I sat in the lobby of the police precinct sipping watered-down office coffee. It was disgusting and I regretted asking for it, especially since it was getting to be 1 AM. I had felt nauseous since leaving the car but ignored it and kept telling my grandfather and uncle light-hearted stories. The police killed the mood when they asked to photograph the stains on my grandfather’s hands and pant legs. We stared in amazement that all three of us had managed to ignore the presence of dad’s blood stains through the past hour or two of jokes and pained laughter. The officers took my uncle and my grandfather, leaving me alone. Then they took me to be questioned, the rest of the night a thick blur in my memory. Less than 12 hours later, I watched doctors remove my father’s breathing tube over Facetime. He was in the trauma unit of a Bronx hospital, only about 20 minutes away from home. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t see him in person. It might sound sickening, but I preferred it this way. A simple “end call” and I no longer had to think about the whole situation.
I was fifteen when I watched my father take his own life. He was too intoxicated to process what he was doing at the time, to say the least. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Not like the ones you see on TV though. My dad cared about my sister and me and tried his best, through his mental illnesses, to provide the best quality of life for us. He simply feared that he had fallen short, amongst many other suppressed and internalized fears of his.
I wish I could tell you how I was emotionally impacted during the months following these events but, to be honest, I don’t remember much. It remains difficult to see my friends talking about and being with their fathers. Difficult being that mine was here only a year and eight months ago and now no longer is. Difficult that he won’t see me graduate high school or college, that he won’t see me get married. He didn’t see my eight-year-old sister go to second grade. He didn’t see me get my first job, drive my first car, or dye my hair for the first time. He wasn’t there to reassure me when I failed my road test or to congratulate me when I passed my physics regents, he was there for none of it.
One thing (amongst many) that I’ve learned throughout this situation is the importance of moving forward. Moving forward is not forgetting the past, it’s taking past experiences, good or bad, and using them to build something better, to help others, and to find yourself. It’s not our circumstances or experiences that define us, it’s what we choose to do with them that does. I have also been helped to empathize with others through my understanding of my father’s circumstances. He wasn’t simply an alcoholic or a drug addict, he had genuine emotions and deeply entrenched problems as many of us do. Understanding this has helped me to let go of resentment and realize that others are dealing with major challenges too.
People ask me how I continue to move forward, how I laugh and smile despite everything. The way I was raised taught me that there are no other options. Lying in bed and letting life pass you by, no matter how much you may want to, isn’t an option. Instead, I got therapy, I talked things out, wrote things out, drew things out, whatever I needed to do to get everything processed and to move on. The past isn’t something to ignore, it’s something to process and learn from, something I intend to continue to do for the rest of my life