My daughter calls and tells me about a writing assignment she needs to do for one of her journalism classes. The assignment is to ask someone about a defining moment and write about it as briefly as possible. Do you think Dad will be okay if I ask about his brother? She worries that it will be too painful for him to talk about. She is protective of him. She knows I wrote about it last year. It is a topic we almost never bring up. Mainly because we are both afraid to reach that far down into someone's private pain. We are reluctant to open the wound. Even though we both know the wound is always open.
I remember when I was little, Dad always said to be careful crossing the street because that was how his little brother died. I never knew there was a little brother. He never really told me the story.
She asks if he has ever told me the whole story. I tell her yes. Early in our marriage, before we had you. We are watching a movie and in the movie, the little boy dies. I thought he was making a joke, pretending to cry. It took me a minute to see the tears were real.
He carries the pain in a hidden place. Once in a while, he will touch on it. But almost never. I know that is why my daughter is reluctant to ask. She wonders why he's held it in for over forty years. She talks about not understanding how someone can grow up with so much pain as a little boy and turn into such a kind and loving man.
He had almost nothing, and he lost his little brother too. My daughter is crying on the other end of the phone. I tell her that no matter what her Dad didn't have growing up, he has her now. She is his best gift.
Really, I tell her. You are his best gift. It is hard for her to imagine anyone blaming a little boy for the accident. It wasn't his fault. He was just a baby. I listen to her words tumble out between sobs. I think this hurts me as much as it hurts Dad. It is hard for her to imagine a little boy growing up picking tobacco in the hot Virginia summers instead of going to camp like other kids. He made sure I went to camp every summer. It is hard for her to imagine a little boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
It is hard for her to venture into the painful areas of her father's life.
But I think she will. I think she needs to. Not just for her journalism assignment, but for the love of her father. For the man who keeps his pain buried deep inside himself. The man who will answer the phone tonight and tell her the story he needs to tell and the story she needs to hear.
The post I wrote about this~