Going through my father’s old letters and notebooks has been both helpful and emotionally debilitating. I’ve locked away so many of those memories for so long. So long, in fact, that I began forgetting my past. I grew hardened to it, refusing to confront the pain that was my youth and early adulthood. Over the years, I think I lost my identity, having developed into a shell of a man, often emotionless, expressionless, exhausted. So many years wasted, just shuffling through the haze.
I also developed a case of “always expect the worst,” failing to be the optimist that so many good-natured people are. Looking to the bright side, waiting for the silver lining, seeing the glass as half full, getting high on life. None of those came easy for me, until I started this project. And it’s still a work in progress. One day at a time.
And so I’ve been forcing myself to go back down the proverbial Memory Lane in search of who my father was and, more importantly, who I am. It has been self-prescribed therapy, making myself confront the ghosts and shadows of old. Each of my father’s letters like an old photograph conjuring up brief bouts of laughter or all-familiar misty eyes. Each word like an unrelenting finger picking away at a scab.
But picking open the scab is necessary for my ultimate healing. With his letter below, another pick and a scratch.
Dear Cory and Sonya,
You know it almost seems to me that it would be an insult to you both by me again saying, “I’m sorry,” for all the embarrassment, hurt, and shame I’ve caused you again and again and still do. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.
By admitting that I’m sorry I’m afraid I won’t be able to see your confirmations or graduations, like the countless other things I’ve missed along the way. And the one thing I miss the most and which hurts the worst is spending time together. My life, at one time, depended on God, your mother, you, and my job. Losing all that is when I fell apart, but that is no excuse for my behavior.
I drink because I am an alcoholic, and that’s what alcoholics do best for the worst. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and when it’s gone you fall apart. And it hurts, only you don’t want it to hurt so you drink to numb the hurt. When you wake up from passing out, the hurt is still there. So the cycle continues.
Excuse me for getting off track. Back to the words which you’ve heard me say a million — no, make it two million times — before. Those two words probably don’t mean a whole lot to you because you’ve heard them so often, and they probably mean less to me because I’ve said them so often, so often that the meaning often gets lost. By saying, “I’m sorry,” I’m not asking you to accept or forget my insane behavior. No, I am merely asking you to forgive me if you can find it in your heart to do so.
You will probably never forget what I’ve done; I know I won’t. Nevertheless, you do deserve an apology from me. But I also think you deserve to hear the words, just three little words, which aren’t said or heard enough: I love you.
My one wish is that we could spend more time together, but realistically I know that would be impossible. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. … I’ll always remember the good times we had, but, more importantly, I’ve got to remain positive about the future times we may be able to spend together, God willing.
When I read that letter, an example of his many apologies, I found myself reliving the dreaded day after one of his many episodes. He always apologized; did I stop forgiving? I continued to hear his apologies, time after time, without seeing a change in his actions or behaviors. Relapse was imminent, his apologetic prose just a temporary bandage. But, yes, I continued to slap that bandage on because it represented hope, an underdog hope that things would actually heal this time.
I hope my dad knew that I forgave him each time he fell victim to temptation. Did mustering the forgiveness ever get tiresome? Yes. I’m human. We grow impatient and intolerant when progress doesn’t fit our time lines. One of the oldest sayings is: Forgive and forget. There is a big difference between those two actions, for they are separate and distinct. I forgave my dad and would forgive him a million times more. But for as many times as I forgave and would forgive again, I will never forget.
For years, I began forgetting. It came with emotional constipation and a memory blockage. To forget in the sense of “forgive and forget” is to pretend something never happened, to erase history, to ignore. I cannot. While I won’t let my father’s actions define me, I cannot live without acknowledging the series of events that have paved the road to today.