April, 2017. I am several days into my first Fast Flash Workshop. In response to one of the prompts, a story builds: a girl and her father, a troubled relationship. Two hundred miles from me, my own dad – my strong, steadfast dad – starts a new medication for pain that’s plagued him and puzzled his doctors for months.
July, 2017. I discover a new lit mag, read through the stories online, dig into submission requirements. I send my father/daughter story and receive a kind acceptance. I’m giddy. I love this story. It makes me cry sometimes, even though I’ve read it a hundred times during editing. Two hundred miles away, my dad gets a myriad of test results and sorts through it all with my mom and new doctors. A new medicine is starting soon. We spend a weekend together, all of us. My mom insists on family pictures. It’s a beautiful day so we put on our color coordinates and pose together near the thick green woods behind their house. We throw some goofy faces in – those shots end up my favorites.
August, 2017. My dad texts me. He has just re-read something I wrote about my grandma, his mother. He types, you’re a great writer, keep doing it. I am almost forty and know my dad will still believe I am good at what I do even if I’m not. But I choose to believe him. I ask about the new medication; he feels terrible but it’s temporary.
September, 2017. My mom calls. I scribble on index cards and receipts, trying to remember everything she’s saying. I piece it together to my husband as best I can. I pack a bag. I drive two hundred miles. Roughly twenty-four hours later, I say goodbye to my dad for the last time.
And somewhere in the sad quiet that follows, I remember: my story, a story where a girl who loves her troubled father, a story where that father dies – it’s set to publish four days later.
But now my story, my real one, now has a father gone unexpectedly, too fast, too soon. I start to worry. Will people think I wrote this story about my dad? Will people think the troubled relationship on paper reflected my reality? It feels, somehow, disrespectful. I think the editor would understand, would push, delay. My husband says, let it run. Promote it only as much as you’re comfortable with.
And I remember my dad’s words. You’re a great writer, keep doing it. I know the exact face he’d make if I could tell him I’d delayed publication because of this, because of him.
The story runs.
April, 2018. I think I’m ready to write something about my dad, about the music he loved. I open a playlist of his favorites, the one my sister made for the memorial service. I am crying before I even finish reading the song titles, so I think – okay, not today. But I want to write this, at least: the record of a story I am proud of, a story that will always remind me of my dad even if it’s not about him. A story I could write because I loved my father.