"Yes, as through this world i've wandered, I've seen lots of funny men. Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen." -Woody Guthrie
Once, and only once in every lifetime, when the stars align and choose to shine down on us, we get the grand opportunity to experience true love. And contrary to what the movies and other popular fiction has told you, its very rarely a romantic relationship we find it in. It's hardly ever in a significant other, that we experience our ultimate and undeniable connection with another human being. We often find it in a family member, a best friend, and places we least expect it to be. It's almost always a platonic relationship, and theres a reason for that. But wherever it is and whoever we find it with, it is always pure, epic, and nothing short of beautiful. Theres nothing quite as breathtaking as being the starring role in the life of someone you truly love. There's no greater gift than belonging to someone you were undoubtedly put on earth to spend your life with. I am an incredibly blessed girl. I had true love right from the start of my life, I never had to wonder what it was or when it was coming to me. It was always there and it always will be. And in the end my true love was with the most exquisite man the angels have ever crafted. This man was my father, and his name was Lanny Ray.
He always had a way with words. He had the charisma of John F. Kennedy and the handsomeness of Elvis Presley, but even putting it that way is an understatement. Truly one of a kind. I never really understood how someone with that much chaos in them could be such a ray of light in the lives of anyone he crossed paths with. You couldn't be sad when he was around, he wouldn't let you. Any thoughts of doubt or insecurity could not survive if he was present. I don't think I know of a single soul that wasn't completely mesmerized by him upon first meeting. And at first glance he stood as a strong, leathered, rolling stone that might just evoke fear and intimidation as he was the epitome of untamed masculinity. However, all it took was one sweet word, to know that underneath that external layer of shiny black armor, lyes the soul of a saint and the heart of a poet. To this day I'm still unsure how anarchy and grace managed to coexist within him so perfectly.
My father was unique in the sense that, to me he was never a single individual or entity, he was a vast, waving collection of souls like flowers coming together to form a bouquet. Each one a contradiction to the next. Some had the sweet scent of gardenias, and others were deadly nightshade. But regardless of which part of himself he was currently manifesting, my adoration for him remained the same.
His last summer here on earth, he chose to spend with me. I got to be by his side for his final trip around the sun, and the series of unfortunate events that transpired during this time changed me in ways i'll never be able to fully comprehend. It was in these moments that swayed back and forth from melancholy to delight, that the structure of my identity and the blue print for my future were created.
I was sitting in his lap, staring into his eyes the moment I realized that we were saying goodbye for the last time, without using words. Even though he was a genuinely kind soul, he was far from a perfect person or a perfect parent. He was a substantial alcoholic, as well as an addict. And as much as it pains me to say, there were moments in that last summer we spent together, where the distress that came from loving him as deeply as I did, outweighed the pleasure of him loving me just as immensely back. I was only ten years old that summer, I was just a kid. I saw things that were galaxies beyond my comprehension and ability to understand. Out of my love for him I did things that required sacrificing a piece of myself to keep him safe and keep him here with me.
To this day, the lowest points in my life, were the many times I attempted to pick my incoherent father off of the floor after several days of drinking and abusing prescription opiates in copious amounts. There are no words to describe the feeling of helplessness I felt as I wrapped my arms around the only man I've ever loved, put all the strength I had into getting him off the floor, only to buckle at the knees and fall down to the ground with him every single time. So I did what anybody would do. I laid next to him on the floor in the living room in our palace of fabricated solace. I laid there awake all night with tears in my eyes, checking to make sure he was still breathing every so often. And even in those moments I wasn't mad at him, even though I had every right to be I never felt an ounce of resentment towards him. Because I knew that sleeping shell of a person that smelled of whiskey and cigarettes, was not my father. But he was in there somewhere, buried underneath a layer of heartache and delusions, was the star of every beautiful memory I own. I held on for him. I continued to fight in hopes that someday the man he used to be, and I would meet again. But the truth is, we never did and that remains the single most painful thing for me to come to terms with. The person I knew had died inside of him long before his physical body did. However, when you love someone as deeply as I loved him, those realizations get lost in translation. And, If i'm being honest, had I been old enough to see those things clearly, I still wouldn't of done a thing differently. I would of still gave him everything I had in the hope that maybe, just maybe, I could save him. Because I knew without a doubt if it were the other way around he would do the same for me. He would of given his life without even thinking twice to save mine. So thats what I did, even though I knew that meant parts of me were going to die when he did.
The ugly memories are not the ones that made our story the masterpiece it is. It was the fleeting moments of happiness in between that colored the experience in the most beautiful shade of violet in existence. We saw the world together in those few months, without even crossing the county line. It's my firm belief him and I were alike in the way that, neither of us were meant for the world we were placed in, so together we created our own. We were meant for somewhere far warmer and far greater. Both of us were too sensitive, too poetic to live as human beings. The trait that was responsible for bonding us so closely, was the passion we both shared for human connection. Him and I saw an exquisite artistry in the nature of what it is to love and be loved by another person that others didn't seem to notice. I think in a way it consumed us both. When you have an undying love for something that inevitably can't end in anything but tragedy due to our mortality, it can destroy you just as much as it enamors you. It was because of this symmetry in our emotional selves, we were able to understand each other in dephth.
We listened to a lot of music. Mostly the stereotypical anthems of American youth in the 70's. Which ironically enough ended up becoming a culture I high admire and identify with. Sometimes when I really miss him, and I'm alone late at night, I put those records on wether its Hotel California or something by Fleetwood Mac. I sit at the foot of my bed, and I go back to those times when it was just me and him cruising around for hours at night without even having an actual destination in mind, just looking at the small town lights and soaking in the simplicity. We were living for the moment. I can't speak for him, but for me it was paradise. It was one of the very few times in my life where I wasn't anxious. There was no front or act I had to put on for him I could always be organically myself without giving it a second thought. I think thats what captivated me so much about our relationship, it came completely natural. There were no ulterior motives or games being administered, and I've come to learn thats a very hard thing to find in this world. I remember every detail of those nights. The headlights beaming down on the paved roads. The glowing neon signs for motels and abandoned businesses highlighting his face like we were in a David Lynch movie. I remember everything that came out of his mouth was either a joke, the F word, or some wildly sweet sentiment. I remember talking about our dreams for the future and all the things we were gonna do when I came back the following summer. And what kills me the most, in that moment I believed him. I really thought there was going to be another summer. I thought I would be by his side for the rest of my life.
The last time I saw him, he was dropping me off at the airport. Neither of us got any sleep the night before. We never even made it to bed. We sat outside all night, looking at the fireflies. I laid on his chest for the very last time, I held onto his hand for the very last time, we were as opulent as we had alway been for the very last time. And we are the only two people in existence that knows exactly what that looked like, exactly what it felt like. We sat while the stars shined on us one last time. Let them capture us in at the peak of my youth. Two stars burning bright right next to each other in their full regalia. Thats what we will always be, forever young and forever beautiful. But as with any star, the brighter and more resilient it burns, the faster the atoms collapse, and the entire thing bursts into oblivion. Thats exactly what we were, a remarkable moment in history that broke the laws and confines of what it means to be alive and pushed the predetermined boundaries of how much a human being can love in one life time. We shined too bright, too fast. But maybe, in a strange and unfortunate way, thats exactly what him and I were put on earth to do. Feel absolutely everything there is to feel down to our cells, pour it all into ourselves, project it outward in the most beautiful way possible, only to tear at the seams and burst into oblivion. I must look at it this way, because at least then, all the pain I've carried with me all these years, served a purpose.
He gave me the last ten dollars he had to his name so I could eat on my layover. That was the kind of man he was. I looked back at him the entire time as I was boarding the plane. I didn't take my eyes off of him for a single second and I'm so grateful I didn't. His face was covered in tears, so was mine. Had I known that was the last time I would see him, I wouldn't of got on that plane. I would of ran back to him, and I would of never let go. But unfortunately, the sinister parts of the human experience don't come with a warning. Six days later, they found him hanging from the rafters in the living room of his house. He took his own life. There was no note left. He didn't even say goodbye, I realize now it would of been to hard for him, however it might of saved me from even just an ounce of the torture I endured in the years following his death. To say it destroyed me would be an understatement. I spent the first few years in disbelief. It was too big of a loss for my young to accept. So I waited for him, year after year. Since the idea of going on with my life without him here to share it with was unimaginable. So I convinced myself that it wasn't over. It wasn't until I was about sixteen that it really hit me. And when it did, it knocked the breath out of me. For the first time I came face to face the fact that I was never going to see him again. I was never going to hear his voice again, he wasn't going to be there for all the special moments in my life, and I could never tell him how much I loved him again. I spent the next 3 years grieving him for the first time. The pain was and still is unbearable at times. I analyzed every little thing he said, everything that led up to his death, looking for the math in where things went wrong, never to have any luck. I dwelled on all the things we had, and everything we lost. He was my only source of real comfort and security, and now he was gone.
I remember feeling just about every motion there is, all at once. Parts of me were a burning rage. I was angry at everything. I was angry that someone I gave so much to, the only person I genuinely trusted, completely abandoned me in the most permanent way possible. I gave him my heart and he threw it to the wolves like it meant nothing to him at all. I know he couldn't possibly of thought that I was going to be okay. He knew exactly how much it was going to hurt me but it didn't effect his decision to do what he did. I think in some ways thats what hurts the most, my one true love had betrayed me. The other half of me was consumed by guilt. That I hadn't done everything I could to get him help, to get him better. Guilt that I hadn't seen the caution signs to do something about it before it was too late. And most of all, guilt that I never told him exactly how much he meant to me. That part never goes away, I will always wish I could go back and change the way things turned out, I'd hand over my soul on a silver platter just to have one more day with him. The part that always was and continues to be the hardest part above all else, is the simple fact, that I miss him terribly. Everyday of my life from the age of ten till eternity. It's when I'm alone watching a movie and I hear something funny, the first thing I think is "Dad would think thats hilarious". And I want so desperately just to tell him about it, but I can't. I'd be lying if I said knowing I have to go through the rest of my life without seeing his face or hearing his voice doesn’t cripple me sometimes, because it very much does. I've come to learn that dwelling on the tragedy that fell before us, clouds over the once in a lifetime experience we had together, and that I cannot abide by. And to tell the truth, If I had to relive all that pain, all that loss, over again just to be able to live the magical parts one more time, I would do it in a heartbeat.
I wish I had the answers for anybody thats struggling with a loss of their own, but unfortunately thats a mountain you have to climb for yourself, and when you get to the top of it, you'll be surprised you were the only answer all along. You are your solution to the pain. And when you find yourself falling back into that pit of despair, remind yourself that you have every single one of those memories preserved in your heart, and no one will ever be able to take that away from you, not even the pain. Thats what I do. Because those memories are in a very special place separate from all the heartache. A place where him and I, are forever young, forever beautiful, and forever together. My goal is not to glorify addiction or toxic relationships, I'm aware the level of attachment my father and I had for each other was unhealthy. You should never rely on another person to complete you. But thats just the way it was for us. And I'm incredibly grateful for that. I wanted to tell the world our story because its more than worthy of being heard. I want people to know it, and now you know it. He was a person. While he was here he did magnificent things, and I have the honor of being one of his finest creation. He lived an extraordinary life in the short years he was here on earth and its a story that deserves to be lifted up into fluorescent lights for the whole world to stand in awe of its elegance and authenticity. He was my father, his name was Lanny Ray, and I will love him forever.