Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Open letter to Ian Nicholas Shaw

You may never see this, and that's OK. Maybe, just maybe, someone will show you this, because Lord only knows that right now you are probably thinking that just about nobody in the entire universe knows what it's like to have your parents fail you in such an utterly devastating way. And I'm not normally given to divulging deep, painful memories, but if it helps someone else deal with the pain just a little bit, I suppose a bit of introspection is sometimes good. About 10 years ago, I was sitting at my desk, trying to make deadline at my very first newspaper job. I can recall every single detail of the day I got the phone call from my father's friend Paul, telling me my father had intentionally overdosed on whatever he could find in his medicine cabinet. I had pepperoni pizza and a salad with tomato dressing at JR's. I had decided to work late because we had a lot of wedding and engagement photos. I was wearing a black skirt and a red sweater, and I didn't cry. I didn't know how to react, in fact. What exactly is the appropriate reaction to, "Your father overdosed on pills, and I told the detective you were the next of kin, and he'll be contacting you?" Mine was to go back to editing photos. I got done editing those photos, and realized I couldn't go home. I also realized I hadn't told anyone else. I also realized I didn't know how. I was the only one in my family at this point, as one day crept into the next, that knew. I finally made phone calls, to my mother, then my sister, then my aunt - so she could tell my senile grandmother her son was dead. Then I went back and edited more photos. For a person who worked with words for a living, I suddenly found myself inarticulate. I couldn't form the sentences to tell my coworkers what had happened. I'm sure some noticed I was still in the same clothes I wore the night before, but it was the stupidest question - and the one thing I don't remember - that finally broke the dam. I finally told someone, and was sent home. I was always more mad than sad for a very long time, and I think that is perfectly OK. You have every right to be angry with your parents, because when you become a parent, your job, more than anything, is to shield your child from hurt. I can't imagine a bigger hurt than having your mother and father think you're not worth living for. But the good news is it does get easier. I won't say you won't look at a calendar and realize it's March 10, and want to stay in bed all day. You will. But I think the thing that made me able to make peace with everything was the fact that the man who made that permanent decision was not the man who taught me to tie my shoes. He's not the man who let me stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live until I got in trouble for calling a girl an ignorant slut in kindergarten. He was not the man who spent hours on end painting and designing sets for my ballet recitals. And that's the man I mourned.