* * * *
Emily sat at her study desk preparing for her senior final history exam. She was reviewing the Vietnam War era which reminded her of her dad.
She remembered the stories he used to tell her and her three siblings regarding some of the rescue missions he flew during the last two years of that war.
Then her thoughts drifted back to the private conversation she had with her father the day prior to his death; the last day he was alert and lucid.
She approached that memory with a surge of emotions.
Emily was still unable to reconcile all her feelings and wasn’t quite sure she ever would. She didn’t know, she thought, if resolution was important or if it was even possible.
Life is so complex, a young yet spiritually old Emily reflected.
She thought about the pain she heard in his voice when he told her about the three separate individuals, an uncle, a trusted friend of her grandfather and an older priest who had molested him when he was just a boy. She was sure she was the first and only person he told that secret to and it pained her because she knew his pain. Then she remembered what she said to her dad.
“I’m really sorry that happened to you, Dad. But, Dad, you’re a grown man and you had a choice to make when you decided to do to me what was done to you. You had a choice, Dad. You could have chosen to simply love me as a good father loves his precious daughter; and, Dad, if that had been your choice I swear to you, I would have loved and worshiped you with all my heart and soul. But instead, you chose to hurt me. You chose to steal from me the one thing that was mine and mine alone. You stole my childhood, Dad. You stole my innocence. You hurt me like no one in the world could ever do. You took away my trust. You made me feel unsafe in the one and only place a child should feel safe in. I was never safe in my own home because you took that safety away from me. You built a prison around me Dad. You made me live in hell every day of my life, and because of that you are going to have to suffer. There are consequences for the choice you made and the things you did to me knowing all the while you were destroying me. You were trying to destroy me; but I promise you, Dad, you will never, ever destroy me. If I have to live the rest of my life undoing the damage you chose to do to me, I will, because I am going to be happy, Daddy. I am determined that I will be happy because I have chosen to be a good person. I have chosen to never, ever do to anyone else what was done to me. When I am on my death bed, I will be able to look back over my life and be proud of who I became. Something you chose to take from your own self.
I don’t know what happens to us when we die, Daddy. I don’t know if there’s really a heaven or hell. I’ve been reading a lot about reincarnation, so I don’t know if you are going to have to come back to make up for what you’ve done.
All I know, Dad, is that this is yours. It’s not mine. I can’t forgive you; and I don’t know if I will ever want to forgive you or if it even matters. There’s still a part of me that loves you, Daddy; but it’s not a love that was built on trust or something you earned. You earned only my distrust and indifference; so, I guess I love you only because you are my dad; and, I wish I could have helped to take away the pain you suffered when you were just a kid. But I can’t because you chose to give that pain away by giving it to me.”
Then she paused and finally asked him as her voice cracked. “Now I have to ask you a very important question; and, I need you to be honest with me…and, Dad, honest with yourself. I need to know if there is anyone else that you’ve hurt over the years.”
Joe was most awake for Emily’s discussion and was crying as Emily handed him the box of Kleenex that was sitting on the stand next to his bed. She offered the box but not her sorrow for having to ask such a poignant question.
She had to know.
In the back of her mind, she had to know so that one day she could reach out to those children in order to help them with the pain her dad gave them as well.
She sat in her chair next to her father’s death bed. He wiped his eyes but he didn’t lift his head. He couldn’t even look at her as he choked on his own tears and shook his head yes.
Emily recalled that she had hoped with all her heart the answer was no; but when she watched his head move up and down instead of back and forth, her heart cracked into smaller pieces than it already was. Deafening silence filled the room.
Still with his head bowed he began ripping at the wet Kleenex when Emily finally asked. “Who Daddy?”
“I can’t,” sobbed Joe.
“Yes you can, Dad,” she insisted. “This is your chance to cleanse your soul. This could help you on your next journey. I want to help you, Daddy. I really do.”
Still avoiding her gaze, he whispered two names. One was a young girl who lived next to them when they lived in Pensacola. The other Emily had to think about.
It was a boy but she couldn’t quite picture him when she asked, “How did you know Peter McLain?”
Between his two fingers, Joe was twisting the blanket that covered him as he whispered, “He was one of the kids I coached when I coached the little league team. I’m so, so sorry, Emily.” Then he sobbed and whispered, “I’m so, so sorry. God forgive me. I’m so sorry for the way I’ve lived my life.”
At that moment Emily suspected her dad was really and truly sorry; probably for the first time in his life.
Then Joe raised his head, but still didn’t raise his eyes. Emily could see his face was stained with tears as he asked, “Emily do you ever think you’ll forgive me?”
Emily felt the burden of having been asked to forgive him not only for what he did to her but for what he did to the other children.
She choked back her own tears and answered. “Daddy, I want to. With all my heart I want to; but, I honestly can’t say I will. I just don’t know that answer. I guess it will take a long time for me to be able to work through all of this. But, I think right now what you need more than anything is to forgive yourself. You’re dying, Daddy. You probably won’t live too much longer. You need to try and forgive yourself. It’s the only way I think that you can have a little peace. I think it could help me too,” she said as she began crying torrentially.
“Ohhh, Emily, please don’t cry. God, I wish like hell you wouldn’t cry. I wish to God I had given you the father you so deserved to have. But, I didn’t and I know I will have to carry that with me now.” Joe spoke with absolute resignation.
He then, for the first and last time, looked Emily in the eyes, blinked several times and asked if he could touch her hand which was lying on the bed next to him.
She cringed. She felt as if she wanted to pull her hand away, far away; but she mustered all the courage she could possibly gather and gave him permission by simply nodding her head.
Joe put his hand on her delicate hand and said, “Thank you, Emily. Thank you for being you. I only wish I wasn’t so selfish because I now know how much I missed; and,” he sobbed, “I never will get that chance to…”
Emily slid her hand out from under his, stood and said, “I know, Dad, I know. Now, I’ve got to go. Lily and Katie want to come talk to you too. Bye, Daddy,” she whispered as she kissed the top of his head.
Then their eyes met and he mouthed, “I love you.”
Yet all she could offer in return was a look that said, “This is the best I can do.”
Then, trying hard to compose herself, she turned and left the room knowing her mom was sitting just outside.