I am not the greatest at giving gifts. I envy my sister who so freely gives gifts to people with happiness in her heart. I’m different. I like to affirm people with my words. I like to tell people they are special, I write my husband and friends poems, I enjoy encouraging and uplifting my clients and sometimes that even includes the gift of my silence. When I was seven years old, I wanted to give my dad the greatest gift I could think of, I wanted to profess my faith and accept his religion. My dad’s birthday always lies within a week of Easter Sunday, so for that entire month prior in Sunday School, our teachers were prepping us to receive salvation via baptisms.
One night, I had a dream about Jesus sitting beside me with his arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder and fell asleep in his comfort. When I woke up I had the idea of the greatest gift of all, I’d tell my dad I accept Jesus. I found him perched in front of his old Apple computer, the ones that came in a rainbow of colors and had matching laptops. I don’t remember what he was doing but my dad was also a writer like me. I’d find him many times throughout the years in his office, in front of his computer, writing, reading, learning. It always felt really safe to me. Even when he would lecture me in his office, I valued that all throughout my childhood because I knew my wise old dad was only passing on his knowledge and guidance to me. I trusted him completely.
My father was a pastor of a congregation of 15 people who came to his house to hear him teach from the bible. He was so passionate and smart and he always did his very best to deliver the upmost ‘truth’ in his messages to people. He’d research endlessly for references and alternate book sources for the people who loved to learn from him. He delivered these nuggets of wisdom on blank white paper written in Times New Roman, with lots of interesting bolded and italicized flavor. He loved knowledge and I’m glad I learned that from him.
I can still see my dads eyes when I told him I wanted to be baptized on Easter Sunday. I see it reflected in the way my husband looks at our five-year-old daughter when she tells him a joke or charms him with her big brown eyes.
When I was 13, my dad taught me how to play guitar in his office. He had two Ovation Concert Series acoustic guitars. One was a beautiful honey wood color, with a dark brown neck and silver strings. The pick guard was dark mahogany and the dusty red strap he’d throw over his shoulder fit him perfectly. I loved watching him bop around, being a goof ball while playing some sort of worship song. His shoulders shrugging up and down while he swayed side to side, pursing his lips and being silly. The other guitar was a dark brown to bright yellow, sunset pattern with a black pick guard and dulled copper stringers. This one was mine and I thought it was the most beautiful guitar I had ever seen.
The first song I learned to play was “Breathe” by Anna Nalick. When I played it for him for the first time, that would also be first time I had sang for anyone out loud, but who better then my dad. When I started asking for lessons, he said “No.” He taught me everything he knew and told me I could definitely teach myself. Thanks to the dawn of YouTube and my fathers encouragement, within three years I was writing my own songs and preforming them for my closest friends.
The last time I was in my dads office with him was not a good memory. Despite my father’s encouragement to learn and know all things, he was obsessively strict, used corporal punishment, and wasn’t always the emotional landing pad I need him to be. He was a phenomenal teacher, but not the best listener. When I was nineteen, I drove all the way to his house, and stormed into his office. He spun around and stared at me with surprise and anger. “I’m pregnant!” I screamed at him. When I started to grow up, he had a really hard time with that. He genuinely freaked out, and I don’t blame him because I want to do the same with my kids. When I met my husband, then boyfriend, I met someone really incredible. My dad didn’t want to hear me though, he only wanted to judge the boy for himself. Overly protective dad’s however are rarely the best judge of character. His violent opposition to the natural adulting process left me unprepared for the world without him.
At twenty-three, my husband came home with the news of my father’s heart attack. I went to the best place I knew to find him. I spent the night in his house one last time, going through closets and photos and book shelves. I tried to soak up everything I could, but there’s little I’ll really remember as more than a mental photograph. In his office was a white board from a school tilted on his side, scribbled with all sorts of important religious dates. The last year and a half of his life, my dad didn’t have a whole lot to do. My step mom had passed and he was alone, retired, and taking care of teenage brothers. I know for a fact, he spent too much time in his head. I know this because I was getting there too. He was trying to predict the future by obsessing over the patterns of the past. He was the ‘watchmen on the wall’ ready to warn us all of the apocalypse.
After my father’s death, I spent many nights in the arms of my husband, as he tried to save me from sinking further into my depression. I didn’t have that safe place of my dad’s office anymore, so my husband became my safety and my comfort. People don’t make the best safe places, though. That’s an incredible amount of pressure to put on a person. While my husband loves me more than anything, and would defend me against any danger, tending to someone elses fears becomes incredibly exhausting. Even for Superman.
I’m twenty six now and a breeze has blown through my life and changed everything. Religion taught me to stare so deeply into the future, that I had to ensure my destination after death. I’d always been on the look out for a ‘sign of the times’ waiting for an impending doom. That’s something I have done in every situation I have ever been in. It’s the fatalist scope of my life I’m trying my best to remove. My dad was searching for the apocalypse and I was searching for the ultimate demise of myself by my own sick brain. When I was diagnosed bipolar I saw so many signs I’d missed in my dad that he was probably just as sick as me. I desperately try to write the future based on the patterns of my past. But I’m too weak to do that anymore. It’s tiresome to tear through your memories.
I had a vision of heaven that I’d hoped I’d get to one day. Jesus and I, in a movie theatre, watching the history of the world. That’s all I wanna know! But that fantasy was just something I’d escape to when we reality would tell me, thats never happening, you’ll never know everything. And what an incredibly big bite to take. When I lost my religion, I lost hope in the future. Without that reassurance of heaven, I felt suddenly exposed and raw to every danger of the world. I realized something terribly unjust could happen to me without retribution. (Thanks Netflix for the true crime docs.) So I hid in my house, and I stopped leaving. I locked myself in my fear castle away from everything that could hurt me. Without the protection of religion there, what do I have! Reality! How painful.
Without a safe place, I freaked out. I felt like I was in danger which created a lot of anxiety. I begged for more of my husband to comfort me, and he obliged for so long because he loves me that much, but soon that was too much for him too.
However, someone new came into my life and seemed to blow away my paper castle and show me the world isn’t all that scary without a god. He taught me a lot about seeing the world in a more realistic light. He gave me the keys to getting out of my fear castle. What an incredible gift friendship can be. Life-saving!
This helped me realize where my safe place has always really been. Me and my writing. I put that aside for so long and didn’t prioritize that the way I really should have. Writing has always saved me in the darkest times of my life. I’m happy to be apart of the blogging generation because this call to express ourselves, while some how only being a smiling face on peoples screens feels safe to me.
Safe places are important.