It was around noon when I came over to your house. You were eating pancakes and although your speech was clear and succinct, the alcohol on your breath told me you had been drinking—for a while. My heart was pounding as I didn't know what to expect and sure enough, what you did next was something completely out of the blue.
You handed me the letters you and mom had exchanged when you both were young and in love. You flipped through each letter longingly—all of which seemed to be in perfect condition, despite the exchanges being from almost fifteen years ago. You kept all the letters in a sturdy black box, and as you handed me the letters, you told me that you and mom were once very much in love. All I could do was nod, not able to understand of these series of unexpected events.
That was the last time I saw you.
I brought the box home to mom, and she scoffed as she read through your guys' past affirmations of love. The next morning, the letters were at the bottom of the trash can, forever lost in the sea of unpleasant memories.
I never said anything in fear of angering mom, because honestly, if I were in her shoes, I'd throw out the love letters from the man who ruined my life too. Nevertheless, I'm sorry I couldn't stand up for you more even though I knew how much the letters meant to you. Maybe if I had read those letters, I would have been able to see you less as the villain you became and more as the man mom once fell in love with.
A few years passed and our family moved to New Jersey. We were no longer five minutes away from each other. Now, a bridge stood between us. More years passed and you died in a car accident—or so I was told. Frankly, I don't remember being told the news of your death. It was like all of a sudden, I knew you were dead and there wasn't anything I could do.
I think mom cried. I'm not really sure. All I remember is her looking out the window with tears glistening in her eyes. At the time, I couldn't understand how she could grieve the death of her abuser and honestly, I still don't understand today.
More years passed.
Remember how I said I thought you died in a car crash? Turns out that wasn't true. The colleges I applied for demanded that I send them proof that you had died—as if someone would lie about her dead father—and I saw your death certificate.
You didn't die in a car crash. You committed suicide, right in the same apartment where Justin and I grew up.
The paper said you died of "Acute Intoxication By The Combined Effects Of Ethanol, Opiates, Butalbital And Acetaminophen."
Everything except your name and birthday was "UNKNOWN." No descendants, no education, and no family. Someone who was a very real person was considered a no one under the state. Your only identification was an OCME case number and whatever life you lived lay buried in a few people's memories.
It took me a long time to confront mom about why she lied to me. She asked me how I knew and I told her I read your death certificate. She dropped her head and started to explain the events leading up to your death and for the first time, I cried. You went to Korea to meet with your family, but rather than being embraced by them, you were told that you were a bastard child. They told you to go back to America and shut you out. Your whole identity was deemed a lie and you had no one to turn to.
I cannot even begin to comprehend how utterly disheartened you must have felt. Words cannot explain the regret and grief I feel when I think about you, my once tall and strong dad, alone and small—completely knocked down by the ugly truth.
All I can say now is,
No matter how much you hurt mom, you never hurt me. Sure, you didn't pay child support but you were still a good dad when it mattered. I'm sorry that you felt so alone. I'm sorry that I left you. I'm sorry that I don't remember your voice and I can't recall what you looked like. I'm sorry that you felt like dying was the best alternative you had. I'm sorry I still haven't visited you. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry.
But, I know the dead don't listen to apologies.
So instead, I hope you're somewhat proud of me. I'm not nice, I'm cynical and I don't care much for those around me, but I've been working really hard so people will never call me "that girl without a father." I go to Northeastern with a major in finance, so I've succeeded somewhat in the eyes of society; although, I'm not sure how much that means when I didn't even hug you that last time.
It's been seven years now. Mom once told me that you always dreamed of getting drinks with your daughter after a long day. We never got that chance but I promise when I visit you in the Bronx one day, I'll pour you a glass of soju and we can get a drink.