This was the day I visited my dad's grave again, for the first time in over a decade
For the first real time in all the years he's been dead,
For the first time of my own volition,
and for the first time since long before he got sick, I got to really talk to him
I have always been very distrusting of people
Ever since I heard about a girl who was my age at the time, just six years old, getting kidnapped straight out of her bedroom in the middle of the night
That was when I learned that anything could happen to me
I remember when I was 7 and my dad drove me to and from soccer practice, I used to stare suspiciously at the back of his head and imagine him pulling the car off the highway and into a thick cover of trees
And killing me.
My dad was never violent
My thoughts have just always gone to the strangest of places,
the darkest of places
without pause for reality to reassure me,
which is why I was unsurprised when death caressed my cheek
at such a young and impressionable age.
I had been waiting
For something like that all along.
I was 21 when I finally approached my father again
For 11 years he sat dead and rotten and alone in the middle of some random Catholic cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey
buried in section 35, my mom informed me, as I drove through the rows of identical stones, searching,
with the boy I love as back up
for my unsteady emotions.
We arrived to my father’s ending place
And I really wanted Ian to meet him, as boyfriends should meet their girlfriends’ fathers for approval--
though approval was long ago given--
and so I could finally bridge the long frozen over gap between my living loved ones and my dead one.
Because after my father died, my mother did her best to erase him and all of his essence from my brain
First she smudged our house with sage,
rubbing away and snuffing out every part of him she could find,
filling my nose with that pungent scent,
filling my mind with the belief that
your thoughts and actions are for the living
and your love is for what you can touch
and what a strong person does is move on
because staring into the darkness behind you for too long is the first sign of weakness.
So I, gratingly, turned my head,
and I, roughly, bit deep down into my lips to quell the trembling,
and, to keep my childlike protests at bay
I cut off my tongue,
because my father was dead
and I didn't want the stain of sorrow to forever live with me,
I didn't want everyone's first thought upon seeing me,
zombieing around, my expression forever dressed in black,
"Oh, that poor girl. She's going to be so messed up."
And so I kept my mouth shut,
let the soil bedding of my insides starve
so no new life could ever grow again
so no mud could accumulate in my tears
so I could be as unassuming as the desert,
with lips pressed and sealed shut,
my salty tears all dried up.
Little did I know that sorrow was not weakness,
it was in all of life,
embedded and infused in all that is,
in all that we are,
and disdain for the pain was the killer,
because life is pain,
and a life lived avoiding it is a slow and torturous death.
Before I had even graduated high school,
I had withered away into nothing but skin and bones,
and my mother praised me,
because I looked so good and
oh so strong
with my mouth clamped tight
and my thoughts detained
deep inside of me.
It took 11 years for me to realize that when someone dies,
you don't have to lock the memory of them deep in your mind.
It took 11 years for me to realize that my dad's death did not have to define me--
but it could rebirth me.
My rage licked me up and down, like the sandpaper tongue of a cat,
just 9 years old, confused and incredulous,
kicking and screaming at the fearful concern brimming in their eyes--
I didn't understand why my pain was so frightening to them all,
and like a young bull, inconsolable and terrified,
I rampaged, alone, until I grew weak.
Once I’d smashed through all the walls I could find,
all I could do was crawl to the waiting sea, cool down, feel the sizzling of the Water upon my wounds.
I floated there, unmoving, until spit out by the sorrowful sea,
now an adult, alien in the face and given words meant to rejuvenate
all those lost to the traumas of their childhood--
I knew, after 11 years of mourning, that I could be a healing presence.
We are told to humbly live out our earthly existences,
forced to disregard the other side to all of this,
as is often done,
to shame the power it gives us,
because we are told there is nothing to be gained from what we can't stuff into our pockets.
But look! As the world slips through your fingers,
like wisps of thick smoke--
They ask, “Why would we want what we can never own?”
But the truth is all we own is our souls.
The rest of this life isn't any less real
to any of us,
it is simply hidden from view,
obscured by our fears
of what we are really here to do.
What we can't see, we must rely on ourselves to feel
And now, 11 years later, as I walked through the foggy cemetery,
a woman made by my own two hands,
my own hot tears,
I felt what my mother tried to make me forget:
I felt my father, six foot three,
warm and strong,
sitting directly in front of me,
in the form of cool stone
wedged firmly into earth.
It took me a long time to find him,
he was lost in the maze of forgotten deaths,
and I felt a deep guilt rise in my chest, for not coming sooner.
But I know now that all things happen when they should, and I did not let what was out of my hands hold me back
as I stomped along the yellow crunchy grass, looking for him,
as one does excitedly in a crowded restaurant,
breaking through the din.
After nearly an hour, I shouted to Ian, "I found him!"
My voice cut through the graveyard's silence like an ax,
and my heart pounded and thundered in my chest.
I could only stare at my mother’s and father's faces, engraved in the stone,
so happy and young,
unaware of where their love would lead, long ago, on Valentines Day.
I was left alone with him, and I could hardly meet his gaze,
I ripped and tore at the dead grass and said,
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get here.
I'm sorry that mom never visits.
I’m sorry, I’m not very good with words."
I took out my journal, because my mind communicates best from my hand,
and I let my thoughts pour into the page, trickle through the veil to him,
as it was so very thin that evening, like gossamer.
As I neared the end of my letter, big flakes of snow began to drift quickly to the ground, sooner than they were supposed to,
because it was him,
saying I am here,
saying, I didn't forget you,
just as you didn't forget me,
and I have always been watching,
just as you have always been secretly watching out for me,
in the shapes in the night,
in the winking of stars,
in the animals that looked at you a little too seriously,
in all the strange happenings around you,
and I am here to let you know, in this storm of fluffy white,
that I love you
and I am happy you came to see me.
Ian returned to see if I was alright,
and I was, just,
numb from the snow,
and I folded up my letter six times, and placed it at the base of his grave,
along with my stone,
so he could peer through my eyes every now and then,
two plastic flowers, gold and purple,
so they may never wither,
and a bracelet that he had given me in childhood,
engraved with a D,
this time, not for Dana,
but for Dad.
My name is Dana Gabrielle Espinosa. I am no stranger to grief. My father died when I was 9 years old, exactly a month before my 10th birthday. My whole life after that, whether I like it or not, has been influenced in some way by that event. Traumatic childhood events have ripples, and that is what I’ve begun dedicating my life to studying. I am a writer and artist, and I share my work on my Patreon: Danu Espinosa, as well as my instagram @danu_espinosa. I am on a journey of healing, trying to understand the child I buried beneath coping mechanisms and damaging mantras. Since leaving college, taking time to understand my emotional self, I’ve begun studying various occult practices, like astrology, numerology, and tarot. I also offer tarot card readings on my instagram account, where I can try to answer whatever question is weighing deeply on your mind, blocking your feelings of contentment. I believe reuniting with our inner child, connecting to our Higher Self, and pealing back whatever we’ve suppressed within ourselves, is the real work of this life.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.