April 24, 2001

"Walk me down the aisle, Daddy, it's just about time;
Does my wedding gown look pretty, Daddy?
Daddy, don't cry."

Dear Dad,

I turned 26 yesterday. I had a party last weekend and got drunk on Brazilian cocktails. Grandpa and Grandma sent me flowers, a delivered arrangement, like they have every year since I was 19. The flowers were roses this year, pink and white. I had a birthday yesterday. Did you even notice?

The last birthday card I ever got from you came in a business size envelope. You used the letter wizard in Word, probably, and sent me two sentences formatted in formal business style. You signed it "Sincerely, Jim Willott." Not, "love, Dad." It was my 20th birthday.

Six years later, you don't know my middle name. You don't remember the name of the man sharing my life. You can't tell me apart from my sister, shorter, younger, more married, and definitely more pregnant than I. You don't know and express no interest in my life, my interests, my activities.

In stories, fathers are supposed to be proud of their daughters. They brag about her accomplishments, her refinement and class, her brilliance to anyone who even looks like they might listen. In the movies, fathers are so concerned for their little girls that they grill the men brought home, covering everything from income to ethics: are you good enough for my princess?

I keep trying to cut you some slack. I know you are sick, even if you refuse to admit anything is wrong. I've seen the images from the scans the doctors made, and I've seen where your brain is disappearing. You used to design microchips, and now you spend eight hours a day playing solitaire on your computer, if you can call rearranging the cards until the computer accepts a move as "playing." You can't make the connection between the words "killed" and "dead." You mistake the detergent bottle for the juice jug and don't know what to do when the phone rings. The last time someone left you home alone, you nearly burned the house down.

We can't take care of you anymore. For your safety and our sanity, we need you to move out, move on, to a place that is safer, to people who have training with illnesses like yours. I don't know why am trying to explain this to you; according to you everything is fine.

Yesterday was my birthday, Dad. I heard your voice on the answering machine today, not with congratulations or best wishes, but sounding forlorn and accusing. "Come get me," you said to the machine, the confusion and hurt in your voice so clear I could see it, all sharp edges hidden in a fog. "Come get me," you asked your 80 year-old parents. "Come get me," you said, and I wrapped myself in my anger until I could not feel my heart break.

Happy birthday to me, Dad, happy birthday to me.

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