A horrible hangover the other morning had me wrapped around the toilet puking fire. I don’t know what it is Dallas BBQ puts on its boneless buffalo wings but it is as delicious going down as it is hellish coming back up. It clogged my esophagus and burned the back of my throat, a nightmarish sensation I’ve never experienced. I feared its imagined consistency, red-hot paste struggling up my tubes for the longest time. This is how people choke on their vomit and die, I thought. However, what came out more closely resembled tomato juice. Perhaps a little more orange than a bloody mary should ever be, but it didn’t kill me. I hold the same hopes for the ugliness making its way to the tip of my tongue-fingers. Hunched over my laptop like I was over the john, I brace myself for something equally gross. Word of warning: this, too, will take a while.
A strange win occurred on my way to Budin, a nice little café in my neighborhood where I started drafting this entry. As I was writing, a doble-level tow truck had gone by, filled to the brim with the remains of flattened, shredded cars. It was and is irrelevant to my story but I’d never seen a derelict vehicle reduced to its paltriest, let alone that many at once. Not sure why I was so attracted to such wreckage, but I was. This was not the win, though.
On my walk to Budin I stumbled upon a local bookstore a couple of blocks away. I had been thinking of a passage I’d read days before, a tweet of a picture of a book. The excerpt, which belonged to Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, would later reveal itself to be a colossal spoiler, but as I walked into Word looking for it I had no such information. If you intend to read this fantastic book, which I recommend you do, perhaps you should skip the following quote.
And while they wished to look out for each other, and to keep tabs on each other, staying in touch took a toll on them, serving as an unsettling reminder of a life not lived, and also they grew less worried each for the other, less worried that the other would need them to be happy, and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime.
I strolled through neatly stacked shelves fully aware I only had $18.57 left in my bank account for the next three days. I held Hamid’s book in my hand and turned it over. Sixteen dollars. Would be less than prudent, yes, but I still had some food in the fridge and not a whole lot of plans. As I got closer to the register, it dawned on me I hadn’t considered taxes. I was pretty sure I was covered but math has never been my forte. I spent those last seconds steeling myself for embarrassment, just in case. Exit West came up to $17.42 with taxes. This… was not the win either.
As my depreciated card returned to me, the lady announced it was Indie Bookstore Day and I had “won a little something”. She handed me a small bundle, neatly wrapped in delicious brown packaging paper. “Oh, cool!”, I offered with unabashed, unwarranted enthusiasm considering my bounty were the most random books I’ve ever laid eyes on. But I didn’t know that at the time and it ultimately didn’t matter. This was the win I had urged the universe for after the longest, most miserable streak of shit luck.
The possibilities and excitement concealed within the little brown parcel far exceeded its size. Although it would’ve been nice to get something I actually wanted to read, the jolt of genuine joy I had for that couple of blocks’ walk to Budin was my actual prize. Once I opened it, of course, I didn’t feel as much struck by luck as grazed by it. However off the mark, though, a win is a win is a win.
Having allowed a strange, off-brand victory to remind me the little things, for better and worse, matter most, other modest triumphs revealed themselves to me instantly. For instance, finding five unlikely singles in my wallet, which effectively covered my four-dollar cup of coffee (plus tip) at a place where there is a five-dollar minimum for cards. Also, I didn’t have five dollars in my card, so this, compounded by the fact I got the table right in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, felt like a killer sweep.
And with all those wee gains under my belt, I thought I could finally approach the foulness that had been bubbling up inside me for a full year. I had let some of it out before, but seems insignificant now. I had basically said I felt like a loser, and while that is still true, I later understood I was grappling with what made me feel like a loser: loss.
A finished draft for what would’ve been Loss (pt. 1) has been sitting in my desktop for the longest time. It is virtually identical to what you have read up to this point. But from here on out, I had said something along the lines of “let me tell you about fucking loss: I’ve lost a father, a boyfriend, nearly all of my friends in this city and am weeks away from losing my authorization to work in this country, as my OPT comes to an end. With no other job in sight, I am bracing myself for the loss of the life I have built here and my hope to stay”. Thus setting Part 1 to be about my dad, Part 2 about my ex and Part 3 about New York.
All that stands. I still wish to export all that bullshit out of my brain. Heaven knows, now that my EDA did in fact expire, I have nothing but time. However, I realized it implied I was, more or less, equally devastated by all three. I was not. What I had wrote for Part 1 made me feel good… and that’s how I know it wasn’t honest. I minced my words. I tried to look good. I didn’t lie in what I wrote, but I was purposely focusing on the positive feelings I was left with, instead of the full truth:
I promised ugliness and here it is: I wasn’t moved by my father’s passing.
No, I promised ugliness and here it is: I don’t care my father died. He was “an unsettling reminder of a life not lived”, of the wellspring and offspring we did not turn out to be. I suddenly found myself performing grief while dealing with his loss. Putting on the mourning show for all the sympathetic people around me who were only sympathetic as long as I complied, as long as I bothered to clothe my relief with acceptance. But make no mistake, a loss is a loss is a loss, too. And this one was felt. In fact, it had always been felt. It started ages ago, on the night of my first earthquake.
I don’t really remember how old I was, my memory paints two very young kids watching TV while their mother is at work and their father is, as usual, locked in his bedroom also watching TV. I must’ve been no older than six because I didn’t truly know what an earthquake was until it introduced itself to me as it happened. My sister and I banged frantically on the door while the earth banged beneath us in similar fashion. All three of us stopped around the same time. My father came out to scold us but not immediately. Him and I have been dying ever since.
So you see, his actual death is the end of an ongoing loss to which I had become accustomed. The negative space of loss, as it turns out, is also loss. I don’t know how else to explain it, to you or myself. However, being Father’s Day and all, I believe it’s important to set the record straight: I absolutely do not hate my dad. That’s too strong an emotion, I didn’t know him well enough for that. My feelings are lukewarm at best, as they would be for a silent benefactor. Occasionally dampened by the fact he wasn’t always silent.
He was who he was and that is fine. I am an adult, I understand. I am not angry at him. I am not bitter nor resentful. I am at peace with us. But I will not make excuses for him to convince people that I am okay. I won’t remember him fondly in every conversation to appease my family. Death does not a saint make.
When somebody dies, people often expect you to immediately wipe their slate clean, no matter what, as if forgiving and forgetting were the same thing. As if acknowledging the unsavory parts equaled holding a grudge. Sugar-coating his memory seems a lot more offensive (and pointless), if you ask me. I don’t need that to remember him warmly in the few occasions that I do. I can celebrate the good without erasing the bad. That’s our whole story. It’s all in me. That’s what being human is. Denying it serves no one and it brings me no closer to peace.
Where absolution was needed, it was granted. I long forgave him for not trying and myself for walking away. I forgave us for this nothingness we had, if only because it stopped making sense to hold on to it. I believe he was ill-equipped to be my father, perhaps a father, and that I can understand. If nothing else, that deserves some compassion. Whatever anger I had went with him the last day we saw each other and, when he finally passed, I was relieved for both of us. Relieved he wasn’t suffering anymore, but mostly relieved I wouldn’t suffer our nothingness anymore.
Like any love story, some pairings are just not meant to be. They are what they are, last what they last and have the impact that they have. I was always meant to survive his absence. And I did. I wouldn’t have been able to earnestly hold his hand at the end otherwise. I believe it was important for both of us to let the other know we had owned up to our history and let go. No struggle or resistance, just acceptance and release.
And there it is, I admit it, I’ve let go. Entirely. I don’t think about it. I don’t feel any particular way about it. I wasn’t sad on the day nor am I today. I actually didn’t remember the one year anniversary had happened until half a week had rolled by. And even then I said nothing. I briefly considered texting my mom, but it felt contrived. I dismissed the idea immediately and spent the rest of my morning roll around the bed wondering why I felt guilted still into fabricating grief. I’ve let bygones be bygones and accepted us for who we were… and for that I am somehow seen broken or monstrous.