Jan 10, 2023 - 7 minutes
I have—had—a daughter. She was brilliant. She is now dead.
I was absent from my daughter’s life for most of it. Her mother wanted nothing to do with the irresponsible, dumb, and young man that was me (I make no claim to be any different now), and left the country, pregnant. I wasn’t aware that she was carrying, but I had my suspicions.
We had known each other for only a few months. I was a student, she a working professional. She did not return from her trip.
In the years to follow, I searched for her; for “them”. A family member responded to one of my mails and asked me to stay away; “you’ve ruined her life”. I learned that she suffered from total memory loss, and could no longer remember me, or our relationship, or anything at all.
I made it a ritual to send mail every year.
“I have so much to tell you." came a response a few years later, followed by silence.
A few more years, and: “Who are you? How do you know that about me? What do you want?"
Memory loss is hard. Over time, she determined that I was who I said I was, and that I was the father of her child. She had no memories prior to waking up with a baby in her hands, a baby she doesn’t remember carrying.
We connected. Spoke on the phone. She recognized my voice, my laugh, but not me. One day, she sent me a picture of our daughter - and the world stopped. I knew of her, but seeing a photograph was something else; it shook me. This is real, and she exists.
“She has your eyes. And your lips."
I didn’t know what to do.
“You don’t have to be involved if you don’t want to."
I could not bear the thought of a 20 year old human being knocking on my door and asking where I was all those years. No. I wanted to know my daughter.
“I told her she has a father, like her friends. She’s excited."
“She’s going to her best friend’s house to make a father’s day card."
“Mom, what does he sound like?”
“Mom, is he nice?”
“Mom, is he tall?"
“What did you say?"
Trust is difficult. Her mother kept her as far from me as possible in the early months, and for good reason.
The weeks went by.
I googled “How to father” and similar phrases. A previous lover had bought me a book called “World’s Best Dad”—for fun. I read it for the first time.
Back then, I was depressed; suicidal. Learning of and connecting with my daughter filled me with life. I had before then decided that children were not for me, and yet the image of my child gave me hope, and fear, and feelings. Feelings. I felt things again. My life would now be for and about her; who or what else have I got to live for?
Joy. Terror. Doubt. Panic.
I was still unstable. Jobless. Placeless. I didn’t know if I could continue to live where I was; my country was calling me back for military service, but I had no interest in firing guns for disgusting politicians.
None of it mattered.
I am here for my child.
Names. Sara (mother) and Miriam (child). Sara was planning a trip to visit town, and to meet me. What I didn’t know was that my daughter would be tagging along as a surprise.
On the road to a mall in my city on their first day, Sara and Miriam were hit by a car. They were in the hospital for close to a month. Mild injuries. A broken arm and some scratches. Sara was unreachable during that month, and I learned of the accident only after they had left the country and returned home.
“I’m just worried about her headache. She’s getting it constantly."
A few weeks later, Miriam dropped to the ground at school. She was rushed to the hospital. A clot in the brain. Small. Undetected by early scans. Stupid, careless scanners. Under the knife, immediately. She will survive this. I was on the phone with Sara for the duration. 15 hours later, our child was dead. Too much bleeding, they said.
“She’s gone.” - 11:37pm
Chaos. Tears. Funeral arrangements. I was mostly useless, as I was for most of her little life. I felt guilty for the pain deep in my body, in my ribs, for someone I did not know very well, and yet, it hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts. If it hurts me this deeply, how does Sara feel? She who raised her into the wonderful human being that she was.
“I can’t sleep. I keep hearing Miriam’s voice."
Sara did not last much longer. A year after Miriam’s death, she died, too, suffering from heartbreak and complications related to her memory loss. We met a few months before, and talked about our daughter. Her memory would come and go — she remembers me, and then she doesn’t. A day on, a day off. She wanted to say goodbye before she died, but her family refused. There will be no goodbyes for you, stranger.
Miriam was the most captivating child I’d ever known. We shared some hobbies, which was less a result of genetic transference than of unmotivated coincidence. She wanted to become an astronaut, as did I, and I knew she’d make it before me. She was articulate, kind, intelligent, lovely. She was treated as an equal at home and had a maturity that many adults in my life lack. She looked like me. She had a hunger for learning and creating. Yes, these are things we all say about the dead, and about children. These are things I felt then, and still feel.
Tell me again that there is a god. A god who would rob a child of a life, a mother of her daughter, and a little girl of her best friend. How cruel is it that the person who saves my life loses theirs, and I am left to grieve and wallow in self pity.
I think of my child every day. Death was not meant for one as kind and as wonderful as she.
Before their deaths, Miriam and Sara wrote me letters. There is a firm belief in their family that Sara’s life would not have been so tragic had I not met her. That is true. With cursed hands I had touched their lives again, so I understand their anger. Please spare me the hogwash about how it is not my fault. I am aware of the custom.
I share this with you in memory of my child and her mother. Miriam did not get to live past the age of seven, but if you think and speak of her, she will live. Today is the 4th anniversary of her death. I regret nothing in life but this — that I was not there for my daughter, and that I did not share a world with her. Deep in my ribs she rests and plays. I struggle to find meaning in her absence, and yet I do, in beautiful things and delightful people.
I share this with you because you too have lost or will lose a loved one. Death is a thing we all share. Tell the people you love that you love them, every day, every minute if you can, and show up for them. Do it now. Go.
[…] Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came. […]
Edna St. Vincent Millay
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