“I just want you to know that you never lost me.” I was sitting on his porch swing, my hands clinging to the bottom of it to steady myself. It took exactly seven long breaths to get the bile rising in my throat to subside so that I wouldn’t throw up, and he wrapped one big arm around me and pulled me into his side. I watched as a single tear made its way down the right side of his face- closest to me -and trickled down onto his lap. His other hand was grasping something so tightly, that, had it not been dark, his knuckles would have been stark white against the tannish pink of his hands, and he uttered out the words, “I am so, so, sorry for the way that everything went, and I hate it, I hate it! I tried so hard to give you kids a better life, I tried so hard to make it better. I’m so sorry I hurt you, I’m so sorry…”
“Your mom and I tried therapy, we tried all that, but we blamed each other for everything and got nowhere. Then the PFA happened, and I hated it. I hated not seeing you kids, and I still don’t see you as much as I’d like to, and I’m so sorry. I just wanted you kids to be happy. I feel like you got cheated out of the most, since you were so young. You didn’t get the same father that your brother and sister got to know, and you were so, so young. That’s why I’m giving you these. I know that these won’t fix anything, and you don’t even have to take them if you don’t want them, but I want you to have them. They’re the one thing I feel like I actually earned, and I’m the only person who’s ever worn them. Not even your mom when we were married. They’re so special to me.” He took my hand in his and dropped warm metal and chains into my hand from his own clenched fist, and another tear streaked his face.
See, when a Marine gives you their dog tags, you don’t take it lightly. When your father apologizes for all of the hurt he has caused, you don’t take it lightly.
It had been eight years since I’d last had a conversation with my father where my blood didn’t boil in my veins. Where I could stand to think that this man had hurt me, hurt my sister, my brother, and my mother, and never had a single word to breathe about it. But here he was, giving me this part of himself that nobody would ever dare give up, crying, telling me that he loves me, telling me he was wrong, telling me this never should have happened to me, someone so young and full of light. That’s why I wear his dog tags every day, as though they are permanently branded into the skin around my neck. He told me to wear them as a reminder. To wear them proud. To never take them off.
I took his dog tags in my hand and ran my small fingers over where his name was etched into the top, and I wept.
“Why are you crying? What’s wrong?” He asked, pressing his hand to my cheek. I shook my head.
“I’m not sad, I’m really happy. I finally have my dad back.” I pressed my head into his shoulder and hugged him, burden free for the first time in my entire existence. And he wept, too.
“You never lost me, I’m right here. I’ve always been right here.”
Dear reader, you are not alone in this. I’ll always be right here.
Love, the sunless wanderer.