This story is by Zeina Bazarbachi and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
This evening I loose my daughter: it’s her wedding night. I, as her father, am supposed to be walking her down the aisle. This is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. I’m not sure that the same can be said for me.
It’s been fifteen years since my wife died. Fifteen years in which I had to raise my only daughter alone. My wife had a terminal illness with a name so long I still can’t even pronounce it. I knew that when I married her. Yet I married her anyway; simply because I loved her, even in the limited time we had. The doctor estimated five years left for her on this earth when we got engaged. She lived twelve more. For four years of them, we struggled to have our beautiful Anaya. Anaya was born a healthy wonderful baby, but she lost her mother at a young age.
My wife died fifteen years ago. I think I’ve waited long enough before I can join her.
I’ve had depression for the last fifteen years. At first everyone thought I was just grieving, which was the normal thing to be doing at the time. Then they told me that I refused to move on. ‘Live your life’, they said. For the sake of Anaya. Think of Anaya. Do it for Anaya. Live for Anaya. What they didn’t know is that Luna was my life.
I did my part, I raised my girl, held her hand when she was sick, let her cry and do as she wished. When Luna died, Anaya kicked, screamed, and broke things. Shortly afterwards, she became so quiet. There was no difference between her and a mute. I had no idea what to do. At least we were together, I kept thinking. We grieved together. We were each other’s support through all of this. Yet now she’s leaving me. Even she is leaving me: she’s marrying him.
I believe I did my part. Maybe it would be okay for me to leave this world. At least that’s the first thought that gets into my head every morning; ‘Kill yourself, just do it. Kill yourself, what are you waiting for? It’s not like anyone is going to miss you anyway. It’s not like you have a place in this world, you’re just an old man, no one listens to you anyway… Everyone is waiting for you to die. Save them the wait and finish this.’
Men don’t cry. Men don’t hug. Men are strong. By these standards I’ve never been truly a man. Men are supposed to protect their women. But I couldn’t save my Luna. I couldn’t save her. I failed her. I failed Anaya. I failed everyone.
I can feel her body decaying in the grave. I can even imagine the worms and bugs feeding on her remains. Two worms just climbed out of her eye socket. How dare they, I shiver.
Apparently you’re not allowed to go have breakfast with your wife every weekend. The two people who take care of the graveyard threaten to call the cops each time I bring my picnic basket to the cemetery. Still, I’ve never seen them go through with it. Look, I’m not delusional. I know that my wife can’t answer me when I talk to her. But I know her soul is listening. I’m certain of this. I’m sure she misses me too. I’m positive she wants me to join her. Luna misses me just as much as I miss her. Maybe she’s longing for me even more intensely. She’s probably looking down from Heaven, right now, her gaze fixed on her unreachable, late husband. I’m late for paradise.
I’m tired. I’m constantly tired. I wake up every morning angry, because, as long as I’m awake, my brain is keeping me company. That is why I adore naps. Time flows better when you sleep for eight hours at night and take two naps every day. My doctor says excessive sleeping is energy draining. It doesn’t change the fact that I would definitely rather be exhausted due to oversleeping than not sleeping at all. For me, sleeping is just like being dead, without the commitment.
I have trouble falling asleep, so I still purchase my wife’s perfume on a regular basis. I spray it twice on her unwashed pillow every night before I go to bed. At least I can pretend she’s still there. So when I wake up at night, I can just convince myself that she’s in the bathroom, and that she will be back soon. She’ll be back soon… soon.
I also keep my pills besides my bed. I don’t have a medicine cabinet. My medications are not your traditional old man pills. They are supposed to treat my “mental illness”: Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, you name it. (As if the people around me are not “mentally ill”.) Anaya is a pharmacist. She does not know how to disobey orders. I know I’m making her an enabler. I know she deserves better. But I’m disturbed, to say the least. And that is why she’d be so much better without me. It would reduce the amount of anxiety and worry she has in her life.
There are many ways to kill yourself. Jumping off a building, hanging yourself, shooting yourself, sleeping pills, and alcohol. Even Heroin, or whatever the kids are smoking these days. Creativity has no limits: I could go to the zoo and get a snake to bite me, or jump in with the lions. That would be fun. However, I think I’ll go with the pills. You know, the safe side. Guaranteed effect. I am aware that I am truly pathetic. Weren’t I a pathetic weak man, I wouldn’t have planned this whole thing out.
But why today? Out of all the days in the last fifteen years, why does it have to be today? I just can’t bare the idea of being replaceable even to my own flesh and blood. I was her first love, but he will be her eternal love.
I pace around the room. I cry. I cry the ugly cry, weeping like a toddler. I’m petty. I have accomplished nothing in the decades I’ve been on this earth. I’ve been drowning ever since I was born, but I still don’t know how to swim.
I grab one of the bottles and throw all the pills in my hand. I don’t even look to see which bottle it is. I contemplate my tears as they drip on them. I’ve planned this moment for so long. I’ve been dreaming of this day ever since I lost my wife. The day I would join her. So why is it so difficult to go through with it? Why am I so hesitant to take this step? Am I such a coward that I back down on being sheepish? How puny am I? I’ve always been dead inside. I guess you need to have a life if you want to slaughter it.
‘Dad are you ready?’ I hear Anaya’s voice behind me. The lethal dosage of pills still in my palm, I turn around to face my daughter. She is stunning, absolutely gorgeous.
When she sees my concerned face, she asks me, with a child-like voice, ’Am I pretty, daddy?’
She’s wearing her mother’s wedding dress. I had no knowledge that she was going to use Luna’s dress. She looks so beautiful. For a brief moment, I mistake her for her mother. My hands shake and drop the pills.
Her smile turns into an expression of deep worry.
‘Dad, what are you doing?’
‘Nothing, sweetie, I was just counting the pills, to see if I took today’s or not. I keep forgetting,’ I lie.
‘Are you sure?’ her tone sounds skeptical.
‘Yes, honey, I’m sure.’ I say with a smile I try to fake. I never knew smiling could hurt this intensely.
She then seems to have a change of heart. ‘Well this is not the moment for your pills! You have to walk me down the aisle! Everyone is waiting!’ Or perhaps her enthusiasm is overpowering her other emotions. Her smile resurfaces, her eyes are filled with joy and hope. She looks at me with love and expectancy. I can’t fail my only daughter. I cannot die right now. I have to walk Anaya down the aisle. I owe her that. I’m her father. I owe her this moment of pure happiness. I do not have the right to be this selfish.
There might be no hole deeper than depression. But there is definitely no stronger pleasure than seeing your child genuinely smiling.
And so, slowly yet surely, we walk down the aisle.