To the parent who abandoned me four years ago:
I thought my one chance at understanding why you left me had passed me by years ago, when you offered to speak with me and I declined. I wanted to accept, sure that I could clear up whatever misunderstanding had brought my mother to the point of kicking you out of our home. I was your favorite, after all, despite not being your biological daughter, and anyone with access to your phone contacts would know that instantly– I made sure of that when I edited myself in as RIANA MY FAVORITE. When I rejected your offer, it wasn’t truly me who declined, but my mother, the parent who has persisted alongside her children and always will. She put her foot down with more force than I could muster in opposition to her demand that I block you out, so I did. I am thankful now that I listened to her. You didn’t deserve the kindness I would’ve shown, and I would’ve wasted my chance at closure with the disorganized mumbles of a naive, confused young woman.
I am not here to yell at you, like you or anyone close to me would expect. For the better part of four years, yelling at you is actually the one thing I wanted most, besides an apology. But my anger has evolved over the years, and while it still simmers just below the surface, ready to boil over in a rage at any given time, I truly just want to talk.
I won’t even require you to listen, because quite frankly I don’t know if you would be capable. I’m coming to terms with the realities of addiction and substance abuse, and how it renders its victims unfeeling and unreachable. In the last year you knew me, I saw the alcohol fill you up and hollow you out. It seeped over every nerve, every feeling organ with a thick, impenetrable coating that hardened over and dried out into a vile crust. It protected you, I’m sure, from having to bear the crushing loss of our old life as a happy, enviable family, but at what sacrifice?
But even less likely than me reaching you emotionally (or literally, even), is a chance of this influencing some type of change in you. So this is for me, a selfish cathartic endeavor.
So that I never become like you, staving off repressed trauma with drugs and alcohol.
So that I never again wake in the middle of the night, flush with the terror of seeing you once again populate my nightmares.
So that I can move on with my life, like I had convinced myself I had successfully done a long time ago.
There are hundreds of well-intentioned– and even logical– adages that promise forgiveness will set you free. “Anger is like holding a hot stone and hoping your enemy gets burned,” and so forth. Those are nice sentiments, but I’ve always preferred Bruce Springsteen’s “Hold tight to your anger/ And don’t fall to your fear.” I can not forgive you; I’m not that enlightened or mature. Instead, I will thank you.
Thank you for abandoning me.
Growing up, you had said I wasn’t a natural athlete, and that may be true. I was never quick, and knee surgery slowed me down even more. I didn’t have the skill or ball control of my competitors. I just wanted it so damn bad, because I knew you wanted athletic progeny to boast about over beers with your own soccer team. I captained a lackluster high school team to the state championship and despite the 3,000 person crowd, I only cared about how you would see my performance. I was named to the state paper’s all-star team, and was a regular in the sports column write-ups. I spent my summers shuttling myself back and forth between the weight room and the track, trying to make myself into the soccer player you wanted.
When you left, I quit my college soccer team, leaning on my diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome as the reason why. My team shunned me, one of their top defenders and goal scorers, despite the reasonable excuse. I think they knew that the real me would’ve pushed through any injury to keep playing, and it’s true that I would have if you had still been on the sideline. In truth, I was nauseated by the sport I had dedicated 13 years of my life to because of you. It was our thing, and such a categorization meant it was now tainted and unlovable in my eyes.
Without your happiness, pride, and approval to strive for, there was no reason to risk further knee surgeries, concussions, back injuries, chipped teeth, and bone bruises. Without you, I started making decisions based on what I alone wanted. I started going after the things that would make me look at myself with pride.
I also want to thank you for your addiction,
though I recognize it wasn’t something you chose or intended. You have your own childhood trauma, and no one knows better than me how excruciating it can be to face that down long enough to extricate yourself. You’re more than twice my age, but still shrouded in cowardice and denial. It’s just easier to silence those ghosts with a long pour of Newcastle, Tetley’s, or, let’s be honest, whatever’s on tap. But after so many years on this road, I think you might find your surroundings are starting to look familiar. This isn’t a new path; no surprise endings here. You’ve been here before, about 40 years ago, when your dad strolled this very same path. Away from you, your brother, and your mother. To take up with another woman and her kids. Try to remember, if you can, how you felt when he abandoned you. What perplexes me consistently, unfailingly, is how you would dare let that scene play out again in your own life. How do you allow yourself to become the very person you loathe? Still, at the very least, there is silver lining in how your choices have led me to be ever vigilant and cautious around addictive substances, and to outright fear the potential power they may wield. I will not get close enough for them to capture my body and soul as they have done to yours.
I even want to thank you for cheating on my mom.
Yes, the words I could never imagine having a reason to say, about your most heinous offense of all. She had disconnected from you at that point anyway, cognizant that your marriage was beyond repair, but that doesn’t lessen the gravity of your shameful crime. You betrayed our trust, lied, and brought the filth of an equally scummy, vile adulterer into our beautiful home. You made me feel ashamed in my own community. Your young son is much too pure and innocent to be tainted by this information yet, but trust with the whole of your sickly, infested heart that the day will come where he learns the full truth– and despises you for it. So why would I thank you for such an evil deed? Firstly, because it has made me a better person. I lived in the wreckage for years. The reality of what you did was held to my ears like still-burning embers, a horror I had no choice but to hear about in disquieting detail. I couldn’t drown it out or pick up and leave like you did, hoping against hope that out of sight would eventually mean out of mind. Because of you, I will never knowingly cheat or be involved with someone who is. And I’m proud of that fact in a way you will never be able to replicate in your own life. Because you not only cheated on your family, you were complicit in the devastation of her family as well. Only to go on and do it again with still another’s family. In sacrificing your soul, you have shown me how crucial it is to hold onto mine.
Thank you for forcing me to grasp how much I love my family and to what depths I would go to protect them. You tore away without a goodbye, and we rushed toward each other to close the gap. We are bonded so magnificently, I see the jealousy and wonder in my friends’ eyes when they witness the force that is the 4 of us together. No one is ‘close’ how we four are close. I’m sorry you have to miss out on us.
I will never be a big enough person to wish you well and genuinely mean it, but I no longer wish you any harm. I wish for you to do right by my brother, your son, how you used to do right by me. Because it would be unfair to leave that part out; my last thank you.
Thank you for being a father to me for 13 years. Thank you for pulling some strings to get your couch potato stepdaughter signed up for AYSO, an organization that changed my life by giving me purpose, confidence, and strength. Thank you for the endless rides to practices and games out of state, and insisting that I learn how to kick with both feet before the other girls figured that out (and some never did). Thanks for teaching me to snowboard and how to drive, and for being the calm voice of reason in the midst of my biological parents’ frequent clashes. For all of the anxiety, anguish, fear, and anger you have put me through recently, it’s hard to believe that you used to be the one I turned to to quiet those emotions in other situations.
The next time we spoke, I wanted to face you with a steely armor of anger. It’s the armor I’ve worn for years and it served me well, but I realize now that there is also strength in vulnerability. I am not weak for admitting how fully you devastated me when you left; just the opposite. In facing the full range of my emotions – sadness, betrayal, confusion, regret, disbelief, denial, fear, rage– I am defying you once more.