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Sometimes It Takes A Letter

A daughter's relationship with her dad is brought to the surface as she struggles to heal from the pain he has left in their past, as a result of giving her mom HIV, that developed into AIDS.

Credit:skyNext
10 min read

I typed the letter on a regular morning. But obviously, it was a courageous morning. I typed the letter in the dark because I had just woken up from a restless night. And restless nights have been typical for me. I live with nine other people (five of them are children) that have different sleep schedules and daytime habits. I typed the letter and felt the floodgates open, incapable of holding back any more weariness and silence. The letter was addressed to my dad. I’m sure since he received it has cut him down even more.

I never wanted to cut him down further—Black men are like hedges, and I know that comes with its own lashings. It was a difficult task for me to do. My heart pounded the whole time I typed it, making a dreadful musical composition with the thuds of my Macbook’s keystrokes. My head flooded with several questions indicating I was aware of the consequences that would ensue as a result of the letter being mailed out to the home he shares with his mother and youngest sister. I went back and forth between typing and handwriting the letter, between formality and informality. Formality eventually felt the most authentic, and to me, it symbolized where we have been in the space left void by my mom’s passing seven years ago. A space I’ve lingered in and wanted severely to claw myself out of. A space so empty, yet so suffocating and toxic I’ve spent years of feeling like a black, twisted, fruitless tree in a land of death.

The letter was my account of the turmoil that has transpired in my life since her death.

It detailed how I have emotionally disconnected from my siblings and from him. It detailed the lack of communication and support that has existed in my family my entire life. It told of the drugs my parents used, of the visible abuse they each participated in toward one another, of my dad’s infidelity that resulted in “outside of marriage” children, and of how those habitual behaviors left their deep impressions on my skin, in my mind, and in my DNA. Of how those traumatic experiences have overcome me with grief to the point I’ve frequently felt hopeless, lost, alone, and abandoned.

Most significantly, the letter let my dad know I blamed him for a lot of that turmoil. I blamed him for keeping my mom on a path of destruction.

I blamed him for further eliminating joy from her life when he pledged that he’d be her protector. Before they met, she had been molested by her brother, physically abused by her sister, and abandoned by her mother. I never saw my mother over the moon happy, and I blamed him for some portion of that. Instead of making her happy, he helped mold her into the shell she became on her dying bed. A shell he had a hand in crafting. An empty, scratched, brittle shell weathered by the years she spent fighting her AIDS diagnosis while I took care of her for several years of my youth, ignorant of that fact.

I blamed him for her keeping him safe in my mind when she knew what he had done to her. I blamed him for even creating the possibility that my mom had to hold onto that unbearable, exorbitant amount of pain in silence. A silence I know contributed to her physical death and the death of her soul.

 

On the day my mom died, she was no longer the woman she used to be. Her boxed braids were raggedy because she wouldn’t let me take them out. She had lost all the juicy weight in her hips. She was in her bed on in-home hospice care, where she wanted to be. She’d squeeze my hand when she felt she could, which I felt was strange because she wasn’t the affectionate type. Her machines were all hooked up. The oxygen tanks. The BiPap machine.

A delivery of an upgraded hospital bed was expected to arrive the next day. She had the medicines she needed. The morphine to ease her pain. The BiPap machine was set to alarm when she wasn’t receiving oxygen. It never sounded once that night. Although she hadn’t been eating much and vomiting most of the day prior, she was the safest she’d ever been, but she was in the midst of death. She knew that more than I did even after her doctor had told me she had a year to live.

For a while up until that point, I had been rebelling against her and my circumstances as a 22-year-old primary caregiver. I had wanted to be released from everything so terribly. I wanted her to care for me, instead of the other way around. Then, she died and granted me the freedom I was longing for, with the cost of her life. And all I could do was pat my sister’s back and let out one loud wail. Just one. Even after watching her corpse lay cold on the bed. Even after kissing her frigid cheek one last time and seeing her rolled out of her bedroom on a gurney zipped up in a black bag to be cremated. And for the very first time in years, my sisters and I could leave the house together without one of us having to stay behind. I sat up thinking of her and where she had gone for three days straight without sleep. And then one day, while going over these vivid memories as I do every week, I had the realization that my dad had much to do with my last memory of her. It crushed me.

 

I know once he received the letter it hurt him to realize, if he hadn’t already, that he failed me, his “Boom Boom,” as the primary and predominant male figure of my life. The man of the house he once created with my mom, three older sisters, and me.

Due to his failings, I had become the type that desperately sought love, oblivious to the repercussions of that pursuit. I wanted guys to save me, to protect me, and to love me. I gave my body away without a second thought because I thought it would be how I’d gain all of that. Guys would come and go, shooting my attempts at love down, but not before they’d take a piece of me with them. I thought I wasn’t beautiful. I thought I wasn’t wife material. I began thinking I wasn’t worth being saved, protected, or loved. That I’d never feel safe, protected, or loved.

Fortunately, I eventually sought education and guidance from God, supporters, and mentors that led me to believe otherwise.

Over the course of the last several years, my sisters would tell me, “It’s not going to change anything.” Regarding the ischemic stroke my dad suffered while my mom was still alive, one of my sisters once said, “He’s already paying for it.” The stroke permanently disabled him, but he can still walk and verbalize some words. I’ve often yearned for him to call my name, but he has yet to do so. All of my sisters have said, “I don’t care,” at one point or another. They’ve decided to no longer discuss it and to sweep it under the rug along with my dad’s sister who once wrote me on Facebook: “But can he express how he feels or what he has or has not done? That time is most likely lost.” The same aunt that always seems to have the most issues with her lesbian daughter. Over the last several years, I was coaxed into silence and told my feelings and voice will never matter or be heard by people that feel that way about their own silence, feelings, and voices. I was shown it’s acceptable to not take accountability, to disregard disrespect, and to take it all. However, I can’t just simply let that shit rock.

 

The letter wasn’t all blame.

I also wrote of the best moments we shared together. I discussed the times I did witness the love between my mom and dad. Of how that love overflowed onto my sisters and me. How my mom would laugh as I danced to Patra’s Romantic Call when I was five-years-old. When my dad would shower me with Christmas gifts, checking off every box next to the dolls and school supplies I wanted. When my parents would buy my sisters and me an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters, turtles, fish, and guinea pigs. When they’d take us all to Coney Island Beach. When my dad would allow me to paint his nails and rub saliva in his hair like it was grease. When he’d take me to my grandmother’s house when I used to love her. When he showed up to my cheerleading show and my mom didn’t. When he would try to scold me, and I’d laugh at his failed attempt in his face.

When he would try to scold me, I laughed in his face. A sort of “Ha! Yeah right!” That memory has become a remarkable insignia I have purposely engraved in my mind. I think of it when anyone tells me I can’t do something or says something meaningful to me. I don’t let anyone scare me anymore. I don’t let silence tear at me when I know needing answers would be the best option for me. I still say what I need to without expecting a response. Even when others want to ignore feelings and circumstances that contribute to toxicity, I ensure I find some release from those destructible, suffocating moments. Those kinds of responses that ignore and contribute to toxicity are historical, generational elements in my family I choose to actively dispel of and rebel against.

I’m an Aquarius and a Black woman, and I live remembering that every day now.

 

Since writing the letter, I’ve forgiven my father although I don’t feel forgiveness is a pass to resume things as normal. And that’s completely fine.

I’ve acknowledged my mom wasn’t always completely innocent, and I’ve put the blame I’ve felt toward her to rest. After all, she taught me more lessons in my time caring for her than anything or anyone else. I can’t express how humbled I am by the experiences we’ve had together. I haven’t completely healed yet. What has happened in my family conflicts with my moral code and value system. It has instilled in me the following notion: blood is thicker than water, but water is vital for the circulation of blood.

I thank those who have entered my life to uplift and elevate me. I thank God for the experiences that have ultimately taught me the power of healing. I have given myself permission to take all the time I need to heal. And that’s completely okay.

So, if you really want to know, my dad called me three days straight after he received the letter. I never answered or called back. I told myself it’s okay not to. I’m not ready to speak with him just yet. But I left an option for us to have a relationship sometime in the future moving forward at the end of my letter.

To anyone out there that is going through something similar or as painful, remember sometimes all it takes is a letter.

That letter is often “I”.

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Siera Whitaker

Siera Whitaker is an emerging writer, lyricist, and singer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business and content strategy from the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies program at the City University of New York. Her work explores themes related to gender and inequality in Black culture. She is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of AFFIRM NOIRE (@affirmnoire), a digitally-driven enterprise affirming the self-care, culture, creativity, and distinctive stories of indie and underground creatives of color who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+. She lives in Newark, New Jersey. She, her, and hers are her pronouns.