In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Autumn Leaves.”
Autumn is a time of beautiful colors. We watch the changing leaves shift us into another season. We gather the ones that have fallen in to large piles to jump in. We hear them crunch beneath our feet as we walk to our cars, schools, and jobs.
We dig out our beloved hoodies. Sit around campfires with our friends. Soak in the gorgeous sunsets glittering across the colorful trees . For most, Fall is but another season to love and cherish.
I, on the other hand, approach Fall as lovingly as the Grinch approaches Christmas. Fall is the signal of impending doom. There is nothing beautiful about Fall. It is about as beautiful as the Black Plague, or the onslaught of Ebola. Fall, is the symbolic representation of death. The entire world is dying around us, and yet, everyone smiles, happily. What fools.
The leaves are not changing, they are dying. The grass, dying. The birds, flying away. Fall is the opening of a long, dark season of cold and bitterness. Fall, is nothing but a cold, hard reminder of death… my dad’s death.
I was ten when I met my dad. A little, bratty, rotten ten year old. By then, I had figured out a thing or two about life. I had figured out that the only thing men were good for, was leaving. The time would come where it would be harder to keep trying than it was to walk away. When push came to shove, they all walked away. Again and again, every single one. That was what men did. That was what dads did. Good for nothing dads.
I for one, didn’t need a good for nothing dad. So, when this guy said he wouldn’t walk away, I gave him the longest, coldest, hardest stare that a little, bratty, rotten, ten year old girl could muster. My piercing blue eyes ripped into his soul and with a shrug of my shoulders and a tip of my horns, I said, “Bet me.”
When push came to shove, this man would be no different than all the rest. We would be nothing more than her children that were in the way. She would be nothing more than his punching bag at the end of the day. They were all just the same. There was no fooling me.
I didn’t need a dad. I didn’t want a dad. He, was not my dad.
Yet, there he was, bringing my mother roses from the rose bush that he grew outside his living room window. I watched, knowingly, waiting for her to prick her finger on a thorn and realize that there are no happily-ever-afters, after all.
She never did prick her finger. Instead, she married the guy, and moved our family three states away to a home far from the life that we had known. But, tucked away in the baggage of that giant U-haul truck was a piece of little, bratty, rotten ten year old me clinging stubbornly to the certainty that dad’s were good for nothing.
I found out early on that he was dying. Diagnosed with COPD and emphysema, he was told he would die two years before we had even met him. It was just a matter of time, and he too, would leave. They always left. But I was strong. I was smart. I knew a thing or two about life. I knew, that I did not need a dad. I did not want a dad. He, was not my dad.
The years passed and before long little, bratty, rotten ten year old me was independent, stubborn, rebellious teenager me. I was much like every other teenager in high school. I just wanted to be normal. Normal kids did not go home to dying dads. Normal kids did not fear that their every word could very well be their last words to their dad. Normal kids did not struggle to accept a dad into their lives, that they knew without a doubt, would be leaving.
My friends at school would gush about how they went to the mall with their daddy over the weekend and bought this and that and the other. Over the weekend, I had went to ICU with my daddy, where doctors had to re-start his breathing. How do you even begin to normalize that situation when you are 14, 15, 16, 17 years old?!
As my dad struggled to stay alive, I struggled to live.
My parents really did try everything. Counseling… endless counseling. Court interference, or shall I say intervention? Long story short, I ended up in foster care. It started as a weekend here, and a weekend there. Respite services they called it. I assumed that I was such an unwanted creature that my parents simply needed a break from my horribleness. I would later realize, that they knew all too well, that I needed a break from my very life.
The foster home thing became more regular. Soon, I was going to the same place again and again. As things got worse at home I fought to return to foster care. They assumed it was because the foster parents were bribing me with fancy trips to amusement parks and summer camps. Maybe that was true. To me, it was simply because, I felt normal. I was a normal teen, with a normal family, where no one was dying. I could come home to a normal house and do normal homework, like a normal kid.
It wasn’t that I loved one home over the other, or one set of parents over the other, it was simply that one house provided an escape from a reality that I was far too young to comprehend, let alone deal with.
It would take me years to understand my actions towards my dad. To understand why every time that my dad tried to get closer, I pushed him further away. To understand that I was grieving his death, years before he was ever dead. To understand, that he never did walk away.
Because of his persistence though, there were good times that slipped in there. Times that he taught me about his store. Times that he made jokes, making me laugh my milk straight out of my nose. Times that we gardened together, cooked together, cleaned together.
Times… like the time that he told me about the ring that he carried on his key chain. It was a simple ring. Round and plain, tarnished from the years it had survived. It had likely come from a quarter machine, once upon a time. He had carried this ring around for over 30 years. He had even lost it twice, only to find it again.
After his death, Mom would ask me what I wanted of his things. She wasn’t there the day that my dad had told me about that ring. She looked at me as though I had lost my mind, but I wanted nothing more than that silly little quarter ring, that he had carried around for longer than I had been alive.
My dad was the talker, the listener, of my parents. When I would open up, that is. He gave me the best conversations one could ever have. The advice that only a man of experience could give. And, when I needed someone to run to, he was where I always ended up running.
This is when I miss him the most. The days when I want so badly to confide in someone. The days that I’m looking for someone to tell me that they’re proud of me. Someone to show me how far I have come. Someone to love me, the way that only a dad can love his daughter. It is in these moments, that my heart truly aches, knowing, that he isn’t there to run to anymore.
He was gone, just like so many before him. They were all the same. Good for nothing but leaving. It was the worst bet that I had ever won.
But, this good for nothing man, had fought through the shadow of death, to be my dad. He gave the last years of his life, his last breath, to prove to little, bratty, rotten ten year old me, that they were not all the same. It took being pushed out on a gurney into a coroners truck, for MY dad to walk away.
In early November of 2002, the leaves on all of the trees slowly died, the grass withered and wilted away, the birds disappeared from the skies, and my dad was ripped away from me, just as the life is ripped away from the earth every Fall.
Every year, on the very moment that the first sign of Fall lands on my doorstep, I see nothing but pain, nothing but tragedy, nothing but death… my dad’s death.
I begin to long for a spring that is so far away and a life, that will never return.