Three minutes ago, I firmly and finally decided to write this blog post.
Seven minutes ago, I decided against it.
Ten minutes ago, I hung up from a phone call with my mother, who’s gracious and loving enough to help me untangle every emotional knot I every find myself in, even when what I’m crying about isn’t really what I’m crying about.
Two hours ago, I called my mother to tell her the dog food was ready to be picked up at the vet’s office, and she asked if I was okay.
Seven days ago, I started to feel like a human being again.
Five months ago, I had no emotions.
Four years ago, I watched two men I dearly loved pass away, one after the other.
Seventeen years ago, my father walked out on me, and I have never forgiven him.
Part of me still hesitates to write this. To let you in so you can see me. The exact me. The me who wants everything to be okay. The me who’s still trying to understand why fathers leave. (I don’t think I can understand.) I still remember the day when I found out he wasn’t coming back, even though that knowledge was a mere feeling at the moment. My mother sat crying on the couch, surrounded by one of my aunts, a cousin or two, and my grandfather, who passed away four years ago. I knew that my father had done something to walk away. He had redrawn in stone irreversible lines, and this final one put him over the edge of forgiveness.
After watching my brothers suffer abuse and my mother wade through the perpetual, malignant verbal storms induced by drugs, alcohol, and indifference, watching my father walk out should have served as a sort of balm, a relief that flooded over me. But I was six years old, and all I saw was his absence where there should have been a presence.
When our college chaplain stood behind the pulpit about a week or so prior to today, and apologized to all of the families who had suffered silently as the church refused to acknowledge alcoholism as a problem of social injustice, the six-year-old in me–who didn’t understand why she wasn’t wanted–was forced to reconcile with the pustule sucking at her twenty-two-year-old self’s heart. And I tried to be okay. I tried to stay calm and remain an unfeeling pillar of steel, impervious to the world’s emotions and feelings. (Who needed ’em, the foolish things?) Instead, I crumbled like microwaved butter–looks solid, until you touch it. Then everything spills out.
I had never wanted to look at the wound festering somewhere underneath my intellect, guarded by the whips of Sarcasm and Wit, protected against all battering by any emotion bound to rock the world I knew. In a world full of oceans, I had cast my ship onto dry land and pretended to sail. The sunshine, the birds, the companions I allowed on board, the water somewhere in the distance–all of it did give me joy. But it was joy that I knew was safe, a venture not risking all.
I don’t know when I abandoned ship. Maybe I’ve still got one foot in the boat, or maybe I’m floundering in the waves and pretending I know exactly what I’m doing, and I don’t. I can’t decide yet. What I do know is that amidst the pounding white caps and sea foam choking every orifice through which I try to breathe, God is keeping me afloat. He is my life ring, and I know He’ll never let me drown.
Years later, I realize that the abandonment I suffered was not due to something I did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. My father walked out because he chose to; and six-year-old me is helping to put a band-aid on the heart of twenty-two-year-old me, and is patting her hand saying, “It’s okay.”
It is okay. What happened is not, but the vulnerability that I’m learning to embrace, the hurt that can turn into compassion for others, the trust that forms when I tell my story, the bitterness I’ve let go of because I can see now that it wasn’t my fault I was abandoned–that’s all more than okay. That’s healing. That hurts. But every seed dies before it has the chance to grow, else it shrivels and never blooms into the redwood it has the capability of being. I have the choice to either stew in my bitterness and never trust again, or I can die to this, bloom, and become a monolith God uses for whatever purposes He has for me down the road. Two hours ago, I watched God open a door to the trust I’m capable of holding. And it was beautiful and frightening and so worth it. After all I’ve been through, and through what’s still to come, I can confidently stand and say that I survived, and I still lived to love.
I choose to be a redwood.