17, Number 99, October/November 2014 Strings of Letters, the Stitches of Heart by Saahi Katari
“Don’t you ever show your face again to me or my family,” furiously shouted a woman to her husband. “You’ve done enough damage, and I want you to see them no further!”
“But you have to give me another chance,” replied the husband in resentment. “We can work this out; think about Faith!”
“I am thinking about Faith. It’s best if you just leave. Just leave, Steve. Get the hell out of here,” cried the woman.
I’m Faith Anderson. I still remember being a five-year-old; it’s the age that I will never forget in my life. I was pretending to be asleep in my bedroom, but in reality I was awake. I could hear every word coming out of my parents’ mouths just before they split up. I was horrified and shaking in bed, but I hugged my teddy bear and it was okay. When I woke up the next morning, my mother was sitting right across the bed, sobbing like I had never seen her before. She looked at me and wiped her tears. The memory of last night’s fight was still fresh in my mind, so I crawled up to her and snuggled right into her arm. “Oh, sweety,” she said in a broken voice. “Your daddy is gone. You will be living with me now.” I was alright for a day or two, but then I missed my father tucking me into the bed occasionally, and reading me a bedtime story of how princes rescued princesses. I knew that my mother was shattered after the split up, but I made courage to ask her to help me mail a letter to my dad. It was the first letter I had written to him:
I miss you. I want your goodnight kiss. Tell me a story, too. Will you come back for mommy? I think she misses you too. I’m sending you my teddy. Hug him when you feel lonely.
I love you, daddy.
When I was young, I occasionally wrote to him, describing what happened at my school and home. I even invited him to my ballet recitals, and mailed in performance tickets. At my ballet recitals, I used to look for him in the audience, but he never came, neither did he ever reply back to me. He just did not care about me or my mother anymore; he just left us alone. My mother remarried within two years because of the financial burden, but I could tell that she just married my step-father for mere companionship. No matter how close we tried to be, I never felt a part of the family, especially when my twin stepsiblings were born. Yet, I continued writing to my father, sending him pictures of me and asking him to come take me with him. Seeing children with their fathers at school, I yearned for a father figure in my life. Over the years, I only wrote to my dad on certain occasions, such as his birthday, Father’s Day, Hannukah or Christmas. I sometimes asked him what had went wrong, and in each letter I apologized even more for what my mother had ever done in order for him to abandon us in such a way.
When I turned 18, I moved out of the house for college, took up job as a cashier, and cared for my own finances. I still wrote to my dad, I had even included my mobile number for him to contact me, but I never had the courage to visit him. As I grew even older, I realized that I had lost touch with my family; my mom wrote me letters. I would read them, and immediately crumple them up to toss them into my waste basket. Out of my rage of what she had done to me as a child, I never replied to any of the letters she sent me.
Four years of college passed like a windy breeze; the spring had brought life, and the autumn always took it away. The summer radiated its heat, and the winter seized it all. On a crisp December morning, I received a call on my mobile from an unknown number. Puzzled, I answered the phone and a lady spoke, “I believe we have a man in relation to you in the hospital, as this is the only number we could find in his wallet. He does not have much time.” When the lady gave me the address of the hospital, I realized that it was in the same town where my father lived. As I drove across from town to town, thoughts rushed my mind like a tornado; I was hoping that the man on the hospital bed be anyone else but my father. If I saw him after 17 years, what would I say to him? Then I began to wonder the reason why my father would have my number in his wallet? Is it really him on the hospital bed, or did the lady punch the number wrong?
When I got to the hospital, I saw a thin, frail body lying on the bed, with a belly of an oversized watermelon. The skin was pale and wrinkled, and his hair coloured with the hue of ash. Though the body was barely the resemblance of the memory of my father, I knew that this man was my father. His eyes were closed, and the monitors around him switched off. My body shook with the same fear and horror as it did witnessing my parents’ big fight. The nurse entered the room,
“Steve Anderson. He passed away a few minutes ago; I am sorry for your loss. He’s had a record of two strokes, and a history of liver cirrhosis. I believe he came into emergency today at the moment he was about to pass out of overconsumption of alcohol.”
My jaw dropped. I was speechless; there were no words or emotions in me. All I could do was stare at the dead body, the body of my own father.
“May I ask your relation to this man?”
“I’m Anderson. Faith Anderson, his daughter.”
“Thank you. I will be back with the death certificate. Again, I am sorry for your loss.”
The nurse’s words sounded farfetched, too alienated. She came back with the death certificate, and urged me to visit his house, to see if there were any family members that needed this news. Family members? Throughout these years, it barely recurred to me that he could have been remarried, or perhaps had another family.
I was shocked to find my number in his wallet, yet I approached his house, nonetheless. His house was close to the hospital; it seemed blended with all the other townhouses. It smelled of liquor; there were broken vodka bottles all around the living room. The TV screen had been smashed with one of them, too. There were more liquor bottles in the house than there were dishes in the cupboard. It saddened me to think that this is what my father went through before taking his last breath upon the hospital bed. He lived alone, I could see no picture frames in the house, nor any decor set schematically by a woman. He had died all alone, with no one to take care of him. And then it hit me as I realized that he was an alcoholic. This is what my mother had been trying to protect me from all these years; she did not want this image of him to shadow her family. I did not know whose side to take anymore - was my mother right to take me away from him, or is my father justified for staying away from me? With these thoughts, I heavy-footedly went up the stairs; there were only two rooms. One of them was his bedroom, plain and simple. The other room was shut. When I entered, I smelled the lavender, my mother’s favourite flowers - the windows were open, the curtains flew freely inside, and the sun shone its rays upon the walls. In the middle of the room was a tall, slim table, which had the teddy bear I gave to him when I was five. The walls were painted of my favourite colour, violet, and had all the letters and pictures hung up chronologically. There were cut-outs of butterflies and birds emerging from the letters out the windows. I could not believe what I saw - my father had pinned all the letters that were ever sent his way. The middle of the wall read: Faith - my daughter, my girl, my angel. I dropped down on my knees, closed my eyes full of tears, and touched those letters on the wall; it felt as if my dad had held my hand for the very last time. The sun began to go down, and soon twilight took over the sky. I was defeated with my own thoughts, like a wounded soldier after a war. I reached for my childhood teddy bear, and hugged it, just for the purpose it was meant to be. My dad cared for me all these years.
Discouraged and overthrown, I walked to my car and drove towards home with a heavy heart. It felt as though I was vanishing into nothingness as I entered my room, until I saw a letter on the table. My roommate must have left it. The letter was from my mother. I did not have the courage to pick up the phone to talk to her, to let her know what had happened, but she had the right to know. I started to think pragmatically and realized that neither of them was wrong in doing what they did over the years; they were both trying to protect me from each other. My letters meant the world to my dad; they were his rays of hope after days of rain, they were the stitches that healed his broken heart. My mom had enough of ignorance from my side, I now realized how she must feel, not hearing back a single reply to any of her letters. With that thought in my mind, I decided to pick up a pen and write back for the first time in four years.