Not quite sure where to begin. Never even thought of writing this letter before, never once even crossed my mind. My relationship with you not being a relationship at all. My memories of you faded, so unclear in fact that at times I wondered if there were ever real in the first place. Any scars or wounds long ago sanded away by the years and a life that kept moving, shifting and changing….without you. Any pain or resentment replaced with indifference and an understanding that my life could be marred with self pity and a sense of emotional injustice or I could learn that I needed to stand on my own two feet, become the woman I always hoped to be and do it without wishing, longing or blaming you. Just as you made choices that would ultimately leave me behind, I let you go long ago.
“Sam, why didn’t you just make the card?” my mother, the woman once your wife, asking me why I refused to participate in arts and crafts at school, a little stunt that landed me in the principal’s office and had her receiving the much dreaded call from school while she was at work. I was in the fourth grade and we were asked to make Father’s Day cards. I sat there, my classmates with crayons blazing, my elbows dug into the hard desktop, my scrunched face resting upon my balled fists. Not angry as much as thinking it ridiculous that I was being forced….and graded on, a card celebrating an imaginary figure. I wouldn’t do it and as I sat in the office, piles of multicolored fliers, ladies milling about doing I don’t know what, the smell of copier ink and peroxide think in the air, my tummy a cauldron of worry, (Mom was not a fan of calls from school or blatant rebellion) watching the principal’s face shift as my mother explained that my father was “no longer with us” from irritated to sympathetic, that was the day I decided to stop pretending or making excuses for you.
“I’m sorry. How did he die?” was no longer met with my mother’s favored, “it was a heart attack” no, from that point on I would flatly respond, “Don’t be sorry. He died from an overdose” a comment that would for years have my mother reaching under my arm and giving me that nasty pinch on the soft doughy skin there. I now know that she lied less to protect your honor and more to cover her personal humiliation. Part of me feels bad that I couldn’t bring myself to help her with that but….well, I was unwilling to keep up some sham of a story, not for either of you. I just never saw the fact that you were an addict as any reflection on my mother, in fact I saw her selfless act of walking away from a man she was madly in love with, to protect me, as the kind of strength I wished some day to have. I took my zero on that Father’s Day project, took the sad, “I’m so sorry faces” and took hundreds of underarm pinches but I learned not to feel some sense of responsibility for the actions and choices that were made that had nothing to do with me. Lessons about personal responsibility that I would have to revisit from time to time, when I fell or lost my way…..
“Do you ever wonder?” always a question asked of me when people learned that you died when I was so young, a question that I never quite knew how to answer. Did I wonder? I think at some time I must have, must have been curious what you were like as a child, what your favorite color was, if you shared my almost unnatural love of all things pickled or ever spent hours lying on the grass, no matter how itchy it made you, staring at the shape shifting clouds as they passed above. I knew, or had been told that I looked like you, had to take their word for that one seeing as I didn’t have a photo to compare my silly grin, slender nose and green eyes to. I never knew your face and had no one to ask about the kind of person you were, I’m sure I had to have wondered but practicality kept me from continuing to do so.
“If you are the Samantha Dugan I am looking for” your brother, my uncle…finding me. A flood of emotions and even more unanswerable questions but now, just a little more information about who you were before addiction and sadness crept in, before your need to escape, alter or dull some of your pain…a glimpse into what got you there. Your brother has been diligent in sharing you with me, giving of his stories and absolutely generous with opening his heart to me. Been an incredible few months getting to know you a little, getting to see me…
(My father on the left)
We do share a face
I want you to know that I was never angry
Never felt responsible
I forgive you….
So Mr. Mark Dugan, your daughter would like to say…for the first time, “Happy Father’s Day” and I um, made you this card.