TW // self-harm, mental illness, suicide, violence, and death
I have spent the last couple of hours trying to think about what I remember of my father. Surely, I should remember more, right? I should be able to remember how his hugs felt or how his voice sounds, right?
And yet, I do not. It’s all a blur.
What I do remember, however, is one of the last times that I gave him a hug. I remember that it was outside in the garden just in front of the basketball court he built for Pao. I remember standing in front of him hearing him talk to himself. I embraced him, hoping that it would even just for a moment, stop the voices in his head — that in that moment, I could make him whole again. Instead, he told me how there were black dogs out to get him just behind me. Later on, he would tell me that he felt “the Holy Spirit” leave his body.
This is one of the reasons why I do not talk about him enough or at all. I do not talk about him at all, because I associate him with pain. I associate him with anger at God at how He could have let this happen to us. I associate him with hours spent literally watching him breathe to make sure he was still breathing — and being so afraid to lose him. I associate him with fear for and of him. I associate him with grieving, not just for what we went through or for a daddy’s girl losing her father, but for the life I imagined our family would have.
This is bits and pieces of the story of how I lost my father.
It started with my father losing job after job and turning to alcohol and cigarettes. It was in 2010 when the rage and the drunken nights became more frequent. He started to change. At first, it was just him isolating himself until it became car rides and him being gone for hours on end. He began to have violent episodes until one day, the father that was there to bring me to and pick me up every day from school and was there through all my milestones, was one that was so paranoid about everything and anything. I remember days on end trying to talk him out of his delusions of Manny Pacquiao, the Bible, and of everyone being out to get him. In the same year, he tried to commit suicide for the first time. I will never forget the feeling of one moment, seeing him watch Pao and I play basketball and the next panicking and searching every room in the house, only to find him in the storage room drinking muriatic acid. I remember carrying him to a tricycle, the weight of a 200-pound man on a 14-year-old’s back, and getting him to the hospital just when he was losing consciousness as his organs began to shut down.
He was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder due to a chemical imbalance in his brain (which would later regress to schizophrenia). After recovering at the hospital, he was admitted to a mental facility for months on end. For a while, he was getting better and then, worse, and better again, and then, worse again. He would manipulate us that he didn’t need his “happy pills” and that he was okay, only for the episodes to turn even worse. During this time, imagine, that I had to learn to keep things and our family together and deal with my mother bed-ridden, sick with Multiple Sclerosis and my father was also sick. All of a sudden, I had to deal with the fear of losing not just one but both parents. I don’t remember them all, but I remember weeks of helping him manage his mental illness and then, thinking he was okay and recovering only to end up seeing the cuts in his wrists or caring for him every time he would attempt to end his life.
In 2014, my father broke and went after Pao. He shoved him around and hit him relentlessly. I remember how I came in between them. I remember trying to shield Pao away.
I remember too, the next morning, how he had to leave. He took all of his belongings and put it in the trunk of our green space wagon and drove away.
I remember trying to see him for months. We would drive to see him or he would visit, but even then, it was bad. He talked to himself aloud and I remember looking at him and he was so out of it that at one point, I was afraid he didn’t recognize me anymore. I would look him in the eyes and there would be no reaction. Nothing.
In 2015, Ate, Pao, and I found out through an email that my paternal grandfather passed away after battling prostate cancer for around two years. That was also the last time I talked to anyone from that side of the family. We were not told of my grandfather’s demise because my father did not want us there nor did he want anything to do with us.
And that was it. While once upon a time, I had a father, I no longer have one. To this day, seven years since, I have no idea if he thinks of us or if he is even alive. I have stopped asking if he even remembers us, but at the very least, I have hope that he is alive. I hope that he is.
You see, losing my father and my mother a year after, is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. My heart still aches, and I know it always will. The pain, the anger, the fear, and the grieving — all these are not things I wish anyone to go through, because while I have tried my best to live with it, it’s not something that ever goes away.
I know that I will never be the same going through what I did. It’s a complicated kind of grief, and maybe that just means, a complicated love for him. I don’t know. What I do know is that I lost a father, and when you lose a person like that in your life — you lose everything that person did, could have done, and might have done for you. You lose not only a life with that person, but a part of you.
I do not think I will ever be okay — and still, just the thought of you frightens and pains me — but I hope you are. I hope you’re alive, JP.