The Thing We Don’t Talk About

February 26, 2020

May 20th marks 18 years since my dad’s suicide, but by the radio silence surrounding the date every single fucking year one would never suspect it’s anything other than just another Spring day. We don’t talk about it. We never did, really. My mom lived with me for two years after the event and she’d sometimes turn away from Mariska Hargitay and wonder out loud “what the hell was he thinking” in a tone that was both puzzled and annoyed. I don’t know if she missed him or not; she never said and I didn’t ask. I know that life with my father was oppressive for my mom, so perhaps she was more relieved than sorry. I don’t know. We didn’t talk about it.

I grew up with the understanding that the nuclear family of my parents and older sister was complete before I showed up, the sick, squalling interloper. I grew up with the understanding that my dad had a hard time tolerating me. And by the time I was in my mid-teens, I could barely tolerate him and it became a mutual affliction to be around each other for any length of time.

However, my dad and I reached an uneasy détente once I was out of the house. It was a shaky peace that exploded occasionally, but all in all we got along well enough when I was in my own home one thousand miles north. When I’d fly or drive down for a visit, we had great conversations about flying buttresses and pilasters, and Job and Solomon. He knew everything and then he was gone.

I’ve never had the “I wonder why he did it” conversation with my sister. She and my father were extremely close, and if anyone has any idea of why he killed himself it would be her. But whatever she does or doesn’t know is treasured in her heart where it belongs. I don’t know what she knows; I can only imagine what she feels. We don’t talk about it.

I’ve brought the subject up with my son over the past two decades, but rarely and only superficially. I don’t discuss it with my nieces or nephews at all for much the same reason I don’t discuss it with my sister. They were much closer to my dad and I wouldn’t hurt them for the world by bringing it up.

Last year when the anniversary of my dad’s suicide came around, the silence thundered so loudly in my head that I made an appointment with a therapist. She was a lovely person. I was able to talk to her about all sorts of things, but over ten or twelve visits I never mentioned my father. Then 2020 arrived and our new insurance plan at work doesn’t cover mental health services. Some people might have $150 a week to spend on therapy, but I’m not one of them so I guess I’ll continue not to talk about it.

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