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She was laying in a hammock between two palm trees in a long white sundress. She smiled to herself, thinking how perfect the day was. She laid there for a little while just enjoying the peace when she felt the urge to get up and walk. She sat up and started walking towards the water. She couldnʼt ﬁgure out why she wanted to get in the water. She wasnʼt wearing her swimsuit but she continued to stroll towards it.
The waves were crashing into the shore and she could see the water rush towards her and then retreat back into the ocean. She watched this over and over as she kept going. She thought she should have felt the water by now but with every step she didnʼt seem to be making any progress. It was like she was walking in place. She looked down at her feet but she couldnʼt see what was keeping her from touching the water. When she looked up again she saw her dad. He was standing at the waterʼs edge with his hands in his pockets and a big smile on his face.
“Papa?” Gabby stopped. She was confused. Her dad died ﬁve years ago. She didnʼt understand why she could see him. She closed her eyes and shook her head. She opened her eyes again. He was still there. She started to run, fast, faster, faster, yet she didnʼt move.
“PAPA!!! PAPA!!” She was becoming frantic. Why couldnʼt she get to him? She suddenly stopped because she realized she wasnʼt making any progress anyways. She stood there looking at him, a tear slipping down her face.
“Papa? Is it really you?” He was still standing there with his hands in his pockets smiling. She blinked and he was right in front of her. She jumped a little to see him so close all of a sudden. But then she really looked at him, memorizing everything. She was always worried she was going to forget what he looked like. He looked the same as he did when she saw him last. Green eyes, brown hair that was going gray, a few wrinkles here and there, that smile. That smile that always lit up the room for her when she saw it. She wanted to hug him, she wanted to hold him and never let go so he wouldnʼt leave her again. But she couldnʼt move.
Another tear ran down her cheek. He reached up and wiped it away. She closed her eyes at his touch and he cupped her cheek. She pulled her hand up to close over his. She couldnʼt stop the tears now. They came down like rain. She wanted to stop crying so she could see him but it was like they had a mind of their own. Her dad now had both hands cupping her cheeks, rubbing her tears away with his thumbs.
“Papa.” she whispered. She had so many things that she wanted to tell him, so many things she didnʼt get to say before he was gone. She always thought he would be there, she thought she would have many years to tell him all these things. But in an instant he was gone and she was left wondering why....why him, why didnʼt she say what she needed to, just why.....
“Gabriella, my angel. Please donʼt cry.” She looked into his eyes and willed herself to stop. She didnʼt want to miss this moment with him. However long it lasted she wanted it to be clear in her mind.
“Papa? I....I donʼt understand....” Gabby stumbled over her words not knowing what to say or how to say it. She looked deep into those green eyes searching for her answers.
“Awww, baby girl, I know itʼs been hard on you. I wish I could go back and change things. I really do but this is how it is now. I never meant to hurt you....but I guess thatʼs exactly what I ended up doing. I thought you would be better off without me, without all of my faults, my mistakes, my constant letdowns. I thought if I was gone you would be happier not having to worry about me and how I was always disappointing you. I was in pain, Gabriella, and I couldnʼt ﬁgure out how to make it stop.” He dropped his hands and looked down, feeling shame and remorse. He had always failed her, he thought.
Gabby stood there listening to her dad tell her how he felt and his reasons why he took his own life. She saw that he was sorry for it and that he wished he had chosen a different way. She understood the way depression worked, had grown up with her dad ﬁghting it and it was one of the reasons she had wanted to work on the brain. She wanted to help people with that but when she was in medical school and did a rotation in psychology she decided it was too much for her to handle, so she went into neurosurgery instead.
When Gabbyʼs dad dropped his hands she felt an emptiness inside her at the absence of his touch. She reached her arms out and grabbed him into a tight hug. She felt like she had just come home after being gone for centuries. It was like she could ﬁnally release the breath she didnʼt know sheʼd been holding for the last ﬁve years. She didnʼt want to let go of him. She wanted to hold on to him forever. She breathed him in, trapping him inside her.
“I love you, Papa! Iʼve always loved you, during the bad times, during the good times, during the sad times, during the silly times. There was never a time when my love for you wavered or when I thought you were a bad father. You were the most wonderful father I couldʼve ever had! And I never doubted how much you loved me until the end.....You broke my heart that day. You shattered my world. And all I could think was why....Why did you have to leave me, why didnʼt you take me with you, why am I left here to deal with the pain? Why? I miss you so much sometimes that I think my heart may actually burst. I love you with everything I am. And I wish there had been a way for me to take away your pain because I would have, Papa. I wish I had seen those signs and stopped it, I wish my love for you had been enough to keep you here.”
Gabby couldnʼt stop the tears now and she didnʼt let go of him. He held her close, stroking her hair, wishing heʼd never made that awful decision 5 years ago. But whatʼs done is done, he thought. He held onto her some more and then pulled her away from him, holding her face in his hands. He knew he could never make her pain go away completely but he hoped this meeting would ease her heart a little.
“Gabriella, my love, my beautiful daughter, your love was what kept me alive for so long. I would have died a long time ago if you hadnʼt loved me like you did. None of it was your fault and there is nothing you could have done to change it. Sometimes our fate is written in the stars and we canʼt change the stars, can we? I am so proud of you and the woman youʼve become. So honored that I was allowed even a moment to be in your life, to feel your love. You were the greatest daughter any father could have hoped for, and more. I love you so much! Donʼt ever forget that, okay? I want you to ﬁnd your happiness, the love that your mom and I had. I want you to remember something, sometimes the things we need most are the things right in front of us and sometimes the people we need most in our lives are the ones right in front of us.”
Gabby felt some peace from his words, felt her heart mend just a little. She would never forget the years she had him and would always be grateful for that time. She would never stop loving him, never stop thinking about him. But now she would think of all the good times they had, not the whys of his decision.
Her dad wiped her tears, kissed her and pulled her close to him for one last hug. His time with her was coming to an end but he didnʼt want to leave her again. He wished he could stay like this with her forever, hugging her and feeling her close to him. He would keep watch over her and make sure she was happy. This was a promise he would make and keep this time. No matter what.
Gabby held on, not wanting to let go. “I love you, Papa! Forever and always!”
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They hugged for a little longer and then her dad pulled away. Gabby reached for him but he was walking away. She tried to run after him but again, she wasnʼt going anywhere. She kept running, faster and faster, sobbing and reaching out for him but he kept going.
She saw him walk into the setting sun and collapsed to her knees. She dropped her head into her hands and didnʼt stop the tears this time, they came like an avalanche, hard and ﬁerce.
She pulled her head up and opened her eyes. She was lying in her bed at home, her pillow soaked with her tears. She laid there remembering her dream. She really missed her dad but at least she had this last moment. Because inside she really felt like he had come to visit her in her dreams, to tell her he loved her, to tell her it wasnʼt her fault, to give her her wish of one more day with him. She could still feel him in her arms and she could still smell him. She laid there smiling as the tears continued to roll down her face.