Dear Lily June,
Someday you will understand that the people you love–maybe even me–can’t always be there for you in the ways that you’ll need them to. You’ll understand why your mother bites the skin around her fingers to the bone when her father is coming in for a visit.
You’ll understand why she asks everyone to keep a little quieter, why the sound of a falling object might shatter the time barrier between today and yesterday, why your mother might remember the slamming of bodies into walls that haven’t been hit for decades.
You might, if I decide to explain it to you, understand why we don’t toast during any holidays your Grandpap visits for, or even why I rarely raise anything alcoholic in a glass anyway. You might get why most of my life has been lived VERY sober.
You might understand how the word “neck” can represent the slender glass top to a bottle, the long arm of a guitar, or a fragile part of a woman that can be–but never should be, no matter what the circumstances–wrung.
Or maybe you’ll never understand the echoes I hear when your Grandpap beats the body of his guitar with his wide palms. Maybe you’ll listen to his voice, a mixture of syrup and gravel, and you’ll hear him sing about loves gone wrong or paths that never should have been taken.
Maybe the music of regret will serve as a cautionary tale for you. Maybe some part of you, for all his flaws, will love that music. Maybe it will ring in your ears, like it did mine during the years I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. For as painful as the lyrics might be, the silence was harder than hearing the melody.
Maybe I’ll someday understand, in the part of me that is not his little girl anymore, why he talks to me about himself for hours and hours without ever asking me about me. He asks, little Lily, about you, though.
I don’t know if he hears what I tell him, but I know he saw you cling to the stuffed elephant he got you for your birthday like you were in love. You barely let your Grandpap hold you, something he couldn’t understand, though it’s probably just separation anxiety. I know that anxiety, too.
Someday, maybe I’ll understand how the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen on you or me are in these photos separated by thirty years, one taken in 1986 of him holding me, the other in 2016 of him holding you. I have removed his face to protect his anonymity, because Lily, I still love and want to protect my daddy.
Thirty years later, and that part of me never leaves.
Someday, I will forgive myself that part, and the part that worries about his visits, even though you light up just like I used to when he holds you. Someday, I’ll remind myself to ask about you more than I offer about me and as much as I ask about any son or daughter you might give birth to (if you so choose).
Maybe I’ll sing you the old songs, his acoustic guitar songs, and I’ll explain to you what they mean to me, the lessons they taught me about how to grow callouses physically and emotionally. And how callouses are better than wounds.
Someday, I’ll set the memories, just as he’s set the bottles, down, and I won’t feel the need to drown myself or anyone else, including you (I am so sorry) in their contents anymore. Someday, a loud sound won’t make me cringe, and when your child, my grandchild squeals happily on my lap, I will look down into his or her face and beam.
Someday, I’ll apologize to you for all the ways I stacked the deck in my family, for the things I told you that I should have let you learn on your own, and for the things you found out independently when you wish you would have gotten the heads up from me. It’s a delicate balance, one I hope you can understand when I fail to navigate correctly.
Someday, I’ll forgive myself for worrying so much, and for biting the skin on my fingers to the bone like watching him taught me to. For as anxious as I am around him, he is nervous around me, too. I have to remember that.
I have his love of music, his unruly dark hair, and his just-as-defiant attitude, his large thumbs and big toes, his anxieties, and his penchant for speeding regardless, his crude sense of humor, his proclivity for serial monogamy, and his serious sensitivity. Someday, I will bestow some of these upon you.