Sunday, 5:00 pm. I have just strapped my daughter into her car seat; she’s perfectly capable of doing this herself, but it gives me a gentle pleasure to do it for her. I give her an extra hug and kiss, tell her I love her and close the door. Her mother starts the engine of the car, pulls out from the pavement and drives away, the two of them returning to the family home. My daughter waves to me through the window and blows me kisses. I wave and blow her kisses in return. I will not see her for another thirteen days.
I stand at the side of the road for a moment longer, a heavy nothingness settling in my chest like a slowed detonation. Over the next thirteen days that heaviness will spread – explode – throughout my body until I can feel it in the tips of my toes and fingers. As it spreads its mass will increase until it seems as though it is weighing down my very existence. At approximately 11:00 am, on the Saturday morning thirteen days away, when I see my daughter again, that heavy nothingness will whiplash back into the centre of my chest, falling into semi-dormancy until the Sunday at 5:00pm when I once again strap my daughter into her car seat and watch her drive away for another thirteen days, and it slowly explodes throughout my body again, an ever-repeating pattern, my own personal circle of hell.
I try not to think about the next thirteen days as I turn from the road and, with slow steps and stooped shoulders, re-enter the house in which I am staying, confined to one room – my home, the family home which my daughter and her mother are returning to, is a locked building to me since myself and my daughter’s mother separated over a year ago. The evening to come will be hard enough to get through without absorbing tomorrow and the twelve days after into my being all in one go, but, of course, by trying not to think about it I am thinking about; there will be entire days over the next thirteen days, as there has been over the past multitude of thirteen days, when it is all I can think about, no matter how much I try to distract myself with writing or exercise or music or reading, when, in fact, I am utterly incapable of writing or reading, of listening to music or forcing my body to perform any task which requires conscious deliberate thought. Walking up the stairs to my room I can already feel my mood plummeting into a watery abyss I feel I could drown in. For thirty hours I felt like a father again, seeing my daughter, being with her, minding her, feeding her, playing with her, putting her to bed and reading to her, waking her the next morning and doing it all again; all those things which when done every day – as I used to do them every day as a stay-at-home dad – can become repetitive and almost annoying, and from which you sometimes wish you could be spared, but when taken from you become everything that ever gave your life meaning, and which you would be willing to make any sacrifice to reclaim. And now those thirty hours are over, and I have been made a distant father once more, and this switch, though I am expecting it, and have been experiencing it every second weekend for over a year now, is as breathtaking and sudden as it was the very first time.
I will sleep little tonight, and the few hours I do get will be broken hours. When I wake on Monday morning I will feel as though I have had no sleep at all. My daughter not being there as she was there only the morning before, will add a hard pain to the heaviness in my chest, stalling the breath in my lungs; I will feel not just like an absent father but like I am not a father at all, that I am in fact an interloper in my daughter’s life – and this sensation too will only increase as the thirteen days proceeds – and I will want to close my eyes and not open them again until the Saturday morning when it is our weekend together. But I won’t. I will rise from the bed because I must rise. My life must be lived and this is my life now, this spreading heaviness and repeated pain, this seeing my daughter thirty hours out of three-hundred-and-thirty-six; the world does not cease its spinning simply because you are undergoing some hardship – even my daughter knows this – though, I freely admit, I sometimes wish, more childish than my own child, that it would stop its turning, or, at the very least, I might cease to exist for a moment, cease to think, to feel, to be spared for a handful of minutes from wondering, childishly so again, what I might have done to deserve this life.
And just as I will rise Monday morning, I will rise Tuesday morning, and every morning after, fighting the urge to not rise at all. I will stumble through my days, because what else can I do? I worry that after all this time – seventeen months to be precise, seventeen months this very day as I type these words – that this nothingness still sits so heavy inside me, that there is still such fresh and eager pain; even allowing for the pain born from the ending of the relationship with my daughter’s mother, pain which, thankfully, has faded away into a dull echo, it still seems excessive for this heaviness to be still so relentlessly prominent. It is not that I have been expecting it to have passed by now, but surely, after seventeen months, it should have lessened as I grow accustomed to it, or if not accustomed, at least somewhat inured – and I have spoken to other separated fathers and they have told me that it does lessen to such a degree that you are barely aware of it, and they are quick to voice their genuine surprise that it has not done so for me after so much time – but it has not lessened, it has not eased, it is a weight so prominent and unyielding that it feels like an extra organ in my body, pushing aside my heart and my lungs to make room for itself, and it does not feel like it will ever lessen; potentially another childish thought, a ‘my world is over’ kind of statement, but one that is solidly real in its sad surety. In fact, it sometimes feels like it gets worse every time, the burst of pain as I say goodbye to my daughter on the Sunday evening a milligram heavier, a millimetre deeper, than it was two weeks before, as though the repetitiveness of it is not allowing it to heal, like a scab that is constantly pulled off just moments before it can become a scar and is made all the worse for this cruel savagery.
Part of the problem might be to do with the depression I have suffered with all my life, how, among the many ways it impacts my life (the unwanted gift that keeps on giving), it can amplify stress and other negative emotions while also allowing them to continue beyond what would be a normal duration of such emotions and experiences. Maybe I simply need more time to acclimatize myself to this change in my relationship with my daughter, as I usually need more time to overcome stress or sadness or anxiety. Maybe another seventeen months. Thirty. Forty. I hope not, because not only does my depression amplify that heaviness, my depression, in turn, is amplified by that heaviness, detrimentally affecting not just my emotions, but all aspects of my life from my concentration to my appetite, and everything in between that make up the day-to-day living of a life.
I find much-needed comfort in the fact that my daughter, in that awe-inspiring way of children, has adjusted to the change in her life, her parents no longer together and living apart; her heart is still kind, her smile is still warm, her eyes still full of love. And as that heavy nothingness which contains her absence at its very centre spreads itself though my body across those thirteen days which seem to progress as though each one contains more than the normal twenty-four hours, it is the thought of her kind heart, her warm smile, and her loving eyes, that gets me through each of those too-long days, until that Saturday morning finally arrives and she is there running towards my arms, her eyes, so like mine, alight, her face shining with her beautiful smile, and the most wonderful word I have ever known rushing from her mouth like a promise that yes, it will eventually get better, someday: Daddy.
About the Author:
Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. His debut poetry collection “Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge” was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection.
He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.
His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com