, the words I wrote.
So I’m doing it for me — restructuring my thinking, restructuring my life — but I’m also doing it for my dad. “It’s what your dad would have wanted” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times over the past few months, but its repetition makes it no less true. I knew my dad the way I’ll always know the lyrics to his favorite Beatles songs and more, like how even though it’s been years since the Beatles CDs were all we would listen to in the car together, I’ll always know the verses, the chorus, the bridge when “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Let It Be” start playing. When I want to fall apart the most, my dad’s voice in the back of my head stops me every time. Ponte las pilas. Get it together.
I am the child of two journalists, two writers — from words I came and in words I will always be. When my dad passed away, I spent some time thinking that I would perhaps never write again, or at least never write again with the same timeless, magical feeling that once accompanied my writing. I used to trek out to libraries and cafes in Berkeley, sit down with my laptop or notebook and write, write, write for hours, losing time and myself in it. Now those times feel so far away, buried deep in the past.
Because the truth is those times are indeed buried deep in the past. For a writer once so preoccupied with death as an aesthetic, I am woefully ill-equipped to deal with death as a reality. As an idea, death has never been far from anything I write. Now it truly permeates everything I write because writing has always been something that brings me closer to my parents. It has always been something that bonded me with my dad.
But here I am, slowly relearning how to write and slowly, it is becoming less painful to do so. Slowly I’m learning that it’s OK to write words my dad will never know I’ve written because I know he must have always known I would write them. For myself, and for him.
I haven’t fully bought into the idea yet. But I’m getting there — someday soon, I think, I’m going to look back on my yesterdays, my stormy yesterdays, and I’m going to see past the storms and into the other reality I so often forget. The reality that I have known happiness in fleeting moments, and in moments not so fleeting. It’s so easy to forget the good times. But I’ve promised myself that someday soon I’m going to be better at not overlooking the good times in favor of sulking over the bad times. It is, as they say, what my dad would’ve wanted. And it’s what I want, too.