I will never send you this letter, which is the only reason I can write it.
I was looking at our wedding pictures last night. I don’t have them anymore – I got rid of them a while ago. Not because I hate you—just because it hurt to have them. But Mrs. Hernandez – you know, Kayla’s mom – she has them posted on her Facebook. Did you know that? Our wedding photos, on her goddamn Facebook, sorted into a little album that’s buried under her avalanche of three thousand other albums. I’d have never even seen them, except she was sharing every picture of Kayla she had. As I’m sure you know, Kayla’s in more than half our wedding pictures. She looks as happy as we do. I wonder if she was already using by then, or if that came later. I guess I’ll never know. Not that there’d be any point in knowing.
Here’s something you never knew: the whole day before our wedding, I was crying. Not because I didn’t want to marry you – I did, more than you probably know – but because I was so sad my dad wasn’t there. It was like I was on this endless merry-go-round of emotion; on one hand, I was profoundly grateful that he’d known you. The two most important people in my life were important to each other, too, which was precious. Not as precious as having him there, though. Not nearly.
It just hurt so bad, Danny. Our wedding was the first milestone my dad didn’t see. The first of many that he would never, ever, ever see. I guess you understand how that feels now, but you didn’t back then. Kayla did, though. So when I sat in her room, crying my eyes out because crying is the only way to keep grief from building up until it splits you open, Kayla sat with me and let me cry. That’s why, when four o’clock rolled around, I was able to put on my wedding dress and walk up the mangy purple carpet Mrs. Hernandez rolled out across her backyard – she sprinkled it with sunflower petals, remember? Petals from Kayla’s sunflower patch – and smile. Not because I wasn’t sad – I was – but because I could sense the joy growing underneath my sorrow. Sensing it made it stronger, allowed it to rise and coat everything, even the grief, with happiness. All because Kayla sat with me and just let me cry.
I’m sorry you never did that for me, and I’m sorry I never did that for you.
Our wedding photos are so beautiful, Danny. When I looked at them, I remembered every second of it. It was August and the day was stifling, but a cool wind came down the mountain during the ceremony. It messed up my hair, and yours. Mrs. Hernandez has a picture of you and me laughing in front of the makeshift altar, trying to keep each other’s hair back before we kissed. That’s the best picture, but not my favorite. My favorite is the one where we’re sitting at her splintery old picnic table. The sun had already set, but the clouds caught the light and blazed rosy and gold. The air itself glowed pink, even after twilight turned everything else blue. We look like we’re glowing, too. We’re leaning into each other, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. We aren’t smiling in that picture, but we look so content. Like we belong. Like we’re one.
I don’t even remember what we were talking about, and that makes me so sad I can barely breathe.
I remember what came after the wedding, though. It was four in the morning at the Holiday Inn in San Pedro, and I woke up crying, even though I’d just married the love of my life. It was horrific. Like I was being crushed. I didn’t want to wake you and make you suffer with me, so I got out of bed, grabbed my duffel bag, and took it into the bathroom. I riffled through it looking for my dad’s letter. You know the one. He wrote it just before he died, when I was tied up in that fucking job in Seattle. The one that wouldn’t give me any time off to see him. (The one that made you break up with me – not that it matters now, or ever really did.)
That letter meant everything to me. I brought it everywhere I went and I was sure I’d packed it, but I couldn’t find it. I started to panic. I used my phone light to search the hotel room until I finally found the letter, half-tucked under the bed. The relief was so overwhelming I could barely stand. I had to sit for a few minutes in the dark, willing myself to get up so I could go back to the bathroom and read it.
When my strength returned, I crept back to that cold shiny bathroom and read my letter for the thousandth time. I had it memorized by then. But it was less about reading the letter than about seeing it. Knowing that I was touching something Dad had written was both heartbreaking and soothing. It did nothing for the weight crushing my lungs, but it took the pain out of the pressure. This is what the letter said:
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But letters are always good, too. You can pull out a letter anytime and read it, which is helpful when you’re feeling sad. (I have firsthand experience because I still read all of yours, even the ones you wrote when you were at summer camp a million years ago). So I wrote you this letter. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
Nothing much has changed. I’m just keeping busy. I went to a football game last night. It was fun, but sad without you. I spent half the game talking to another guy whose son just left for college. I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation, but let’s just say we were both pretty soggy by the third quarter.
Work’s a mess (but you know all about that). It doesn’t matter how sick you are, things still have to get done. On one hand, I don’t like it. It makes me tired. On the other hand, I think it helps. Having a purpose, even if it’s exhausting, is important. The doctor is exhausting but important too. Same old news as always, I won’t bore you with what you already know.
It’s pretty cold here. I know, I know, it’s wintertime. But it’s different. Maybe because the winds have been so bad this year, but today you couldn’t even go outside without feeling like you’d never be warm again. Maybe that’s just me, though. I guess the world feels pretty cold for both of us right now. But it won’t stay that way. That’s the great thing about seasons. They always change.
I bet it’s pretty cold up there, too. Rainy all the time, pretty gray. So I was thinking we could brighten it up a little. Your apartment has some good, strong windowsills. I want to make a flowerbox for you. You could plant orange poppies. If you keep them inside and harvest the seeds, you could have poppies all year round. Your place would always look bright and happy, which will help you feel a little better even when things are grayest. I know you don’t have a lot of time, but if you take measurements for the length, width, depth, and distance to the window, I’ll build that flowerbox and bring it when I come to see you. It sounds pretty silly, but those flowers have a good effect on the soul. When I’m feeling sad, I go out to my garden and look at them. They always make me feel peaceful, and they remind me that nothing, not even sadness, is forever. I bet they’ll do the same for you. I harvested some of the seeds myself last summer. I’ll bring some to you. That way, next year, we can grow the same poppies together even though we’re far apart.
Speaking of which, I’ll be going to Midnight Mass on the 24th. I’m going to sit in the tenth pew on the left side, in the second-to-last seat on the left (because I know you like to sit on the end – I don’t blame you.) I was thinking you could go to Midnight Mass there in Seattle, and sit on the tenth pew on the left side in the very last seat on the left. So even though we won’t see each other, we’ll be together.
Try not to be too sad. Things will get better. They always do. Remember, seasons change. We just have to hold on and be as patient as we can.
Don’t worry about coming down here to see me. I’ll be visiting you soon, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble at work.
I love you so much and miss you every day. Don’t be too sad. We’ll be OK until the seasons change.
All my love,
I sat in that bathroom and read it again and again and again. Probably for hours. Long enough that you came to check on me, anyway. When you saw me crying, you started to cry, too. It was so sweet, and I loved you for it. Still do. But I’m sorry, too, because I know how helpless it made you feel.
I never took the measurements for that flowerbox. I went to Midnight Mass, though. Left-most seat in the tenth pew on the left side of the chapel, just like Dad said. I almost missed the service because work ran so late. I didn’t even get to call him, that’s how shitty work was that day. But I made it to church just in time, and somehow, even though the church was full to bursting, that seat was empty. So I sat there, and it was wonderful. I did feel like I was there with my dad. Like if I turned my head I’d see him sitting next to me, in the second-to-last seat on the left side of the tenth pew. Like we were really ringing in Christmas together.
Which is a fucking joke, because as it turns out, he’d died the night before.
Even though it wasn’t rational, I felt like my job, my apartment, and that whole fucking city were responsible for his death. I couldn’t drive to work, answer the phone, go to the movies, or even grab a pizza without remembering that I hadn’t been with him. That I’d never see him again. That he was dead, and no amount of love or depth of heartbreak or power of hell or scheme of man would ever, ever bring him back. That’s why I came back home. It’s not why we got back together, though. No, we only got back together because you felt so sorry for me. Which was fine. I needed you, and besides, I couldn’t stand the idea of being with anyone my dad would never even meet. That wasn’t the only reason I was with you, though. I promise. I really did love you more than I can ever say. That’s why it was so hard to see our photos. Not just because of Kayla, even though that was hard, too. But because when you see those pictures of us – dancing, talking, laughing, just being with each other – you can feel how much love there is. Like the love itself is alive. I think that’s the greatest tragedy in the world: that love as strong as that still isn’t strong enough to save itself.
You were strong for me, though. Too strong, sometimes. You tried to make me strong, too, which was a mistake. It didn’t make me stronger or less sad. It just pissed me off.
But when you mom died a couple of years later, I tried. I really tried to give you a safe place to be sad. You wouldn’t give it to yourself, though. You thought you were being stoic, but you were just being angry. You got mean. I understood. I didn’t blame you for it. But I do blame you for what happened on December twenty-third of that year. I was reading my Dad’s letter again. You came in after work and saw me on the bed. You turned to stone. Hard and cold, which probably would have been okay. Except you started to burn. I could feel it: Rage, building up until it started to emanate. To come out of you in waves, the way love comes out of our wedding pictures.
Finally, you snatched the letter out of my hand and threw it down. You screamed, “Grow the fuck up. Parents die. Mine did. But you won’t ever see me moping every goddamn year. You won’t see me crying in the bathroom every week. You won’t see me talking about my mom every goddamn day or whining about imaginary flowerboxes every goddamn Saturday, because I’m a goddamn adult. You are too, so will you please grow the fuck up>”
I get it. You weren’t even completely wrong. But it was the anniversary of the day he died, Danny. Fuck.
After that, I needed to read Dad’s letter more than ever. So, after you’d stormed out of the house, I found it tucked halfway under the bed, a few feet from where you’d dropped it, and started to read.
At first, I thought I was dreaming. You know how when you read things in dreams, it’s kind of correct but terribly wrong? World-bending, upside-down, heart-poundingly wrong? That’s what it felt like, and that’s because the letter had changed.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice, but I can’t hear you where I am, so letters will have to do. I miss you so much, and I wish you were here. But that’s not a productive line of thinking. Just makes us both too sad.
I’m not sure how to say this, but Danny’s in a bad place right now. He had problems with his mom, and what he just did wasn’t him. Not really. But it doesn’t excuse what he did. I don’t even know if I should be giving you advice, because between you and me, I just want to kick his ass. But I know you love him. So maybe give him a day or two, til he’s less soggy. Maybe wait till after Christmas. Christmas always brought out the worst in your grandpa.
About the flowerbox—
I folded the letter up along its creases, which were so deep they were wearing into holes. My hands were shaking badly, and I dropped it not once, but twice. I finally got a good grip on it and flipped it back under the bed.
I didn’t look at that letter again for three years.
For your part, you didn’t bring up your mom except when you got drunk. You’d cry…and then you’d get angry. Usually at yourself for being a stupid baby who cried for his druggie mommy, and always at me for telling you it was okay to be sad. Occasionally you’d just get mad at me straightaway and yell at me for living in the past and being a child, even though I didn’t read letters or cry at all anymore.
You didn’t get drunk often, though. So it was okay. And I knew just how sad you were. I always felt too sad to breathe, which was awful. But you? You were too sad to even let yourself feel sad.
So between us, I guess was the lucky one.
Your refusal to feel things only extended to sadness, thank God. When I finally got pregnant, you were over the moon. Happier than I’d ever thought you would be. To be honest, I thought you’d be angry (not because of anything you said or did – with the exception of handling grief, you were perfect. I should have known you’d be thrilled to be a father). When I saw how happy you were, it made me cry. Good tears, though. You could tell, and it made you even happier.
We stayed up all night talking about the baby. If it was a boy, we were going to name it after my dad. If it was a girl, we were going to name it Lacie, after your mom. You didn’t care either way, but I prayed for a girl. For one thing, I was scared that I’d never be able to say our son’s name – my dad’s name – without hurting, and I knew what that would do to you. For another, I thought a baby girl with your mom’s name would help you.
And when our baby turned out to be a girl, you cried. It made me feel relieved, because I’d been right. A daughter would be the best thing for both of us.
Everything was perfect, until it went to hell.
I’m sorry I lost my mind when she was born. A heart defect. What a stupid reason to die, and an even stupider reason to have never gotten to live at all. I mean, think about it - one way or another, we all have heart defects, and we all have to live with them. Our baby should have been allowed to live with hers.
I know it killed you inside to see my fight and scream and hold onto her body, but I didn't do it to be difficult. I wouldn’t let her go because somewhere in my hysteria, Danny, I really thought I could bring her back if I held her long enough. It wasn’t hope, it wasn’t wishful thinking, it was something I knew. The way you know that deep wounds need stitches. But imagine that one day, out of nowhere, nobody else knew it anymore. You’re sitting there bleeding out from a massive cut, but the doctor, the nurses, your family, literally everyone keeps saying that stitches won’t work. You’re dying, Danny, and everyone around you is telling you that the one thing you know will save your life just won’t work, even though you know better. Even though everyone knew better...right up until you were the one who needed stitches. That’s what it felt like. In my heart, my mind, my soul, my bones, I knew that our baby would breathe again if they’d just let me hold her for a while. But everyone – including you – was trying to take her away and keep her dead.
When the sedative wore off, the first thing I saw was you. You were holding her, crying so much your whole face was wet and swollen and barely recognizable. I looked at you for what felt like a long time. When you noticed I was awake – noticed I was watching – you froze. And then you turned to stone. I passed out again.
When I came to, she was gone, and you were still stone.
You never turned back.
When they released me to go home, you took care of me. You did a good job. But there was no warmth, no love. Only duty. Which was understandable. I know how hard I made it for you. And you know me, so you could probably tell that I was wishing my dad was there instead of you, which would have made it a hundred times worse.
On your first day back at work, you had Kayla come stay with me. I’d been waiting for this, for you to be gone for a little while. As soon as your car pulled out of the driveway, I asked Kayla to get my letter out from under the bed. I could have done it. I wasn’t crippled. But I was scared.
So Kayla dug it out for me, all covered in dust and loose hairs, and blew it off, then gave it to me. I felt sick when I opened it, and sicker when I read it.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. I heard your voice for a little while when Lacie was born. You sounded so sad. I told you not to be so sad, but you couldn’t hear my voice. You still can’t. So letters will have to do.
Lacie’s with me. She’s so little. I’m so sad she didn’t make it, but I can see why. She’s too little for the world. She’s perfect, though. Looks just like you did. It would have been such a joy to see her grow up. But it’s a joy to have her here, too.
I know your life is gray, honey. Gray everywhere, grayer than that last Christmas in Seattle. What you need is brightness. How you get it is up to you, but if you still want that flowerbox we talked about, I can help you. I can’t build it for you any more than I can talk to you, but I can write out the instructions for you. It shouldn’t take you long to build, an hour or two at most. When it’s done, you can put it on the sill in Lacie’s bedroom. It’ll make things bright again. Not warm. That only comes with time. A lot of time. But if it looks bright enough, you’ll at least remember what it feels like to be warm, which will remind you that you will feel warm again someday.
I wish I could hear your voice. I wish you could hear mine. But this will do in the meantime.
I love you, and miss you so much.
All my love,
It scared me as much as it soothed me.
I didn’t believe in ghosts. Still don’t. That made the letter both scarier and sweeter. It had to be my dad, I thought. Maybe God was giving me a break. Letting him through to comfort me when I needed it most. In any case, I folded the letter and tucked it under the lamp so you wouldn’t see it. I knew you wouldn’t want to see it.
What I didn’t know was that you no longer wanted to see me.
When Lacie died, it was like I killed your mom all over again. Maybe you really felt that way. Maybe it was because I’d made the stillbirth even more traumatic. Maybe it was because I saw you crying after. Maybe you were just tired. Too tired to feel anything for yourself, or for me.
Whatever the reason, we were done. No love between us except long ago, trapped in photos from a distant season.
You moved out a month later, the week I went back to work. Right in with Alexis. It destroyed me, but I got it. She was twenty-one, more beautiful than I was on my best day, and happy. Happy to be at work, happy to be at home, happy to be with you, happy just to be. Whenever someone posts pictures of you two together, I see the love between you. And I see the relief in your face.
Sometimes I wish it was impossible to fall out of love, that you and I had stayed together until the end of time. Sometimes I wish we’d never fallen in love at all. And every day—every single day – I wish you hadn’t felt so sorry for me when I came back from Seattle. If you’d felt just a little less sorry for me, we would never have gotten married.
And today, I’d hurt a little less.
It should come as no surprise, but the day you moved out, I tore through the house for my Dad’s letter. But I couldn’t find it. Not under the lamp, under the dresser, in the closet, the bedroom, or anywhere else. I called you even though you were at Alexis’s apartment, and screamed at you for destroying my letter. You tried to be sweet, God bless you. You were so kind during that phone call, so gentle. So gentle I thought you might feel sorry for me again. Sorry enough to come back to me. So I hung up.
Then I ran outside, and kept running. I ran and ran and ran and ran and ran, until everything hurt and I could barely breathe. I stopped at the park by our old elementary school. I found the bench we were sitting on the first time you asked me out, curled up, and slept.
When I went home, my dad’s letter was on the floor by the bed. This is what it said:
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But letters are always good, too. You know what isn’t good? Danny. Danny can go to hell. There are no voices in hell. No letters, either. There are no voices here, but there are letters. So letters will have to do.
You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. You can’t make people grow up if they don’t want to grow up. Danny doesn’t want to grow up, because growing up means you have to handle your own hurt. He never figured out how to handle his own hurt, let alone anyone else’s. Until he does, he’s going to ruin every last one of his relationships until he ruins himself. Just don’t let him ruin you. I know you’re hurting right now, but this hurt? It’s just a season of your life, and seasons always change.
Nothing’s changed where I am, though. Lacie is as small as ever. Where I am, babies don’t grow up or change unless their parents are with them, too. So you won’t miss anything. Think of it like this - she’s on hold till you get here. I hope that brings you some joy, knowing your baby and your dopey old dad can’t wait to see and hear you again.
Now, about that flowerbox. It kills me that I never got to build one for you. You need some brightness, especially now. Here’s what you’re going to need:
4 lengths of wood
1 length of wood cut to size to fit the bottom
Drill and screws
Paint – any color you want, but I’d pick blue – that’s Lacie’s favorite
Sandpaper – medium grit
Here’s what you do….
He had a full-bore tutorial, right down to how to use sandpaper. I read it again and again, memorizing it in case the letter changed again. Once I could recite it to myself without a hitch, I went to the hardware store for the supplies. It took me a couple of days to build the flowerbox (what can I say, building things isn’t my forte), but soon enough it was finished and the paint – a nice robin’s egg blue—had dried. It was pretty. The orange poppies complemented the blue perfectly.
That night, when I came out of the shower, I found the letter on the floor, half-tucked under the bed. It made me shiver; I still kept the letter under the lamp, never on the floor. It’s too dangerous on the floor. Exposed to cats and dogs and, well, you.
I picked it up. Every hair on my body stood on end – no mean feat when it’s all sopping wet. I was scared. Full of dread, a deer in headlights, because I didn’t feel alone, Danny. The room looked empty, but I felt eyes. More than eyes. A presence. Not a good one.
I unfolded the letter – soft and wrinkled by now, coming apart at the folds – and read:
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But letters are always good, too. You can pull out a letter anytime and read it. I wish you could write me letters. I wrote you this letter. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
You’re a good handy(wo)man, though! You did a great job with that box. You know what else is good? You picked Lacie’s very favorite shade of blue. How’d you know? Mother’s intuition, I guess.
It’s selfish of me but I wish I could hear your voice again. So does Lacie. She misses you so much. So do I. Every day, she looks at me and I feel her question: When’s my mommy coming? Later, I tell her. When she’s ready.
I’m glad you have so many seasons ahead of you. But I miss you so much and I wish you were ready now. Where I am, it’s grey without you. And hard to remember what it felt like to be warm. There’s no warmth without you, but you’d understand that since you’ve lost Lacie. At least we’ll all be warm when we’re together again.
I love you so much, and can’t wait to hear you again, Lucy. Until then, you’re in my heart.
All my love,
By the time I finished reading, I wasn’t scared anymore. It was wonderful, magical, and heartbreaking all at once. My baby had a favorite color. If she had a favorite color, she was a person. She was real. One way or another, she was alive. My dad, too. They were together, keeping each other happy while they waited for me to join them. Even when I felt cold and gray, even when I felt alone, I wasn’t. Not really. Because wherever they were, they loved me.
I read and reread and reread the letter until I fell asleep.
When I woke up, it was back on the floor, half-tucked under the bed.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But letters are always good, too. You can pull a letter off the floor and read it any time. I wish you’d write me a letter. I wish you’d talk to me. But that can’t happen where I am now, so me writing you will have to do. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
I just want to say good morning. Don’t be too sad. Seasons change. Not always for the better, but at least they change.
I miss you so much, and love you even more than that.
All my love,
For the strangest instant, it was like reality exploded. Everything got bright, happy, and warm. It reminded me a little bit of how I felt when our baby was stillborn, except inverted: joyous instead of dreadful. Because I was sure, absolutely, one hundred thousand percent sure, that my dad was under the bed.
I slid to the edge of the mattress, heart pounding with absolute euphoria, and dropped down so I could look underneath. My heart swelled, Danny. So big, so fast, so happy, I thought it was going to kill me…and I didn’t even mind, because it would have been such a beautiful way to die.
I so fully expected to see my dad under there that I couldn’t immediately comprehend that he wasn’t. Only dust and darkness, a couple of wadded shirts, and a kettlebell.
I slid all the way down to the floor and cried again.
I didn’t go into work that day. I couldn’t. I stayed home, on the couch, and vacillated between rereading the letter and looking through all the pictures on my computer. I printed a few. Mostly of my dad, when he was young and I was little. That’s how I remember him most of the time: how he looked when I was five years old.
I don’t even know what I’d give to be five years old again, riding his shoulders at the zoo. Probably exactly what you’ve give to be five years old and doing just about anything with your mom before her drug problem.
You were so militant about drugs because of that. I thought I understood it – I’m kind of a teetotaler myself. I don’t even drink. But I didn’t actually understand. Because even though I never used them, I sure as hell didn’t care if anyone else did. But you…fucking hell, Danny. I never told you, but I will now because you’re never going to read this anyway. So here goes: I think the way you talked about people who use drugs is why Kayla never told me she was in trouble. And she made the right decision. You’d have gone on the warpath if you knew my best friend was on heroin, and fuck the reasons why. You wouldn’t have cared. You wouldn’t have let yourself care. Knowing me, I wouldn’t have let myself care in the interest of keeping you from melting down on me.
It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if I’d known. But it might have. Sometimes I think that if I’d never married you, she would have felt safe enough to tell me. That might have been enough to save her. And here’s the truth, Danny. I loved the hell out of you. But part of me will hate myself forever for marrying you – a man who ran off with a twenty-one-year-old community college student two months after our baby died—because if I hadn’t, Kayla might still be alive.
I know that’s not fair, though. Or true. I’m sorry.
So, I printed the photos of my dad, and a few of Kayla and me, and looked at them most of the day, crying like a child—just the way you didn’t like. I hadn’t realized until then just how close I’d come to exploding from the pressure of my grief. It made me wonder about you, though. How you keep it all in without exploding. I wish I could be more like you, at least in that way. But if wishes were horses…well…who cares.
When I finally dragged myself in to sleep, the letter – which I’d had in my hand the entire day, Danny, the entire fucking day – was on the floor of the bedroom, halfway under the bed. The relief I felt was exquisite. This was exactly what I needed. Just the thing to let the pressure off some more, and live another day, and make it one step closer to the changing of the seasons.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. I heard it today, but it wasn’t happy. It was sad. I know you’re sad. My letters don’t make you less sad. (Makes me wonder why I’m writing them.) I think I’ll start writing you at night. No more morning letters. At least if you feel sad at night, you don’t have to try and do anything else. I hate that they make you feel sad. I think if I stopped writing them, you’d be even sadder. I know what would make you happy, though – hearing my voice. But you can’t hear my voice where you are. We need to be together for that.
I’m sorry everything’s making you sad. Even the happy pictures. Nothing feels happy to you now, I know. I wish I could change that, but I can’t – at least not while we’re apart.
Be strong. Things change. Not always for the better, but at least they change. Change will come for you too. You just have to be patient. You just have to hold on.
I miss you so much, and I’m counting the days until I see you again.
All my love,
It was hard, but I went into work the next morning. Knowing that I’d come home to another letter from my dad made it tolerable. And sure enough, no matter where I’d placed it the night before, I’d come home every day to find that letter halfway under my bed.
The letter was always different. Sometimes it was short. Sometimes it was very long. Most of the time, it was strange. Always, it told me how much I was missed, and how happy I’d be when I was reunited with Dad and Lacie. It was bittersweet at best. But it helped. Even as it hurt, it helped.
Kind of like drugs, in a way.
December came again, which was painful, sick, and a little bit funny to me. The seasons had changed four times since you left me, but it didn’t feel like it. It was the same season in my heart, unchanged and endless. Grey, cold, and hopelessly dark.
The only light in that spirit-winter were Dad’s letters. Tiny flames in a vast and frozen darkness.
But right when I needed them most, they changed.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. Why won’t you let me hear your voice? Letters are always good, but they aren’t enough. You know what it’s like to be away from Lacie. Imagine how I feel being away from you, when you’re so sad and soggy. So cold. It doesn’t have to be that way. Seasons change, but not always for the better. What if the next season isn’t better? What will I do? My letters aren’t enough as it is. If things change, if they get worse, what will you do? You need to hear me. See me. But you can’t. Not where you are. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
It’s not just me. Lacie cries whenever you get sad now, too. When is my mommy coming? she always asks. I don’t know, I tell her. She’s far away, waiting for the season to change, but what if it doesn’t? What if it gets worse? What if you keep getting sadder and sadder and grayer and grayer and colder and colder until you’ll never be warm again, even if you’re with us? What if you get so sad that you make us sad, too? Maybe you should stop waiting for the seasons to change. Just give up on them and take the change in your own hands. Come to where we are, so we can all be warm and bright.
I miss you so much, Lucy, and I’m so scared for you. It kills me, knowing how you’re hurting. Letters can be good, but they’re not enough. You need to hear my voice, but you can’t do that where you are. You can only do that where I am.
I love you more than anything. Please let me hear your voice.
All my love,
The letter got worse from there. Darker. So dark that I stopped memorizing it. It was the same, even when it changed: asking me to hear his voice. To let him hear mine. To give up on the seasons. To come to him and Lacie, so I could be warm and happy again.
Finally, it got so bad that I just stopped reading. Every night I’d see the letter tucked half way under my bed. Every night I’d want to read it…but every night I didn’t. Not even when Kayla died. Not ever.
Until – drumroll please –one of our mutuals shared the picture of you and Alexis with your new baby in the hospital. Your new baby girl, who you’d named Lacie.
I thought of you crying over my baby. Crying so hard, your face was swollen and wet and barely recognizable. How, when you’d seen me looking, you’d turned to stone, and never turned back.
At that moment, I hated everything. Every fucking thing. I hated Alexis, I hated you, and I hated your new Lacie most of all. It was too much to feel. Too much to process. I wished I could be like you and shove it away, pack in under six feet of mental dirt and go on with my life. But I couldn’t. I can’t.
So I went to my bedroom and found the letter tucked halfway under the bed, covered in dust and loose hairs, and picked it up.
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But hearing each other is even better. Letters aren’t any good at all. You can pick them up off the floor, but you shouldn’t bother because they’re nothing. They’re the worst. Written words are conduits for pain. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
The season changed, honey. It changed on you, but it got worse, and it’s only going to get worse. You think you have nothing now, but what you have now will feel like a fortune in ten years’ time. And what you have in ten years’ time will feel like a fortune compared to what you will have in twenty years’ time. And on and on, grayer and colder, until you die, gray and cold once and for all. There is nothing, Lucy. Nothing but decades of cold and gray, no matter if you’re patient, no matter how many poppy boxes you make to light the day. It’s gray and cold where I am too, but it won’t be when you’re where I am. Come to where I am, Lucy. Come to see me and hear my voice. Come to hear Lacie. Don’t wait for the season to turn darker. Take charge and change it yourself.
I miss you so much, and I love you more than you know. I would do anything to take away your pain and make the world bright for you but I can’t, no matter how patient you are. But I can make it better where I am. Come where I am. Where we are.
All my love,
I knew the whole thing was wrong from the beginning, Danny. I really did. But I didn’t want to know. And right then, I wanted to know less than ever.
That’s why I folded the letter and put it on the floor by the bed. Then I found a pen – my room’s still full of them – and tore an endsheet from a book. I wrote,
I have to know for sure it’s you.
I placed it on top of my dad’s letter, on the floor by the bed. Then I went to the other side of the room because even though I was excited, I was afraid too. I turned off the light, and waited.
The room was so dark. But after a while, a little bit of light filtered through the spaces between the curtains, and it was enough to see that there was nothing. So I waited some more.
I was heartbroken and scared and so, so, so tired. I started to drift off…
And then there, under the bed, I saw something move.
Solid darkness, overlaid with the dimmest light I’ve ever seen, so dim it might not even have been light. It slid out, slow and calm like oil, and took my letter.
I held my breath and waited yet again, but not for long.
Under the bed, it shifted weirdly and took form. Even though it was still dimmer than dim, I recognized it immediately: my dad. But my dad as he’d been in the pictures I printed: twenty years younger than when he died, unmoving smile pasted on his flickering face, eyes dark and smeary because the photo resolution was so poor. An old photo expanded to human size, pasted on a monster of solid darkness.
It crawled forward until that frozen, smeary, dimmer-than-dim shining face seemed about to emerge from under the bed. Then it reached for me…and reached…and reached…and reached, solid-shadow arm with its dim glimmering coat of my dad stretching all the way across the room to where I sat in the corner, right by the light switch.
I turned it on.
The arm retracted, rolling back like a New Year’s party blower. Underneath the frozen, shimmering mask of my father, its real face dipped and curled into an inhuman and nearly incomprehensible grimace. I understood that expression, somehow: It was hungry. So hungry, and so, so furious that it would not get to eat.
The dim glimmer-mask shifted, twisting and stretching into something hideous, and then it was gone.
But the letter remained.
I stood up and went. Out of the room, out of the house, out of the neighborhood, out of the town.
I waited two days, then called Mrs. Hernandez, who came and took me home. When I checked, the letter was on the floor, half-tucked under the bed. Even with bright noon light spilling through the windows, even with Mrs. Hernandez beside me, I was so scared I cried. But even so, picked it up.
I don’t know what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t what I got:
Phone calls are always good. I love hearing your voice. But letters are always good, too. You can pull out a letter anytime and read it (I have firsthand experience because I still read all of yours, even the ones you wrote when you were at summer camp a million years ago). So I wrote you this letter. Sorry I’m not a good writer.
Even when things change, they don’t. Seasons change, but no matter how patient you are they will make you sad. You have no good seasons left. No brightness will change this, because any brightness you find will be gray and cold. You will forget how it feels to be warm, even at Midnight Mass in the tenth pew in the last seat on the left and even in the summer with your flower boxes and your poppies to make things seem bright. People change, but they stay the same in the important ways and the bad ways and they never get better, they just better at hurting you because they don’t really want to change. You will never change because you don’t have anything and you don’t know how to have anything that isn’t nothing. By the end of the third quarter we’re all pretty soggy but you’re barely out of the first and so soggy you already fell apart. This letter will change, but it will never change because you are you.
There are no letters in hell and no voices where I am there is nothing where I am but cold and gray. This is where you are coming. This is where I am. This is where you already are so come where I can always hear your voice.
All my love,
I knew I needed to burn that letter. But I couldn’t, because once upon a time, my dad had written it for me, and it was the only thing on earth that made me feel loved. So, sobbing wildly and doubtless sounding utterly insane, I asked Mrs. Hernandez to take it for me. I guess I thought getting it out of the house – away from me – would decontaminate it. Change it back to what it had been. To what I needed it to be.
Mrs. Hernandez agreed, no questions asked.
Three days later, she texted me: Why did you keep this from me?
I asked her what she meant.
I’m so hurt right now, Lucy. Kayla wrote this letter to me. It’s for me. Why did you keep it?
I understood then.
And for the first time in an aeon, I felt like I could breathe.
I answered, I’m so sorry. It was wrong. I just miss her so much.
That was three weeks ago. Last night, she went through all of Kayla’s pictures and shared them. She’s moving faster than I thought she would. And somehow, I don’t think she’ll ask that thing for proof the way I did.
There’s a diseased and tragic kind of relief in knowing that I lost my dad’s real letter years ago. The day we got married, or even a few days before. Because whatever I found in the hotel room—whatever I passed on to Mrs. Hernandez—wasn’t my dad’s letter.
Which means it was never mine.
Sometimes, that makes me feel at peace. But mostly, it makes me want to die.
It’s been such a long winter. I hope the season changes soon. I’ve been so patient, and I’m holding on.
But barely, Danny.