To my Dad: A list of observations.

I was peeing when Alec called to tell me that you’d died. “Pea bladder.” That’s what you called me on road trips. Appropriate, maybe, that when you took the trip of your life —I’d be on the toilet, fresh off a conference call.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Hey. Dad died.”

“Oh, right. Ok. I guess that makes sense.”

It didn’t make sense. I’d said goodbye to you, and then convinced myself you weren’t dying. Just that morning, I thought: “Maybe he’s going to pull through. I’m a dick for giving up.”

I was going to call you, and tell mom to put the phone to your ear, and tell you I hadn’t given up.

After he called, I went into shock.
What the fuck do I do.

I couldn’t get dressed, so I left in sweats and slippers. Talking to myself. Get in a cab. Get somewhere to someone you know. Sit. Breathe. I started laughing hysterically, once I got to Alex’s — talking to her about what to do with my day, laying on the floor with her Rottweiler who, instinctively, knew. Over the next several weeks, he’d come and sit next to me constantly, watching guard over the invisible energy of panic and fear that people don’t tell you grief feels like.

What the fuck do I do. What the fuck do I do. What the fuck do I do.

Some days, I slink down to my knees in bathrooms. At work. At bars. At apartments, and house parties, and in the middle of the dates.

What the fuck do I do. What the fuck do I do. What the fuck do I do.

The memory of you throwing up blood comes back to me. 
What the fuck do I do.

The memory of you calling to tell me there was a new spot in your lung. 
“I’m really damn bummed.”
What the fuck do I do.

The memory of realizing that I’d lost you, and there was nothing — literally, nothing, that would make it feel better.
“Can we go to dinner?” I remember the emptiness of staring. 
Asking my boyfriend to be somewhere, every night.
“You don’t do so well in public, though?”
Later, drunk crying in a karaoke stall.
“Let’s just keep drinking.”

Anything to get away from the empty.
What the fuck do I do.

The repetition of the question made me angry. It made me desperate. It made me empty, and overwhelmed and unsure of who I was.

Mom grieved by staying in bed. I grieved by working too much. I grieved by not grieving. I grieved angry. I grieved drunk. I grieved in the dark of a SoulCycle studio, hating everyone around me, crying in the dark because I didn’t want to be alone, and didn’t want to cry in front of a bunch of girls in Williamsburg wearing neon and lifting 2lb weights in succession. One, two. And one. And two.

I angry cried over those god damn fucking weights.
One. What the fuck do I do. Two. What the fuck do I do.
And one. What the. And two. Fuck.

Put your weights behind you.
…do I do.

Dad, you once told me that you wandered in the wilderness after losing your mom — that you needed your life to count for something, after that, because you’d been so close to death. I was 15 when you said that. And, I was 25 when you told me you were afraid it hadn’t counted, in retrospect.

When you said that to me, I felt the same way I used to when you would apologize to me after we argued. I was in highscool. I need I was an asshole. You knew I was an asshole. But, so were you. And, you weren’t afraid to admit it to me. You’d tell me things about yourself — “I was afraid of xyz.” Or, “I lashed out because I struggle with xyz.” Your honesty would break me wide open, and I’d want to scrub out all the shame I could see you feeling, knowing you hadn’t been as kind to me as you wished.
You’d stand there, being sorry. 
Me: what the fuck do I do.

Later, my stoic, angry, smart, compassionate, intense father who never cries, crying big, tears over your burnt, mid-radiation skin. Bulbous. Not looking like you. 20 treatments out of 40 in. 
What the fuck do I do.

“We’re halfway,” I used to tell you. “Your cancer is halfway gone.”
And you, curling up in blankets, staring blankly, watching Spanish shows with subtitles, and telling me you were finally starting to “love my man Obama,” looking at me quietly and saying, “is it?”
What the fuck do I do.

“The fuck is your life. Answer it,” Cheryl Strayed writes.

Dad, they say your brain begins to clear at a year. And, I’ve begun to realize that this question — this driving, panicked question that I’m asking of my pain and my fear and your death — will make me the person that I’m meant to be. I am privileged, in this unreasonably harsh way, to be forced to ask the question, over and over and over again.

What the fuck do I do.
What the fuck do I do. 
What the fuck do I do.

I’ve found lists since you died — lists of observations. 
Lists of qualities you wanted to change. 
Inventory at your mill. 
Pros and cons about trusting people. 
Pros and cons about yourself.

Your life counted. First. For me — in me. All that wandering in the wilderness, all that questioning. It has been passed on to me, and it’s led me places I didn’t know I needed to go.

But your death counted too. And, I believe our relationship is continuing, since it happened. I’m growing and maturing and changing, still, thanks to you — your work and experiences counting, even now. So, here’s a list for you, about the things I’ve learned as I’ve turned my questions over and over and over in the dark.

  • Break. Wide open, in the safe spaces where it’s okay to break. Despite shame. Despite the voice that says, “it’s weak to break like this.” Despite the voice that says, “you’re ugly crying.” Despite the voice that says, “Nobody can handle all this sad coming out at once. Go home by yourself.”
  • Give up. Being angry that I’m sad. Let myself be sad.
  • Give. People need my compassion, because many of them do not understand my loss. They say stupid shit, and I hate them for it. I can hate them and see them at the same time. And, gradually, the seeing overcomes the hate. And, I can find some love.
  • Be smart. I’ve learned that the endless drive to work so I don’t feel doesn’t help anyone. I’ve started working smarter. Then, I sleep. I talk. I find love and meaning. I spend moments turning my life over one small leaf at a time — and I rediscover myself. And you. That takes careful tending to. It’s worth it.
  • Leave. Early and often. Men. Bars. Jobs I don’t like. Moments I feel uncomfortable.
  • Stay. Late. Conversations that are deep and real. Moments where real love is present. Unexpected connections where I feel seen.
  • Push. For the interactions that feel like I’m building a chosen family.
  • Get up. Every time it starts to feel stuck in me, and I can’t handle the question anymore. Run. Sweat. Get out of bed. Roll over. Feel your own belly, and your head and your legs, and your fingers and toes. Recognize you’re alive. Then, get up.
  • Stop. Give it a second and let the grief come through your body. It will, eventually, pass. And you will breathe again. Until then, take a knee. You’re out. You’re benched. You can’t do it anymore. And, that’s ok.
  • Time. You remember yelling it to me on the soccer field? Ball’s at your feet, and you’re unsure what the fuck to do. But, breathe. Take a minute. It will come to you, if you let it. You don’t need to know just yet. Look up. Look around. Then, begin to move.
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