Sixteen

I've always been fixated on the fact that I lost my father when I was sixteen years old. It is an age loaded with symbolic meaning: there is the "sweet sixteen" party, the learner's permit, the desire for independence . It is a time of separating from one's parents and creating an identity outside the home. Sixteen is a liminal state too. One is not old enough to vote or drink but, at the same time, one can drop out of school, get a job, and go through rites of passage that represent the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

At sixteen, I buried my father. Inside, I am always that sixteen-year-old girl. I have never forgotten or let go of her. What she felt then, I still feel now.  I cannot separate myself from my parents; I have no desire to. My father's death is the defining experience of my life; he is my obsession, he and I are one.

I remember a car ride with my mother just after my father died. I said that I will have to tell every person I meet in the future that I lost my father when I was sixteen. For some reason, that felt important to me. I would have to talk about this tragedy. The people who love me will have to know what I have lost and the age at which I lost it. They will have to accept that I am always the girl beside her father's casket on a sunny day in June when we buried him in a cemetery I rarely even visit anymore except on the anniversary of his death each year. They will have to know that, before I go to the cemetery on that date, I buy fake flowers at the dollar tree. I stand in front of a wall of synthetic blossoms and try to choose the ones I think will look best on his gravestone. People around me walk down the aisles, their shopping carts squeak, children scream, life continues, and no one knows that I am picking out flowers for my dead father, that I've done this every year since I was sixteen years old.

I say all the cliche things. I say I died with him. I say I lost my innocence. I say the wound never heals. I don't know how to write this loss. I don't know how to describe my sixteen-year-old self seeing my father's dead body for the first time. I can't tell you what I was thinking or feeling. The child in me cannot speak, she was silenced  long ago. She struggles for words every single day. She is a girl and I want to save her. I had dreams for her but she became me, and I cannot heal or move on or offer an inspirational story. I am devastated and grief-stricken. I am depressed and anxious. I am fearful and reclusive. Loud noises scare me. I'd never leave my house if I didn't have to. I am terrified of what I will lose next. I weep for the past and ache to return to it. When you are sixteen and your father dies, something irreparable is done to you. Paralysis sets in. The terror and the darkness come early and they never leave. You wake up in the middle of the night afraid for your life. The ghosts don't disappear at dawn.