I don’t recall what brand of cereal I was eating. But I was at the breakfast table when my brother burst in and howled, “Dad’s dead! Dad’s dead.”
It was stupid. It was Candid Camera. It was the cruelest joke ever. It wasn’t even real.
Then Mom staggered in with an ashen expression that didn’t register in my world.
When the prayer cards, flowers, and food arrived I lay at the top of the stairs and listened. Sifting through piles of Lego, eyes turned to the television, I tuned in to everything they said about “the accident.”
Dad was riding his bike to work. The driver swerved out of the lane, struck dad with his wicked jacked up Ford F-250 and fled. He later returned to the scene when it was too late. Two days later we buried Dad on his 38th birthday.
I sat alone and watched reruns in black and white. I closed my bedroom door. I kept it all inside. I grew up.
Suddenly I was about to turn 38, too. Suddenly I had a family of my own. Suddenly my baby girl was nine, my age when my father died. The past swelled up under my skin. I asked for the police report from 1984. I saw the photos and read the driver’s account. I thought confronting the past would help, but I began having trouble sitting still. I began to lose sleep.
If I penetrated the sadness, anger, resentment and frustration that I had held onto for so long I wasn’t certain I could keep it all together. For 29 years I had kept my struggles with anxiety internal. I was from a blue collar town in South Jersey, the son of a Marine Sergeant. I thought that I could tough it out.
But I finally broke down. I started seeing a therapist. I talked to friends. Surprisingly, most of them had dealt with similar difficulties. And they seemed to respect me more, not less, for my confessions. Getting help made a difference. I slowly began to improve.
I didn’t forget that when the anxious feelings had been at the worst I had made a promise — to God, to Dad, to myself, to whomever might listen to my thoughts and prayers — that if I ever got better, I wouldn’t be ashamed tell everyone that it could get better.
I thought that my story might help someone else.
I hope that it will.
With a Perspective, I’m Jonathan Slusher.
Jonathan Slusher is a writer and stay-at-home dad. He lives in Half Moon Bay.