For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a daddy's girl. I used to dream of being the one who grew up with a strong protector, one who's there for every major life moment, picks up the pieces when things go wrong, and encourages me to always keep going. But that dream never became my reality, because you had another love in your life when I was little, one that took priority over me. The first time I realised you drank more than the average person was when I was in middle school. I remember wondering what coffee tasted like, grabbed your mug, and was met with the burning sensation of vodka hitting my throat. That moment is not something I have forgotten about, even after all these years. Apparently, this had been your preferred method of drinking for longer than anyone knew or cared to admit. Every one of the four times you've been admitted to the hospital for almost drinking yourself to death, I wished and prayed you could just be "normal." I held out hope that each time would be the moment you decided to choose your family over the bottle, and actually stick to it.
I tell myself (and other people) that you've used up all your chances with us, but no matter how many times I say I'm done, I always manage to let you back in. I tell myself that this one more chance is going to be the one that changes everything. But I learned early that your promises were meant to be broken, and the only people I could depend on were those not at the bottom of a vodka bottle. But despite you never following through on those promises, you not calling on my birthday, and your general view that I can't be bothered with you, I somehow remain hopeful.
I learned early that your promises were meant to be broken, and the only people I could depend on were those not at the bottom of a vodka bottle.
I remember one night I couldn't sleep, so I decided to start counting things. I counted birthdays I've celebrated, cars I've owned, and various people I've met in my life. Then I started counting years, and I realised the early years of our lives weren't that different. You got married when you were 23 (so did I), you turned 24 when I was five months old (I was 24 when I had my first baby), you were active duty military (I married into the military), and you and my mom moved a lot and went through a few deployments (we've moved four times and have been through two deployments). I, like you, could have used any of these reasons to use alcohol as an outlet. But I refuse. I, unlike you, refuse to let my children see me destroy myself the way I watched you destroy yourself.
It was your birthday this month — I know you turned 58. No matter where I go, no matter what I'm doing, I always remember your birthday, and it didn't pass over our house quietly. I was consumed by a numbness deep in my heart, and I cried because I didn't call you . . . because I felt I couldn't call you. Maybe it's the same way you felt when it was my birthday and you didn't call me. Maybe you cried on my birthday too. Did you cry on my birthday? I sure did. I guess we aren't very good at birthdays, you and I.
Does it surprise you that I think about you so often? Do you believe I just think of you as an alcohol-fuelled monster? Sometimes I reimagine you as this monster because it's easier to pretend that's all you are. Yet, there are things I still miss about you. I miss you singing The Beatles to me and sissy when we were little, I miss the uncertain smiles at our funny little girl ways, and I miss how you used to encourage me to keep running. I don't know if you were sober during those things, and that breaks my heart, but those are the parts of you I hope you can find again. They're in there somewhere.
I told your grandchildren that you're sick, because being sick is something all three of them understand. They remember coming up to "see" you when you were in the hospital the last time you had to be admitted because your liver was shutting down (I use that word loosely, because I didn't actually let them see you). It broke my heart to see you like that, in a medically induced coma, with tubes and wire all over your body. I was worried you had finally succeeded in drinking yourself to death, and I didn't want that to be their last memory of you. As I looked at you hooked up to all those monitors, and watched the nurses fuss around you, I knew my children wouldn't see you for a long time. I should have explained things to you better the last time I talked to you. I should have told you I love you, but that you can't be a part of my life if you continue to drink. I should have said a lot of things, but I know it's mostly just noise to you when you're not sober.
I miss you, dad. And I'm here to beg you, once again, to choose us. Choose me. If you do, I'll be here waiting for your call.