I sat in my driveway and wiped away the tears with a washrag in the backseat of our car.
“Why won’t he stay?” I sniffled out.
My grandma responded with something she thought as being uplifting, but it all just sounded like white noise. In my head, I kept repeating the words I was too afraid to say out loud. He doesn’t want me.
When people ask me about my family, I use my long-ago perfected causal attitude and say I rarely ever think about what could have been just to make the conversations end. I don’t like talking about how I grew up, because I’m still not sure what to make of it all.
I’ve never felt like no one in my life wanted me, but I felt like a hot potato that was being skipped around to whoever wanted me that day.
My father was around, but only enough to make me wish that he wasn’t. He’d flicker into my life right as I had forgotten he’d left and make me believe that he would stay. My other family members wavered into my life until I was permanently living with my grandparents and older sister and for the first time, I felt stable. I would spend weekends with my mom and my (half) sister, who occasionally skipped the weekends to spend time with her father’s side of the family.
Stability, however, didn’t last long.
In 2009, on Christmas Day, I was staying the night at my mom’s house when her phone rang around eight. She was in the kitchen and I was sitting on our couch watching Disney Channel and eating macaroni and cheese. From her hushed tones I knew she was going to ask me whether or not he could come over to see me, even though I had told her before I came over I didn’t want to see him.
When he walked through the door, I could immediately smell the alcohol on his breath. Maybe it was the liquor or simply having him be that close to me, but everything about him repulsed me.
I looked back at my mom in hopes she would save me, but she didn’t do anything. I was trapped and I could feel my face start to flare up. Again, I looked at my mom when he asked me to go into one of the rooms to talk, but she urged me to go with him. Once we got into the spare bedroom he apologized, slurring every other word, about never being there. Talking to me as if he hadn’t been alive as he allowed me to grow up without a father. He then reached into his pocket and pushed a hundred-dollar bill into the palm of my hand. I’d never been so disgusted by a person.
“I don’t want your money,” I whispered.
“So, that’s how it’s going to be?”
I nodded my head and walked out of the room and just like that, I watched him stumble out the door. That night was the last time I ever saw or spoke to my father.
After, something was unmistakably broken between my mother and I, and it’s been there ever since. The person who was supposed to protect me through anything, allowed me, no encouraged me, to walk into a situation that was too grownup for my thirteen-year-old self. I shouldn’t have had to tell a drunk that he couldn’t buy me. That he couldn’t walk in and out of my life and expect a daughter to shower him with love and excuses when he decided to come back. I should have had a mother to do that for me.
I hated him, and I hated my mom for putting me in that situation. Once he left, I went straight into my room and didn’t say a word. Through my mom’s apologies I nodded and pretended I was listening, but all I was thinking was that I never wanted to come back to this place.
There was no reason at the time for me to believe that walking into that room with my father would force me to grow up within less than a minute, but there’s something about seeing someone disappoint you over and over again that makes someone decide things have to change. It still breaks my heart that I had to be the one out of the two of us to finally realize that.
More than anything, I wish he would change, but he won’t, and I’m tired of being disappointed.
It used to feel like my father was something burnt onto my skin. That I would never get rid of the brand he’d left on me when he walked out the door that night. Over time, the scar has faded and it doesn’t hurt anymore, but I still know it’s there.
The hardest part is trying to explain the strained relationship I have with my family to people who have never experienced it. People don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to salvage a relationship with a parent, which is easy to say when you grow up with parents who don’t abuse drugs or disappear. My grandparents have given me a better life than my birth parents would have ever been able too, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about what my life would have looked like had it been different. Sometimes I wonder if my life would have been less complicated if my father had never been in my life at all.
I hadn’t thought about any of this for the longest time, pushing the memories deep into the back of my brain, but I recently read a book that made me rethink whether I wanted to explore my father’s side of the family again. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung explored her relationship with her adoption and in a weird way I felt that I could relate to her experience. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend. Reading about her struggles with adoption and her identity made me think that if I hadn’t known who my father was, the kind of man he was, I would never have been able to stop wondering if life would have been better with him. Now, after years, I know my life turned out exactly the way it was supposed to.
This won’t be the last time I explore my feelings about my non-traditional family, nor is it every detail that explains why it was so easy to cut ties with my fahter, but I think for now I’ve found closure on the subject. Just because someone is family or you share the same blood doesn’t mean they’re looking out for you. No one owes someone so deeply that you have to go through pain every time you let them back in. Some people are better left in the past, even parents.