My husband and I drive down a highway, David in the driver’s seat, me on the passenger’s side going through the preset radio stations for the second time. A large four-door white truck cuts David off in the middle lane. David speeds up behind him. He tailgates the truck for at least a mile, so close to the truck’s bumper, I can see the truck driver’s brown eyes through his rearview mirror. I tell David to stop, but he pretends not to hear me. He then jerks into the left lane and speeds by the truck, making sure to glare the driver down and flip him off. I tell David to stop once more, to keep his eyes on the road, to stop playing games.
“Why don’t you ever let me play?” he says. “Because people die in car accidents!” I snap.
I don’t expect my voice to get so loud and neither does he. We drive in silence for a while, but I feel the echoes of my words reverberating off of the windows, the door handles. I think about what I’ve said—the stark reality of it—and start to panic. Tears well up in my eyes and I can’t force them back.
“I’m sorry,” David says softly, and reaches his hand to grab mine. I pull away.
It’s been thirteen years since the final days of my family’s vacation in the Azores turned into a nightmare. Thirteen years since a drunk driver took a turn too sharply; since a guardrail sliced my father’s chest in two. Thirteen years since his body was transported to Boston, to a lonely spot where his coffin would go underneath the earth, the grass, the stone.
During the first few years after the accident, I got through the five stages of grief like a rocket—turbulent, explosive, and with flying colors.
I clung to denial with a fervor only the shock of an unexpected loss can create. So many people seemed to disappear—close friends who I saw every day. I made excuses for their absence the same way I pretended my father’s disappearance was only temporary.
I burned with anger. I was angry that my father was dead but I was angrier at my family and friends for constantly telling me things would get easier. Everyone told me the funeral would be the hardest day, but that was far from the truth. I couldn’t stop crying. I cried so much I discovered a whole new meaning to the word “cry,” one that had nothing to do with tears, but deep guttural howls from my insides. I There was nothing that would fill the hole I felt deepening inside of me, though I tried. Food, sleep, alcohol, drugs—all failed. There was only one thing I thought could make me feel better: sex. I went in search of it by cornering ex-boyfriends and making fleeting new ones. The sex always started out well. It was hot; I was hot. I was feeling. But in the moments after orgasm, I’d be overwhelmed with this crushing emptiness and there was nothing I could do but cry and scream and scrunch my body until all the hurt was gone.
Over the next few months, I watched my family crumble around me. My mother clung to her faith as she sank deeper into the recesses of our living room watching Portuguese soap operas while clutching a rosary in between her hands. My younger brothers found their own obsessions—one finding solace video games, and the other escaping into his art. I fixated on success.
I’d read a study which showed a correlation between having an increased chance of success when faced with a parent’s death early on in life. That was my motivation, my bargaining chip. If I could just get one more degree, one more award, or one more publication, I would feel better.