The voice of Amanda

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Christmas past, Christmas present 

My older sister was kind enough to send a few meaningful things from my dad’s house, including his #1 Dad hat, the shirt he wore to his wedding (that he kept not out of sentimentality so much as just never buying new clothes), and a 1937 coin from his collection. Coins. This isn’t the first year I received coins from my dad. 

I’ve been lucky to have had a good relationship with my father over the last ten years or so. However, we faced some rough years while he was fully in the grips of his alcoholism. Since his passing my memories are naturally centered on happy thoughts, nostalgia, sadness thinking about the years he suffered, and potential future events that he will miss. My mind has glossed over some of the terrible things about my dad. He was far from perfect, and though I will always think of him has my “#1 Dad” he caused me pain growing up. 

I had my absolute worst Christmas 14 years ago. I spent the night of Christmas Eve over at my dad’s house, which was messy and undecorated. He got drunk, which of course led to him getting angry. His mouth twisted over insults about my mom and step-dad, then turned to me and the man I loved (the one I ended up marrying, perhaps partially out of love but also spite). As he smoked his cigarette, my dad told my sister and I that he hadn’t gotten us anything. He grabbed a purple Crown Royal bag, flung it on the table, saying “here. You can have these.” And it was a bag of coins. As I went to my room to cry, I heard him telling my little sister he wouldn’t be surprised if my step-dad was molesting me. 

I didn’t need presents. I needed my dad, and the terrible person in front of me at that time didn’t seem like him. It was lonely, it was infuriating, it was exhausting. I knew his history and tried to rationalize his behavior. His parents both died when he was young, he suffered horrible foster families, and he mostly lost his family when he and my mom divorced. I wanted to be able to fix him and make him happy, but I also wanted a dad to be there for me. 

His coins and those bad memories found their way back to me today. I’m struggling because he eventually mellowed into the man I needed growing up. His love and affection these last few years don’t erase the bad times and the bad things he did. But do I want to hold onto those memories? Is it fair to let them fully escape, essentially erasing part of his existence? Or should I focus on the best parts of the man I truly did love so much? If I have children, should they know him only as the witty, darkly funny, foul-mouthed tough man who called us “Charlie’s angels,” or should they also get to know his demons? 

I’m not sure if there is a correct answer, but I do know that I won’t figure it out tonight. It’s only Christmas for two more hours. I’ll wrap up my questions for the night and enjoy the peace. 


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Old man

Denial can be a saving grace, like a door allowing the slightest sliver of sunlight to pass through. Hope still lives in that fading glimpse of happiness. 

I’ve battled the logical side of my brain, denied the cold hard facts of my dad’s health. He’s been an alcoholic for years, smoked like a chimney, broken his bones several times over in accidents, falls, fights, you name it. He is a man larger than life in my memory and now smaller than me in reality. His skeletal frame is on the brink of closing that door, closeting his secrets forever. 

My dad. There are incredible stories, amazing laughs, outrageous fights, indescribable sorrow. And now it all comes down to this. His body is failing and his doctor has stated that it is now a matter of how much we can prolong his life. It’s unfair! He is 61! He has lost so many, he’s suffered so much, he deserves peace and old age! I want to simultaneously cradle his head and protect him while crying on his lap like a child. 

Denial. It’s been a gift, but the door is closing. I’ve seen the signs and joked them away with him, making light of it all in hopes that his problems were all pretend. Silly doctors! Forgetful dad! Daddys are made to be strong and live forever. 

I’m scared about the possibilities. I don’t want to know he is in pain, I don’t want his body to shrivel to nothing, I don’t want to hear his bold laughter become rusty hinges creaking to a close.

I’m not ready to lose my dad. 

 Old man

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So my sister had a secret.

It seems that some people draw the shit stick in life. My little sister must be one of them.

She was a toddler when our parents divorced, leaving her to see the broken alcoholic shell of the man who used to be Dad.

She sat by her high school boyfriend while his face was stapled up after retrieving a bullet from his head, then watched as he went on trial and eventually to jail for murder.

She suffered migraines for years, plus she had a difficult time eating without feeling ill. She underwent surgery last year to untwist her intestines and continued to live in pain.

She endured an abusive husband who physically and emotionally abused her, though they are thankfully separated right now.

…so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess the signs were there- the mishandling of money, stopping work, losing touch with her old friends, lying to family. When I stepped back and thought about it, her behavior was familiar. Much like my ex who overdosed.

I got the call that my sister ended up in the hospital after getting beaten up and robbed by a male acquaintance. He took the last belonging of value she had- her phone- which is the second time in a month that she has had her phone stolen. Probably because she owes money to the guy dealing her heroin.

Yeah. My baby sister somehow ended up on heroin. I feel like I’m writing the words to a book about someone else’s family, someone else’s life.

Being a few states away from her is brutal. I want to take her out of the hell-hole town full of either Christian wanna-be, ex-football hero homeboys or dirty, lying, skinny snakes peddling meth (and heroin I guess). I want to get her in a program as fast as possible…but how do we afford that?! I want to beat the shit out of her stupid husband who no doubt got her started. I want to protect her from ending up a week dead in a dirty, lonely apartment like my ex.

Do you know what the hospital did when she came in? They gave her pamphlets. Pamphlets about getting off heroin. I want to take a survey and see how many people were saved by pamphlets. Pamphlets! Fuck.

I keep flashing back to the adorable gap-toothed kid who scowled as we stole her Monopoly money, the kid who loved to draw, the animal lover, the “shrink dance” she’d do when her big sisters got new clothes she wanted.

I’m afraid I don’t know her. I’m afraid of what to say. I’m afraid I’ll lose her completely.