What more could a little girl ask for? He was a man any girl would be proud to have as a father and she was his tiny splitting image. While mom worked they watched cartoons, listened to music and he tried to teach her to draw. There was no cape needed to know that her father was her superhero. He would be the one to wake her in the morning, take her to school, attended her school functions and picked her up from school each and every day. As the years went on things changed as they often normally do. His little girl suddenly became a young woman. She was a young woman that he continued to be proud of as she grew up right before his eyes. There was so much of his personality that shone right through her. His courage, his passion, his creativity, his thirst for knowledge and his ability to always stand and speak up for what he believed in was something that always stuck with her and she carried with her. He knew that he had raised his daughter to be an intelligent and self sufficient woman. As the years slowly passed that young woman didn’t know that the man that she loved so dearly, her superhero, wasn’t who she thought he was at all.
It was a habit that she can only assume happened gradually, but the symptoms appeared suddenly. There was the weight loss, the lack of money and the excuses as to where he’s going and where he’s been. The strong man that she knew as a little girl had found a weakness in drugs. For a very long time she stayed in denial. Her father would never do anything like that. He was strong willed and had a great family. She loved him and knew there was no possible way he could do that and tear their family apart. This is something that doesn’t happen to a family like hers. As long as he denied it, she believed him. She loved him. Then there came the heart failure and rushing to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. The first time he almost died. She cried her eyes out as the doctors took her and her mother to the grieving room. He eventually came back. Again she believed his denial. There was no way that he would lie to her. She started to make excuses for him. He smoked a pack a day or more. That’s where the weight loss and health problems stem from, right? On one of his many drives to, who knows where and for how many hours, she even searched her parents’ room and found his stash. They were tiny empty capsules in a large peanut can. Her mother later confronted him with it and took the hit to say that she had found it instead. His excuse was that he sold it to make ends meet. It was a horrible excuse that still never explained the lack of money, but she took it. For many years she took in his excuses to keep her mind off the fact that her father was an addict. This was a man she didn’t know at all.
She watched her mother cry. Her mother blamed herself for not knowing and seeing the signs sooner. Her mother also apologized for not being a better mother and protecting her from this type of lifestyle and deterioration of their family. It broke her heart to hear her mother blame herself. “It’s not your fault,” she told her. “You did your job as a mom.” It was their own private struggle. People knew, but they didn’t really know. Others know the surface of things. It’s easy to say “Leave” or “Just send him to get help” when all you know is the surface of things. You can’t make someone change unless they want it. If she could she definitely would just to get him back from that darkness. To get him back to the man that he used to be.
This young woman finally came into adulthood and spent her time as any other 20 something. Going to community college to try and fulfill a life as a writer, spending time with her friends partying/ drinking and working to pay her own bills. It was a struggle, because in the back of her mind she knew her father was only getting worse. She frequently gave him money for gas and took on a bill or two in the household, but she still continued to believe that her father didn’t have a problem. Then the second bout with heart failure came about. It was another trip to the hospital in the middle of the night, but this one not at bad as the first. God had given him another chance and she prayed that this time he would listen. It would be almost crazy not to see it as a sign to get your life together. Her mother vowed she wouldn’t take him back, that she wouldn’t waste her time on hospital visits. She stood next to her mother in this, but how do you make this threat against someone you care dearly for who, whether they know it or not, needed your help? Upon his second release from the hospital the doctor informed her that they did in fact find drugs in his system. There was denial all around. He swore he’d never taken any and she no longer knew what to think. She now had the proof which heft her nothing, but empty. She was in a place where she had no one to talk to and nowhere to vent. Her mother had her hands full and all her friends worried about was being young and partying. Once she broke down and couldn’t take it. She took a drive for hours with a friend. All she wanted was to talk with someone that she could purge this secret to that was eating away at her and wanted their ear to just listen without any judgment. Before she could get past the words “My father is a drug addict,” her friend stated she didn’t want to talk about it. That was that. If talking to her mother made her more depressed and her friends didn’t want to be bothered, where was she to turn? She couldn’t talk to just anyone. People get judgmental and you can’t trust that rumors won’t be spread. She stifled her emotions. The only option was for her to get out. How can she live her life with the constant worry? She had to know what it was like to live before time crept up on her.
She got her chance finally. She was accepted to a college out of state. In her heart she didn’t want to leave her mother, but couldn’t afford to walk in her footsteps. Her mother also had a father who had an addiction and took off with the first man who promised her a life of stability. Now all these decades later the same man that promised her this stable life only offered many a sleepless nights of worry and stress. Although the young woman admired her mothers’ strength and hated leaving her in a bad situation, she had to make a path of her own. Even as she made her big move her father was there for her as she prepared for this big step in her life. He was the one with words of encouragement. “I know I raised you right. I know you’ll make me proud,” he told her. Her mother on the other hand was hurt. She wanted to keep her daughter around for always, but she found it in herself to finally let her go to find her way. Her mother didn’t know at the moment, but with this change she would ultimately find herself too.
She knew leaving home wouldn’t change things. She did know that getting away would at least give her a break and a better chance at reaching her dreams. She still worried. How could her mother handle it all with only her being there to take on the burden? There were frequent calls between the two of them. Venting, talking, laughing. Funny how being apart actually drew her closer to her mother. After months of being away she got a phone call in the middle of the night of her father being rushed to the hospital again. Her mother had stuck to her word this time. She called an ambulance to pick him up and went back to bed. Good for her. But after three tangos with death you would think her father would say he’d had enough. He wanted to live. This time he couldn’t run from it. Her mother asked him to be honest. “I asked him what he was doing.” Her mother informed her of the confrontation over the phone. “Heroin,” the daughter said before her mother could finish. “How did you know?” The young woman couldn’t explain how she knew, but she had a feeling it was bigger than cocaine. It was real now. He had finally confessed to someone. It had to have been hard for him to do. She was proud of her father for taking that first step. He never confessed when it started or when the habit grew, but that didn’t matter now. All that mattered was that he found the right track and stayed on it. Years before her mother stated to her that he once confessed he had been depressed for some time. “What do you have to be depressed about?” was her only question to him. When hearing this there was no way she could help her father through his depression. She was battling her own. Her head constantly had the nonsense of people not loving her enough and dying alone swirling around. She hadn’t noticed her fathers’ change for she didn’t even notice the change in herself. She was a witty individual who became moody and short with people. She felt ugly inside and out. She had the feeling that she let everyone down and was an utter disappointment. Maybe this is how her father felt. If this was the case, how could she punish him for finding an outlet, even if it was killing him?
She never told her father, but the second time he had to be rushed to the hospital she had foreseen it. The night before she tossed and turned as she had a nightmare that her father had been having trouble breathing. When he was taken to the hospital it was too late and he had passed on. There was a guilt in her as if she let it happen. She awoke in a cold sweat because it felt so real. That afternoon as he walked her to her car before she left for work he casually told her that his chest hurt a bit. She felt her body shake. That night he grabbed his chest gasping for breath just as she saw the night before. As she followed behind the ambulance with her mother, with a sense of calmness she said, “He’s not going to make it. I saw it.” Luckily that tragic ending was the only thing in her dream that didn’t happen.
The admission was now out of the way. This family could now move on, grow and improve. For a time he seemed to take to the right path. There were no sneaky phone calls from unknown numbers and no shady characters that show up randomly at the house, but this, unfortunately, did not last. The withdrawal became too much for him to handle. He slowly started to slip into old habits. She couldn’t understand how someone could be given three chances at life and not want to change, but everyone, whether they admit it or not, has their own addiction. Knowing what it’s like to want to disappear, the daughter could only think one thing. “I think he wants to kill himself,” she told her mother over the phone. That would be the only thing that would make sense in her mind. Why couldn’t she make him want to change? It’s a helpless empty feeling to want to help someone, but can’t. There’s one trait she wishes she’d never gotten from her parents and it’s lack of emotion. Things like this weren’t discussed openly amongst each other unless it came off as accusing and she can’t remember a time in her adult life where she actually cried unless things got too overwhelming or at funerals. If she had any emotion in her bones her father could see how much his addiction was ripping her apart.
His stroke happened almost four years after his first heart failure. No questions asked she made the 8 hour ride by Greyhound in the middle of the night to be by her fathers’ side. She hadn’t been so scared since that night four years ago. Her mother told her of the news he couldn’t put a sentence together, didn’t know who she was and only wrote in scribbles. What if he didn’t recognize her when she got there? It had been almost three years since she was able to afford to come home. Tired and ragged when she reached the hospital, she smiled when he perked up at the sight of her. She hugged his frail frame. He knew who she was, but he couldn’t say her name. Her heart shattered seeing her dad in the state of a child. Trying to walk and put sentences together. She could feel his frustration because no one knew what he was trying to say. This is what became of him. He let this drug take his life away. Each day for two weeks, she spent her days by his side in the hospital. One day as they all sat watching television together he pleaded with nurses to let him go home as he did everyday. This day was different. Tears welled up in his eyes. He was upset that he wouldn’t be able to spend time with his daughter outside of the hospital walls before she had to return to her city life. She held his hand. “I’m here daddy. I’ll be here with you everyday until I have to go.” Leaving him was the hardest thing she ever had to do. Before she left her heart was lifted as her father put together the sentence “I love you.” This stroke was as worse as it could possibly get. Hopefully her father would count his blessings and turn his life around before it was too late.
Her father had shown promise when he was released from the hospital. The young woman called everyday to show him she cared and that he was loved. That promise shortly faded as conversations with her mother had a familiar tone. There was the lack of money, a strange man that would show up randomly at the house and strange phone calls. It was happening all over again. Her mother was at her wits end. Talking didn’t seem to help and the yelling definitely didn’t. She felt bad for her mother having to be the person to carry that weight. She was also scared for her. How could her father bring this to their home? What if something extremely bad happens to him and this man is still looking for a way to get paid? He knew where they lived. What if he tried to harm her mother because of her fathers’ mistakes? She couldn’t believe how anyone could be so blinded by a substance that he could potentially put his family in danger.
In the back of her mind she will always remember him as the man that took her fishing when she was little with her tiny Snoopy fishing pole. That was the man that was her superhero. She knows that he’s in there somewhere, but he somehow lost his way. The young woman can only hope that he finds his way back before it’s too late. She sometimes thinks about if he’ll be there to walk her down the aisle the day she gets married or if he’ll be there to see his grandchildren. Only time will tell if he’ll get to witness these events in his daughters life. If she could wave a wand and make him change she definitely would, but it has to come from within. Once he told her that even if she made mistakes that in the end good things will happen for her because she is a good person at heart, unlike him. It shocked her to hear that him say he wasn’t a good person. What he didn’t know what that she was a good person because of her father. He was and is a great person that sometimes makes terrible mistakes. Mistakes he can change. She stands by her father no matter what. She hopes to be able to stand by him for a long time to come. His superhero cape is waiting for him whenever he wants his take life back into his own hands.

-Asia Aneka Anderson

*I wrote this a few years ago after my father had admitted to his drug use. I was living in Chicago at the time and didn’t have a chance to get home to Ohio while he was in the hospital when he made this confession. He has never seen this but I did write him a letter at the time to tell him how proud I was that he took the first step and that it could only get better from there. Well, that didn’t happen and now that I’m back home and get to see it on a daily basis it is actually worse. I’ll call this short story “Superhero part 1” because the innocent young girl in this story no longer exists.

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