I’m sorry. My name is Diane and I suffer from short-term memory loss.
This feels like an end and a beginning. Today does. I think this is what full circle feels like. I am here today, where I am, but I’m seeing flashes of the past. I can’t quite make them out but they are leading me to something. I am looking for something. Who I was when I felt secure. Who I was with when I felt confident. Where was I when I felt loved for the first time??
I was born into remarkable privilege. I see that now. The kind of privilege that comes from unbreakable security and nurturing, where my sister and I always came first. This is a privilege more valuable than money, but it sets a high bar for the rest of your life, and – quite frankly – leaves you a bit vulnerable.
It all started with my parents – the picture of true love. Not love that was loud or in your face, but like two horses standing next to each other in a field always head to tail, tail to head. Steadfast and mutually respectful.
I thrived in this environment: consistently calm, quiet, and predictable. I know this is why I am still happiest when I feel warm and secure. It is home to me. My mom always said she could go out into the world and do anything just knowing that my dad was waiting back at home, both physically and emotionally. I see that I was raised with that security. Like a Roomba always docking to recharge.
My dad’s cancer diagnosis in 1998 slashed a jagged hole across my Norman Rockwell family portrait. It was like the big bad wolf blew our house down. What I thought was brick now seemed like straw. Living with this new instability was disorienting and nauseating. Like sailing on the open ocean with your eyes closed.
On February 16, 2006, when his final breath came and went, it was cold and snowy in Baltimore. My home felt anything but warm and secure. All I could think about was getting back to Atlanta where the streets were clear and I could run in the afternoons. What I didn’t realize was that my rush to freedom – relief – was the beginning of a self-imposed prison sentence. Solitary confinement, really. I would shove my grief so far down that it felt like I swallowed an anchor. I tried to move forward with my new freedom from cancer, but when you deny a part of yourself, you deny your whole self. You don’t get to pick and choose what parts of you see the light of day. Because while you are holding your breath hoping the topic of your dead dad doesn’t come up, you aren’t listening to what is actually being said. You pretend and you act, but you don’t really participate. This to me is the definition of misery, but I didn’t know what else to do. So, I did the best I could.
The anniversary of my dad’s death is 2 days after Valentine’s Day. Always 2 days after Valentine’s Day. 10 times now. I had so many things I was going to do over the last 10 years, but I couldn’t manage to do any of them. I was too lost. Too vulnerable. I was concentrating too much on swallowing.
Then as my own cancer stripped me down, I stood naked and defenseless. The same treatments that left me vulnerable to shingles, also left me vulnerable to my own memories. I didn’t have the resolve to swallow any longer. That’s when the flashbacks started. And through the tears came an inkling of what I had lost.
I took the girls to see Finding Dory last week and it struck me that I’ve been swimming around the ocean a lot like Dory. Lost but not really realizing it until I saw a flash of where I came from. Who I used to be. When I felt loved.
Then I remembered! I have a goal now! I know what I am looking for!
I’ve been asked how I honor my dad. Until now, I had no answer. Better yet, I couldn’t admit to my failed attempts. But now I think I’m ready. I’m beginning today.
It’s time to rebuild my home, one word at a time.
My mom told me shortly after my dad’s death, that I was the closest thing she had to him. Back then that seemed like a huge burden to bear. How could I fill the colossal hole that he left? I am starting to revel in the fact that maybe she’s right. I just might be the one to get the job done. I’m embarking on a new journey to figure out who I really am and what parts of me come from him. To sift away the unnecessary and see what’s left – what’s true.
We are BOLD – my dad and I – honest, confident, sensitive, defiant, stubborn, politically incorrect, and somewhat funny (in an often-misunderstood kind of a way).
The similarities are undeniable and we are forever intertwined.
* The other epiphany I had in the same movie theater.