The Other R-word

Renewal, rebirth, and regeneration are all words we throw around this time of year. For me though, this time of year brings a strange heavy and dragging feeling of unbridled anger, a dash of depression, and a thunderous wave of resentment over the last nineteen years.

The last time I saw my father I was nine years old and after moving to a different state to work at a different military base as my parent’s relationship was dissolving, he came back to Oregon to visit and attempt reconciliation a year after their physical separation. But his drinking was just as bad, his anger was just as explosive, his moods still turned on a dime and he felt the need to satisfy his every whim by buying hundreds of books and dozens of flokati rugs—regardless of the state of our finances.

Easter weekend, the first truly sunny weekend that year, I went to bed with the knowledge that my father was boarding a plane back to Maryland in a few hours, and a suspicion I’d never see him again. But before he left to ride out to the airport he crept into my room, hunched over me as I cried, and told me that the possibility of seeing him again rested with me.

He told me that as long as I got straight A’s in school and stayed out of trouble he’d for sure come back, especially to see me graduate high school, but that the fate of his return rested on me alone.

My need to do well, to be good at everything at school went from coming from a place of wanting to be well-rounded, to a place of obsessive drive and a need for approval. But when spring would roll around and the first few sunny days would greet Oregon, I would feel this impending crash, and a need to hibernate in a duvet cave. I’d worked too hard, too early. That sun—it wasn’t just shining; it was like it was taunting me.

It wouldn’t help when all my classmates and teachers would remark how beautiful it was outside, when all you can think is that inside your head, it’s like a hurricane.

Sometime during middle school I started getting B’s and C’s in math, and I knew the stories we’d been telling ourselves, were just that. Coincidently, right around then, my dad stopped calling—blaming it on the time difference between the west coast and his new base. But when he moved only one time zone away, the calls never started again. Slowly his letters became less frequent; only arriving to deliver the monthly check, and allow him to wax poetic about the daily monotony of a military paper-pusher.

One spring when we finally went to throw all of his belongings in the garage out, I found piles of notebooks of poetry he’d written.

When I did finally walk the stage, graduating from his alma matter after transferring high schools, I looked up in the crowd where my mother, grandfather and a few friends sat. Even though logically I knew he wouldn’t be there, I felt this heaviness of his absence and that somehow if I had pulled off a 4.0 from 5th grade on, that he would’ve actually come.

Contact completely ceased between us on my twenty-first birthday, when my dad sent me a birthday card with the divorce agreement folded inside. It stated he no longer owed me a monthly check, and was no longer interested in maintaining contact as a result. At the very bottom of the card he wrote “good luck on your future endeavors”.

Unless I do something amazingly stupid, I should be graduating with my Masters degree at the end of May. Sure, it’s in Creative Writing, but it’s an achievement. Over a year ago, one of my professors emailed us grad students out this satirical clip from, called “a ‘Real’ Grad School Ad”, that pokes fun at what a waste of time grad school is. 

There’s this part where a studious looking young woman in the sketch says: “Growing up I based my self-worth on my ability to get good grades. Without a report card I’d have a nervous fucking breakdown.” I laughed way too hard at that part when I first saw it.

I used to have this dream of having my name on the spine of a book, so one day when my father would walk into a bookstore and see my name on a display, he’d realize he’d fucked up by walking out of my life. But slowly over the course of this whole grad school thing, with time marked as well for me by things like semesters and final papers, I realized me being a published author or not shouldn’t be the thing that determines how unfortunate that decision was. This whole dream of my name on the spine book now is important to me for a different reason—I want it and I want it for me alone.

I want it because I like the person that I become through the process of my writing; my writing challenges me to grow.

This spring, I’m using a different word to describe the season—revelation.

2 thoughts on “The Other R-word

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