I know I write about my dad a lot, but I have to say that when he died, it was a pretty pivotal moment in my life. I was twelve years old when he died suddenly during the night, yelling, thrashing, and ultimately crashing to the floor out of his bed in the room next to mine.
I didn’t always handle his death well. At first, nothing really seemed different. Well, except for maybe the obvious fact of him missing from the dinner table at night. In some ways I was relieved after he died. The kids in my class who had tormented me day after day for years, taunting me in the hallways, setting me up for humiliation over and over again, throwing things at me when they thought I wasn’t looking, finally relented once they heard the news. I have to say I liked that. My dad accomplished that in his death: he got those girls off my fucking back. I guess I was grateful.
But over time, I became extremely depressed. When I was 13, I started considering suicide. I’d even planned out when and how I would do it, but I never had the balls to actually make it happen. Instead I fantasized about it constantly. And soon enough, I got to high school and the teasing started again, only this time in a much more veiled way and with much more of my heart at stake.
Outside, I appeared to be doing great. I was accepted early decision to NYU. I went and I did well. But by my senior year, I was trying to force myself into alcoholism. I knew I wasn’t addicted, but I knew that my dad had been, and somehow it made me feel closer to understanding him if I was drunk. So I drank. A lot. Alone. Sometimes I’d drink an entire bottle of vodka by myself in a day. One day I woke up next to my bed, my face in a scattered pile of pills I’d dropped the night before, trying to alleviate my headache. As I was crouched in the bathroom, dry-heaving and retching over the toilet, I started to think that maybe, something would have to change.
And somehow, over time it did. I graduated. I got a job. I found a therapist. And I found a way to survive. I realized that maybe my dad’s not completely gone from my life. That I have other ways I can remember and be close to him. Writing about him is one.
I decided to change careers and now I am on a path to become an art teacher, just like my dad. While emulating him wasn’t my main motivation (this time), I have to say that I feel connected to him as I go through my coursework. It’s only the third week of classes, but as I sit through my art history course, I think of my dad. I think about how on those lonely drunken nights, I would have given anything to go out for a coffee with him at Starbucks and make plans to go to the Met together. I’d always felt that art was a language I wanted to learn but that my dad was the only one who could teach it to me.
Somehow I am learning now that I have already begun to teach it to myself.
Yet I still have my dad to thank for showing me the way.