2014 was a thing that happened. Honestly, I don’t even know how to begin to describe the year, but I think I’m in a good enough place to give it a try.
So, here’s my try.
The beginning of the year meant the end of my father. I found out that he passed away on January 1, 2014, and I didn’t know what to do with that information. You see, I hadn’t seen my father since I was eight. My last, most vivid memory of him (there aren’t many memories of him) was when he managed to track us down to our new house. My mom called the police on him as soon as he showed up, and he was a hurricane of anger and alcohol. That was probably the best way to describe the man: anger and alcohol.
What he was angry about and drank away, I’m still not sure. I never got the chance to ask him.
Whatever the reason, he was these things a lot. Not that I remember too much about him – or my childhood. I repressed everything that had to do with him. I have no memories of anything that happened while we lived with him, and I have no interest in getting them back.
I thought I was ready for the day he’d die. I spent all sixteen years he was gone preparing for it like it was an Olympic Event. I was going to get the gold medal in coping with your absentee father’s death.
But when the day came, when it was time to show the world what I had, I fell apart.
I didn’t know why I fell apart. Death is difficult (understatement) but, for all intents and purposes, the man had been dead to me for sixteen years already. I owed him nothing, he owed my family (and me) everything. He owed child support, so much child support, to my mother who had to work multiple jobs to keep us afloat. He owed me all the memories he robbed me of, and all of the time I spent watching my younger brother while my mom worked, and worked, and worked. He owed my brother an explanation as to why he wasn’t there, because he’d ask nearly every single day. After a while, he stopped asking because he stopped caring.
But all the walls and safeguards I’d built up for sixteen years crashed down when I learned that I also had two half-sisters. Before my father married my mother, he was married to another lady. I had sisters.
And it was weird then, because things clicked into place somehow. It’s weird to explain, but I’d gone through life feeling like there was this missing part. A hole that I couldn’t fill. But I figured it was just me being super philosophical, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then this happens and it’s cool and terrifying all at once. My family had known about them all these years and kept my brother and me in the dark. Once I realized that, the good outweighed the bad. It was rough enough to be betrayed by my father – now I could add my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and my hard-working mother to the list.
All I wanted was an explanation. Why were these people kept from me? When I couldn’t get one, I got even more frustrated.
My father’s death left me filled with grief, though only a small bit of it was over him. Instead, I grieved for the life I could’ve had, if only I’d known I had sisters while I was growing up. How I could’ve had people who knew exactly what I’d gone through with my father, because he was just as terrible with them.
I ended January with a broken heart. My heart would break a lot, though I didn’t know it yet.
My brother broke my heart in March. He’s struggled with depression for almost ten years now, and one night he called me, saying things that smashed whatever was left of my heart. I flew down to Virginia to show that he wasn’t alone, and that I really would be there if he needed me. I was already emotionally drained, and everything else I had went to making sure my brother would be safe when I left him.
Due to various circumstances, I wound up planning my father’s funeral. Since he was cremated, we waited until June to have the service. While I planned his service, every person I spoke to about it offered their condolences (I was tired of hearing that) and some (the Priest, definitely the Priest) were supremely unhelpful and even went so far as to ask me why I was the one planning the funeral. My answer as always that it didn’t matter why I was the one planning it. I just needed it planned.
But it kind of did matter. I planned it more for me than I did for him. I hadn’t seen the man in sixteen years. I couldn’t tell you what his voice sounded like, or his laugh, or even what color his eyes were. I planned it because that was a way for me to get closure. It was a way for me to know that this was final. I also planned it because no one else would.
No one else – not his siblings, or my mother – wanted to plan his funeral.
How sad is that?
My father was terrible, yes. Drunk, abusive, continuously unemployed – but he was still a person. Throughout this whole thing, I’d been trying to find something positive. Some glimmer of the person he was, because he couldn’t have always been this monster that haunted me.
I found the glimmer at a very odd time in my life. I was visiting one of my half-sisters, and our father came up. She told me about how they used to have dinner at his mother’s house, and how his father was worse than he was. His father would berate my grandmother, yelling at her about dinner and then refusing to let her sit at the table while everyone was eating. His father also couldn’t hold down a job, and when he did manage to get money, he spent it all on alcohol, instead of on his wife and kids, or the home they had. He was abusive, too, and terrible, too.
And my father was like me. He picked up the pieces. He was the oldest, the responsible one by virtue of birth order. He held down jobs, watched his siblings, did everything I did, but decades earlier.
All my life, I’d been terrified that I would turn into my father. But I’d already become him. Well, the good parts anyway.
For the first time in my life, I was able to sympathize with the monster.
I decided to take the good parts, whatever I could salvage, and ditch the bad. I couldn’t carry the fear around anymore – I wasn’t my father, and I wouldn’t make the same choices he did. I knew better, I could do better.
I’ll be better.
By the end of the year, I was crying on my kitchen floor at the end of every day. Depression had claimed me, as I struggled to reconcile my father’s death, my new family, my brother’s depression (he broke my heart several more times this year), and my family losing a very large sum of money that we didn’t have in the first place. Work had also been especially difficult over the summer and fall semester, so that added to my stress.
It didn’t help that I refused to acknowledge that I was depressed. Dishes piled up in my sink, sitting there for weeks – but I wasn’t depressed. My apartment got messier with each day, and I had no motivation to clean it – but I wasn’t depressed. I hadn’t written anything new since February, and couldn’t, just couldn’t, because everything I touched was worthless – but I wasn’t depressed. I cried on the floor for one, two, three, four, five days straight for no reason in particular – but I wasn’t depressed. I felt like I was terrible at my job, I couldn’t do anything right, I was a horrible person – but I wasn’t depressed.
And it’s weird, really weird, but the thing that helped me admit it was a horror movie. My friend got me to watch this Australian movie called The Babadook (which is a really awesome movie and you should watch it if you haven’t yet). I don’t want to spoil the movie, but it made me realize that I’d had more than my fair share of bad days, and I was, indeed, depressed.
I held everyone together while I was falling apart. I helped everyone find their way while I lost who I was.
And I fell, and fell, without realizing it.
The good news is, I’ve stopped falling.
The good news is, I was selected to participate in Pitch Wars this year, which was an amazing writing contest and the lifeline I so desperately needed – even though I didn’t know it. Pitch Wars made me focus back on writing, as I had to revise one of my books. I reconnected to something I loved, to who I used to be, and my heart stopped breaking. It pulled itself back together, very slowly.
It’s still trying to re-assemble, and will be doing so for a very long time.
For the first time in a while, I have hope. Although cynicism and sarcasm are quite natural to me, at my core I’m an obnoxiously annoying optimist.
This year leeched all of the optimism out of me. I walked around like a zombie, not feeling, or caring, or thinking. I was on auto-pilot, I was in despair, I was lost, confused, and locked away somewhere.
I’m not sure how the optimism came back. It just hit me one day, like the universe remembered it borrowed it and gave it back, apologizing for keeping it so long.
The good news is, I’m really looking forward to 2015. 2014 was a rough year – and not just for me. All of my friends had something terrible happen to them or the people they love this year. And that’s not counting everything that’s happening in the country and the world right now. But I’ve got a good feeling about 2015, because I think this year will be about change.
The world is changing, for better or worse (hopefully it’s for the better). I’m determined to change – to let go of things that are out of my control, and all the anger and resentment I’d carried around because of my father. I don’t want to walk around thinking he owes me anything anymore. I want to let the guy rest. Maybe he’ll find more peace wherever he is (if he’s anywhere) than he did in this life.
The beginning of the year marked the end of my father. So, it’s kind of fitting that the end of the year marks the beginning of whatever I choose to become. There are a lot of options out there, and I have no idea how this is going to go.
Despite whatever happens, I’ll be better. Which was the whole point of 2014, I suppose.