From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

The Unexpected

Life is an adventure in forgiveness.

Norman Cousins

In September of the year I turned nineteen, my parents drove up unexpectedly one Sunday afternoon to my college dorm. My mother sat down, quietly sniffling, while my dad, truly uncomfortable, cleared his throat, paused for a moment, and told me that they had received a letter from the Social Security Administration.

The letter said that Daniel Frazier—and for a moment, a heartbeat moment, I couldn’t remember who he was—had died, and I was entitled to Social Security benefits. Oh yes, he used to be my father. Well, my birth father. I don’t even remember him.

A part of me stood in the corner of the room quietly watching as this surreal scene unfolded. The person who I regarded as my true father, who had raised me from a child—my stepfather—was telling me about Daniel Frazier’s death. Another part of me was summing up what I felt at this moment, which was nothing—no sorrow, no sadness. Only a sense of melancholy that sometimes comes over one when reading a stranger’s obituary. Despite the chaotic thoughts scuffling around in my head, all I could think was that this isn’t how I thought it would end. I always thought I would see him again, at least once.

This was the second and final time I had lost him. He left my mother, my six-year-old sister and two-year-old me, promising to be back in two weeks—walked out the door and never looked back. When I turned six, my mother married a man who happily took on an instant family, and when our family grew through the addition of a baby brother, my sister and I happily spoiled our little prince.

But always, my thoughts would return to this missing man. I had wildly conflicting views on exactly how I should feel about Daniel Frazier. For a long time, I hated him. Despised him for walking out our front door and never looking back, never calling. I sometimes thought that perhaps he would silently be watching us at school or home, ashamed to show his face, lurking around the edges of my life, interested in how I was growing and my emerging chrysalis personality.

But the saddest thing is that I really have no memories of him. My sister recalls holding his hand and walking with him on a rainy October evening, the streetlights reflecting off the water-slicked streets. They stopped at a large building, where he pointed to one of the windows and said, “That’s where your mommy and baby sister are.” And that is as much as she can recall. But at least she has something, a bonafide picture captured in her heart. I find myself envious of her for that small glimpse.

My family had such an authentic core of sheer love that it was outside my understanding that someone of such looming importance to me could simply not care. Well, he didn’t. Care, that is. But what was not apparent to me when I found out about his death was how unspeakably troubled his life was. Only years later did the details of his life emerge.

My mother’s most hidden fear was that he would reemerge to haunt the lives of my sister and me, and only because he had died did she reveal some of his past. It turns out he had, for years, been manic-depressive, undiagnosed and untreated during their marriage. My mother found out that he died alone in a hotel room after taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

I know truth is often blurred in interpretation and no one knows what anyone’s final, most intimate thoughts are before exiting this world. But I want to believe he achieved some sort of redemptive grace before he died. Only lately, as I’ve gotten older, can I understand how utterly terrifying his world must have seemed. The chasm between him and a normal life must have seemed incalculable. How defeating it must have all been. With the added, overwhelming responsibilities of parenthood, he simply unraveled. All semblance of reality sloughed off of him, and during his last few years, he evidently lurched between medicated and nonmedicated crises. He had no friends, no family, no one to hold his hand at the end of his life.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to write these words. And only after I went through some troubled times in my own life did I begin to comprehend his pain. I found myself understanding how he could walk out that door and not look back. And not call, not write, not be part of our lives. He had nothing left to give, except his own grief and madness. I’d like to think he knew this. So, as my sister and I talked about him last weekend, we realized that we forgave him for leaving us. We had finally stopped looking for the reasons why he went away.

He will always be the first man who broke my heart, but today as I write this, I can finally accept him with all his flaws.

Julie Lucas

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