Dear Daniel

Dear Daniel

A Story by Victoria Edwards
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A woman writes a letter to a man who helped raise her, but who has since ventured into solitude.

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Dear Daniel,

‘Get your coat!’

As I approach 30, I can still hear you telling me to bundle up. I’ve never been a fan of wearing layers, especially as a child. Even now I scoff when asked ‘Where’s your coat?’ But you always made getting ready fun, ordering me to wear thicker socks while imitating moms’ voice. I remember that feeling of security as you fastened each of my coat buttons, explaining that left open I’d catch the flu. My boots were always double checked for warmth against the cold New York winters, and I know you had a say in those yarn stockings.

You helped protect me.

My parents divorce and father’s early death left me without a dominant male figure in my life. Yet you quickly filled those shoes, having always been close with mom. Which is why I was named after you. As a child I was proud of my name, boasting I was your namesake. As an adult, I have considered changing it. But I remind myself it’s only a word, a name given to me after a man who once had a great amount of love for me. And nothing can erase the past.

When mom remarried you continued to help take care of me, even staying with me as they enjoyed their honeymoon. They were wed on their favorite holiday, Halloween. Being a typical child, I was worried there wouldn’t be time for trick-or-treating after the reception. But it was a brutally cold fall day, and you made it very clear I would be safer at home.

‘But I’ll bundle up,’ I protested while batting my blue eyes.

We got home just in time, and realizing it could be my last year you allowed me to go. So there I stood in some cheap costume, waiting for your approval. After deeming my attire warm enough, my friends and I left.

Less than a few hours later I returned, eager to consume a tremendous amount of sugar. But you stopped me.

‘I have to inspect it first.’

‘Why?’

‘Because some people put blades inside.’

Once again, you protected me.

So many nights I lie awake in bed, sad my life isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. It is then I remind myself that not every adult can claim to have a wonderful childhood.

But I did.

Almost every weekend was spent with our small family, and the older I became the more I picked up on our quirks. We are narcissistic, egotistical, and hypersensitive at best. Mom assured me every family had its problems, and I soon found humor in our different personalities.

But not every family battles depression.

A few months after I turned 23 I moved into my first apartment. Just a small, one-bedroom, basement-level place I tried desperately to call ‘mine.’ Nothing to write home about, especially since home was less than five minutes away. But you would have no way of knowing that; I doubt your car has even been in my town.

Five months before I left home, right before the birthday you failed to even acknowledge with a card, grandma held a ‘Fall Party.’ Like my parents, it’s also her favorite season. Leaves turn from green to burnt orange, the air is cool and crisp, and people start bundling up. Birds fly south, not wanting to deal with the climate change. Many people become snowbirds after retirement, flying back and forth between New York and Florida.

Not our family.

The only drama occurred after everyone but me left. For over an hour I watched grandma consume alcohol while she cried about her life. I admit her and I haven’t always gotten along, but the more she talked the more sympathy I had for her. After all, you can never erase the past.

As we enjoyed the cooler weather from the safety of her enclosed porch, she let it slip that you once tried to commit suicide. I was speechless, and suddenly very eager to leave. How had no one told me? Granted it’s not something I would ever expect you-someone who has always tried to shield me from danger-to tell me about, but surely another family member would have. But perhaps they didn’t because of how I had looked up to you.

Out of nowhere you ceased contact with everyone but grandma, and she refused to say why. The man who helped raised me suddenly wanted nothing to do with me, no explanation given. The upcoming holiday season was disturbingly uncomfortable, as everyone tried to maintain a sense of normalcy while avoiding the pink elephant in the room. For the next three years I exchanged words of hate with mom about you; those were followed by nights of tears on my boyfriend’s shoulder.

‘Let him have his space.’ As a man he defended your actions. Of course, he was also known to pull disappearing acts. My friends often told me to leave him, but I failed to see the truth. And while my stepfather and I are close, I have never felt comfortable discussing boyfriends with him. But you…I could have heeded your male advice.

Shortly before I turned 26, three years after you disappeared, you resurfaced. I spent the heart of my twenties with a man whose main purpose was to seek and destroy me, and without a man whose main purpose was to protect me.

So there we all sat, waiting for news on grandma in the hospital waiting room. Hundreds of tears were held back as I sat across from you, stuttering through small talk with the rest of the family. It had taken us a while, but that pink elephant had become invisible. After months of trying to figure out what we did to upset you, we finally let it go. But that elephant could not have been any brighter in that small, claustrophobic room.

I turned to look at you, tempted to yell and scream until you fully understood my pain. But I lost my voice when our eyes met.

‘Why isn’t your coat zipped?’

‘I know it’ll ruin your hair, but you have to wear a hat.’

‘I know it tastes bad, but you need medicine.'

I left the room before you saw me cry.

Slowly you reappeared in our lives, although none of us were given a reason for your disappearance. The Scorpio in me wanted to shut you out, to cut the nose off to spite the face. But the child in me couldn’t. So I continued to correspond with you, my guard always up halfway.

‘Had sinus surgery for the second time.’

‘Not working mortgages anymore.’

‘Keith and I broke up.’

Your lack of interest helped keep that information inside of me, behind a steel cage that was slowly forming around my heart. But when I mentioned how much I detested you to the rest of the family, I was only reminded of your depression. So while I stopped construction on that steel cage, I didn’t take down what had already been built.

With the exception of a few holidays, our correspondence was only via email. You would go weeks without contact and then inundate our inboxes. They started out being funny, but eventually steered towards depression. All of us expressed concern over your wellbeing, but nothing could be done. We could only sit back and wait, hoping you would get better.

But of course you didn’t.

At least you hadn’t cut us out of your life, like you had before. Your last appearance was at the Labor Day party, one of our happiest. As jokes were exchanged amongst us I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be our last time seeing you. Your emails had gone from depression to anger, and we feared the worst. Yet for every angry email you sent about how bad things were in your life, there were five to reflect whatever happiness you still had. So as we made small talk, once again avoiding the pink elephant, I pushed the negative thoughts in my head aside.

The party ended with a tumultuous thunderstorm, which we observed from the porch. Unlike snowbirds, our family embraces Mother Nature. As bullets of water slammed onto the previously hot pavement, your future actions played out in my head. Just as the sun disappeared behind dark clouds, you would soon disappear behind your emotions.  Eventually the rain began to slant, hitting my exposed feet. I was tired of being rained on, and went inside alone. Exactly one week later, the call I had been dreading came.

‘They’ve arrested him.’

The hundreds of tears I held back years ago came pouring down, forming puddles of sorrow in my apartment. Mom read me your email, and I listened with shock as chills ran down my spine. How could the man who used to tuck me in at night display such violence?

As family members shared their conversations with you to the counselor, I remained frozen in my chair. The man they spoke of was not the man who held my hand while crossing the street, yelled ‘yay!’ as I opened Christmas gifts, and made me pancakes for dinner. He didn’t threaten to ‘take out’ his neighbors while subtly saying goodbye to us.

Three days later you sent an email that none of us were prepared for, displaying your anger in great detail. But this time it was directed at us. I felt my heart being ripped out from my chest, tearing open as it dragged along the partially built steel cage.

Our attempt at ‘saving’ you was misinterpreted on your end. Apparently when a loved one is suicidal you aren’t supposed to help.

Fall is upon us. Like grandma and my parents, it’s also my favorite time of year. The drop in temperature gives me an excuse to sleep in a little longer under the warmth of my comforter, snuggle under a blanket as I watch television, or even warm up with a piece of hot apple pie. But that alone won’t keep me warm; I must also bundle up.

‘Get your coat.’

Got it.

‘You need boots, young lady.’

They’re on.

‘Where’s your hat?’

I slowly pull the hat over my ears while staring in the mirror. Layers of fabric protect me from the cold weather, visible to anyone concerned for my safety. But what can’t be seen is the steel cage around my heart; the one I stopped construction on a few years ago and only recently finished.

Before I leave my apartment, which you have never set foot in and never will, one last image flashes in my mind. You and I are playing Frisbee in front of my grade school; I was about seven. As I catch it you remind me it’s almost dinnertime, and that we should leave.

‘But I don’t wanna leave.’

‘C’mon,’ you said while taking my small hand. ‘Listen to your uncle.’

I listened.

Sincerely,

Danielle 

© 2011 Victoria Edwards


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Added on October 17, 2011
Last Updated on October 17, 2011
Tags: family, paternal, father figure, essay, memoir

Author

Victoria Edwards
Victoria Edwards

NY



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