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TW: This article covers sensitive topics like addiction.

There was an extra spring in my step that morning. My heart grew closer to beating out of my chest with each step I took towards the lobby. This was it. The first time I’d see my father in five years. I saw his tattoos peeking through a faded tank and tapped lightly on his shoulder. He turns to me and our eyes lock. My shoulders, eyebrows and corners of my mouth drop, my expectations follow. His bloodshot eyes and droopy eyelids reminded me that I was a fool to think this time would be any different. He was drunk, again.

I prefer to think of the good times, sometimes admittedly romanticize them. I spent my early childhood with him, and those years were good. We’d chuckle on the way to school, eat way too much ice cream together and he’d come home every night from work awaiting a hug from Tink (me, aka Tinkerbell). I’ve always loved that he called me that, and I adored it when he would play his guitar. In reality, the good times were few and far between. His addiction caused my mom and me to leave him and move in with my grandparents in Florida.

I saw him twice from the ages of 8 to 16—the first at around 10, the next at 15. My mom and I had planned to meet up with him to see one of my favorite bands in concert (a rock band I knew he’d get a kick out of) when I was 14, but he got drunk and missed the train. In case you were wondering, Pierce The Veil is great live.

We had some semblance of a relationship. Not the kind I wanted by any means, but it’s not like we never talked. I spent my teen years picking up his drunk phone calls and listening to hollow words. Behind closed doors, or more like behind the walls that I built up against him, I would wonder endlessly about what led up to his demise, both figuratively and literally.

I racked up 12 missed attendances within the first two weeks of junior year returning to North Carolina with my mom, planning and attending his funeral. I was a 16-year-old angsty, confused and furious wreck. With each new day, an untapped question or emotion found its way into my exhausted brain. Beginning to plan for college and envisioning where I would take my life after high school was taxing enough. I needed to prove myself to colleges that I deserved acceptance, yet I could barely prove to myself that I was strong enough to brush my hair. I couldn’t imagine carrying on in the school year dealing with the suffocating weight of grief.

We’ve all heard it before. Don’t shove down your feelings. Don’t suppress. It’ll only lead to an inevitable meltdown where emotions are oozing from every seam. From the number of times I had tried to stitch together the wounds from my father, I had many seams.

Realizing I couldn’t handle my emotions and knowing I needed an impressive resume, I somehow pushed myself to do anything to fill the torturous time. I made my way into almost every school extracurricular I could, spent my free time out of the house, and picked up another job. My schedule was stacked high, and by the end of senior year, I was euphoric. These distractions simultaneously helped me get accepted into the University of Florida (UF), but I didn’t realize I was stalling the inevitable.

Proud and eager to be a Gator, I committed to UF as a student in the Pathways to Campus Enrollment (PaCE) program, meaning all of my classes were to be completed online until I earned my associate degree. Coming from a hustle-bustle lifestyle of a high school student trying to rigorously fight their way into college, adapting to an almost 100% flexible schedule was a quest I was clueless on how to conquer.

I was having a hard time making friends through online classes, and anything that needed to be done could be done from my bed. I dabbled in extracurriculars, but they fell flat. My days were no longer filled with distractions, and I ran out of motivation to find new ways to spend my time. Any emotion I had tried to lock up in high school crept up slowly behind me, waiting to pounce at any moment—pounce they did.

I could no longer run away from the feelings I was trying to suppress; they had caught up with me and closed any available exits. Every word I had ever viscously spat at my dad flashed through my mind. I would lie limp tangled in unwashed sheets while a high-intensity, back-and-forth game of ping-pong continued in my mind. Did he die thinking I didn’t love him? What led to his addiction in the first place? What were his favorite bands? What was his go-to dessert? Do I forgive him? Should I? The ups and downs plagued my mind for months and I remained underneath the sheets, finding a debilitating yet odd comfort in being a recluse.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to understand life and addiction more, and while my teenage fury has subsided, other emotions have taken its place. Sometimes I feel as though since I don’t have answers, I don’t have closure. I’m unsure of where I stand because I never heard his side of the story. I’m grieving someone who’s a part of me, who has given me both sour and sweet memories, yet is essentially a stranger.

It’s a constant battle of whether to love or loathe him. I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to not continuously wonder about what went down and why. If only he knew I’d grow to be a stubborn, inquisitive journalism student who has nothing but questions.

In many ways, I have to thank him. I wouldn’t have the life I have now without him being a part of my story. Who knows if I would’ve gotten into UF, been as close with my mother or met the people that I have in Florida whom I’ve grown so close to. In his own way, he made me realize some of what it takes to be a great parent and that I want to strive to be nothing less of that for my future children.

I used to stuff down anything I’d felt about my father. I’d sprinkle in distractions throughout the day, and the combo was my perfect concoction to drown out the pain. His distractions were far more lethal than mine, but we both ultimately met our demise by running away from feelings we knew weren’t fleeting.

I’m trying now to accept the situation and make it whatever I need it to be. If I need to resent him one day, miss him the next, so be it. Not think about him for weeks yet choke up when I hear an especially striking guitar solo on the radio, okay. I’m trying to take life as it comes. I have faith that although I might not feel it at times, he’s watching over me shouting, “You got this, Tink.”

Journalism major at the University of Florida.
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