I Love You, ‘Pang

How do you deal with death? Do you let it burrow in your heart until it has dug a hole so deep that your fingers can no longer reach it? Do you scream at its face, call it ugly names, and give it the finger? Do you bite your tongue and keep it all in, hoping that it will go away? Do you haggle with it – ask for a day or week or month or year in exchange for something else, anything else? Do you accept it with an aching heart, believing that time will be a loyal friend?

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How do you say goodbye to the man who fought for your very existence when you were supposed to be aborted? How do you say goodnight to the man who taught you the same values that have kept you upright despite the blows? How do you stop yourself from texting his number or from waiting for your phone to flash an incoming call with the name Papa? How do you make his dog understand that he is not coming home and to make him stop waiting by his favorite corner spot near the gate? How do you re-align your life when your plans always involved coming home to a father who patiently waited in the airport even though your flight was delayed for hours, who happily cooked your sausage and eggs for breakfast because he knew they were your favorite, who was always eager to hear about your travels, the places you have wandered to, the men you have fallen head over heels with (even the men who broke your heart, it pained him, but he listened anyhow), the difference you have made (no matter how small) – how?

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What do you do with the thousand memories you have of this man. You avoid going home, even though you feel sorry seeing the old house looking lonelier than it already was, because the house is filled with his scent, his shirts, his shoes, his bed, his folders; yet his memories follow you on your cousin’s bed. Rolls and rolls of memories crammed in your head are suddenly breaking out in violent spasms that leave you gasping for air. Memories – he dragged you uphill and the two of you were running after the mad wife who wanted to get away from it all, he was angry because you could not understand fractions as fast as your sister could, he eyed you suspiciously after a turkey attacked you and found out that all of its eggs were crassly cracked, he spanked you after he saw all his chicken and roosters flapping in frenzy when you forced them to fly because you believed that they were birds, he attempted to pierce your ears but stopped when you cried, he came home from Saudi Arabia to watch your college play but said nothing about your shaved head. Memories. They demand to be remembered and they hurt like hell.

And you cry – in your room, in his house, to his santol tree that housed seven mythical creatures, on your cousin’s bed, when you are alone, when you are washing his beloved car, in the shower. You open his wardrobe to steal a sniff of his perfume, to smell his clothes, to wear his favorite shoes, to play with his stethoscope, to look at old photos that have gathered dust in cabinets, to say his name when no one’s listening, and there is nothing more you can do now. To linger in places where he had left himself, to wallow in bitter-sweet sorrow, to take your time in moving forward because you have time to waste and no where else to go – for once, you could not think of a place to discover.

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You feel dead inside, dead and rotting. There’s something else there too. Something you thought you have already burned and it is rising like boiling water, like some inhuman gutting sound from somewhere between being 12 and 26. It spurts like venom when you are processing important documents, when you listen to some people make unnecessary remarks, when some random stranger stares while you are spacing out or when you wanted to be left alone. In your head, you have stabbed them repeatedly with a knife and beat them with a blunt hideous object. You are angry again but you try to control it because you are your father’s daughter and Doc Danny was a man of peace. You will not disrespect him by bludgeoning people’s brains out in your mind. He was loved dearly, not only because of his work ethics, but also because he was the glue in the family, who bound and kept things together, and always opted for a peaceful resolve – he will roll in his grave if he will know that one of his children gave in to waging wars instead of advocating for peace.

Courage. Courage.

So you teach yourself to start letting go and to accept that he has finished his job. It is not going to be easy and you will have to be braver than you have ever been. By God, you will continue making your father proud by pushing yourself out of the bed in the morning even though you do not want to get up. You will eat your meals even though you are not hungry. You will go out and have coffee with friends even if you will not say anything (your friends will understand). You will drive his old car and take it for a spin. You will start talking to your friends again and force yourself to talk about his death. You will continue playing with his dog and forget that he bit you on the night your father passed away. You will allow yourself to laugh and celebrate when there is a cause to because your father loved celebrations. You will travel again because he was fond of your wandering spirit and he would not want you to change in any way. At your own pace and within God’s perfect time.

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