Letter To An Absent Father.
Sorry. It seemed like such a simple word.
I was only a few years old when my heart begged to hear its sound from your lips. I ached for its soft whisper in my ear.
Instead, questions haunted me every day. How could you leave behind your family for another woman?
It seemed so absurd to my young mind. I struggled to comprehend how a man could bear such guilt.
Years flew by. Summer turned into autumn. At school, I watched the red leaves slowly fall on the playground from the window. When winter came around, I stayed inside and let my classmates build snowmen without me. Games no longer cheered me up. During spring, I dragged my feet walking home despite the sunshine. On the streets, I searched endlessly for your familiar face among strangers’.
Passers-by wondered what could burden such a young child.
Nightmares troubled my nights. Our boat was capsizing and you were nowhere to be seen. I would wake up in a cold sweat, and mum was the only one there to comfort me. But oh, I yearned for your strong arms wrapped around my shoulders. My rosy cheeks longed for your soft good-morning kisses.
As time passed, my anger became second. Your face I once knew so well started to fade. Was your scar beside your right eyebrow or left? The texture of your skin and the strong smell of your cologne became a distant memory. The photo of you which I kept underneath my pillow was slowly turning into a stranger.
Some days I wondered if you were thinking of me. But it was just a passing thought, and eventually these disappeared too. My smile grew bigger and tears stopped flowing. While mum worked hard to put food on the table, I taught myself to skip rocks, tie my shoe laces, and kick a soccer ball straight.
Then I turned nine years old.
“Close your eyes,” mum told me, gently placing her hands over my eyes. “I have a surprise for you.”
The house smelled like the chocolate cake she had baked earlier for the occasion. Laughter filled the room and I could hear my friends playing musical chairs.
She reminded me to watch my step as we walked past the pile of presents, but we didn’t stop there. We took a right turn into another room. It was silent and I could hear someone breathing calmly in front of me.
Curiosity got the better of me and my eyes opened.
Your face was tanned and your lips were dry from the sun. The scar was on the left of your eyebrow and you wore another one on your nose. Unshaved and sporting a red jumper, I hardly recognized you.
An embrace followed, but I could not tell you how long it lasted. Maybe seconds, maybe minutes. A whirlwind of thoughts flew through my mind and I lost track of time.
“Hello, beautiful,” you said in your husky voice which I had forgotten. You talked for a while, but I was too busy studying your every gesture to concentrate on words. Your right hand was in your pocket, and you didn’t fiddle as you spoke.
This was your chance. How could you be so calm?
I had questions for you… so many questions. But I swallowed my words in fear you would leave again.
After all, who could blame a child for wanting her father close? Despite my quiet fury through the years, my deep love for you had remained unscathed.
You stayed in town for a week and then disappeared again, leaving behind just empty space. Your weekly phone calls became monthly and eventually turned to none. You would reappear every few winters, and my heart knotted each time you left. As I grew up, I longed for answers more than I longed for you.
I secretly hoped remorse was chewing your soul. You had forgotten my birthday countless times. You weren’t there for my first heartbreak. We were so distant that I couldn’t ask you for advice, and you had never asked about my favorite movie.
As I searched for answers, my angry letters to you were answered by irritated emails. What hurt the most is that you never wrote or muttered the word Sorry.
Shaya Laughlin is a writer. You will often find her wandering with a notebook and a pen. If she’s not climbing mountains, she’s swimming in the ocean. She was brought up to enjoy adventure and feel comfortable anywhere in the world. She spends her time trying to understand different cultures and humankind. She savors music, nights under the stars, long runs by the sea and swinging in a tree.