Dear Charlie, ("dad")

It’s been six years since you died from a heroin overdose. It's been six years and I have never visited your gravesite, until today. I can't even begin to tell you why because I'm still trying to figure that one out. Sometimes I forget the sad realities of my life. I’ve gotten really good at masking everything with a smile. I’ve gotten really good at keeping everything buried. People are always so surprised to hear the trauma I've been through because they'd never think in a million years that would be "MY" story. I know people on the outside look at me as if I have the perfect life, when in reality I've endured enough heartbreak for a lifetime. The thing is I never really have been okay.

I’ve been taking care of your mother and I want to begin by telling you how strange it is. It’s strange that I’ve always had a relationship with her but not you. It’s strange that I am living in the house that you grew up in. It’s strange seeing pictures of you everywhere but you’re not here. People get confused. I know they've always wondered but have been too afraid to ask. Why do you and your brother have a different last name? Why do you have like 6 grandmothers? Wait, so you technically have three brothers? Over the years it's been teachers, family friends, and sports coaches. Now, it's the therapists, the doctors, and the neighbors. They always hear me talk about my uncle, but never mention you. If I am being honest, it’s strange for me too. Something that I have never been able to wrap my head around. That you are my biological dad and I’ve never really known you. I grew up my entire life with a different last name than the family I grew up with. They took me in, loved me, and treated me as their own. You abandoned me because you abandoned yourself. Life was hard and you were going through your own struggles. But I was just a little girl who needed to be loved unconditionally. 

I experienced so much hurt at such a young age. I was a little girl growing up in drug houses, traveling from home to home, and was surrounded by alcoholics. I just remember it always being so loud. Someone was always yelling. Someone was always fighting. I needed stability. I needed consistency. Through therapy, I’ve learned that I disassociate. It’s a defense mechanism when my feelings become too overwhelming for me. My brain shuts off and it suppresses memories. I have very few memories that I can actually remember of my younger years. I remember feeling grossed out when you kissed me because there was always beer on your mustache. I remember you would hide your beer in different cups or in brown bags so grandma and grandpa wouldn’t see. I remember when I had my first Shirley Temple sitting at Lucky T’s Pub. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was younger than six years old. I remember your girlfriend Vicki always trying to mend our broken relationship. Everyone was always trying to mend our relationship. I remember seeing you at Tri-C as a freshman in college. I was too embarrassed to say hi to you and to this day, that breaks my heart. I remember you called and left a voicemail telling me that you got into an accident. I never called you back. You reached out telling me that you had an extra TV and was wondering if I wanted it. I never called you back. You were trying and I ignored you. You didn’t always try, but when you did I always ignored you. I tucked my feelings away into the deepest part of my heart. My heart wasn't ready to forgive. My heart wasn't ready to open itself up. I couldn't handle being burned anymore. I couldn't let you back in. If I let even the tiniest bit of emotion in, everything would come crashing down. I wasn’t strong enough yet.

It’s been a long time since I really remembered. I’ve blocked you out for so long that it’s something I forget I still have to heal from. I could go on about how you hurt me. I could go on about how I have trust, attachment, and abandonment issues. I could tell you how sad it makes me that I grew up my entire life never calling anyone dad. Something so little, yet so profound. I could tell you how my entire life I’ve been searching for my identity. Who am I? Who did I get my green eyes from? Who did I get my goofy side from? Grandma? Were we similar in any way? You played the guitar and I don’t. But it’s something I always wonder about. Maybe you would have taught me how to play the guitar or maybe I would have been more into music like you. I’ve spent hours searching for some sense of identity in grandpa's OCD marked family albums. Between me and you, sometimes I take our pictures and line them up next to each other. In search of the voids I feel in my heart. In search of our similarities. I have come to find out that we have the same nose, mouth, and freckle above our left eyebrow. I don’t think I ever hated you, I think I just never understood why you gave me up.

3 things I didn’t understand then but do now:

  1. Traumas from our parents and even grandparents can be inherited. Grandpa was hard on you, like his dad was hard on him. Over the years I have learned that Grandpa was a “His way or the highway kind of guy.” I know that his consistent negativity towards you affected you mentally. He put you down. He made you feel like you weren’t enough. I know what that feels like… to not feel enough. It hurts. It’s hard. And I’m sorry that he hurt you, and I’m sorry that you were hurting too. 

  1. Life is hard. Sometimes the only way through is depression. Depression isn’t to be taken lightly. People go their entire lives depressed. I believe this was you like it was me. It’s not something we ask for and it’s not something we want. But you learn that the only way out of depression is to fight. I fought to take back my life and I’m still fighting. But you gave up the fight and gave in to the needle. It was an easier fight. 

  1. Life is unexpected, just like I was. You never know what’s next and you never know what’s to come. Days can consist of just getting by. I never understood why my story was so different from everyone else’s. The outcome of my life was unexpected. I don’t think anyone thought that I would grow up with two people who weren’t my biological parents. I don’t think anyone would have thought that I would grow up with an entirely different family from the one that I was born into. It’s something none of us expected, but it’s something that I believe God ultimately ordained.

On your last day when you were rushed to the hospital, God was with you. The name of the nurse who was wheeling you in was Kristen. I remember Uncle Dan telling me this story and I just started to cry. I didn’t cry at your funeral though because I think I was in shock. I think I’ve been in shock for 27 years. There was a moment at your funeral that the pastor even looked at me bewildered. Wondering why I was smiling when I should be crying. You overdosed. You died. You were gone. Gone again. But this time, it was for good. I think I was smiling because it's what I grew up doing. On days that I was hurting the most, my smile would be the biggest. On days you didn't show up when you said you would, my laugh would be the loudest. My smile hides my biggest heartbreaks. This is the first time in a long time that I have opened my heart and let you fill my mind. If I’m being honest to you, and honest with myself, I’ve pushed you so far out of my mind that I have forgotten. I have forgotten how it brings me to my knees that you died thinking I hated you.  My heart aches at the thought of you holding onto every last breath of air with my name on your lips. It actually breaks my heart that you died without knowing that I have forgiven you.

I know that I have grown into a strong woman when I can look back and say I see a man who was broken. Not a man who didn't love his daughter, but a man who was defeated. You were not a bad guy but you were not a father to me. You didn’t take care of me because you couldn’t even take care of yourself. By the end of this year, I promised myself things will be different. I promised myself that true healing will take place. I’m writing this letter to you because there are some things that need to be said before I can close this chapter.

I want you to know that I don’t hate you and I don’t judge you.

I want you to know that I see you. I see what you’ve been through. 

I want you to know that I forgive you and do not resent you.

I’m sorry that I dismissed you as if you were dirt on the ground.

You were still just a broken little boy stuck in a man’s body. 

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