Daaimah Lyon

Dear Abu

It’s a curious thing.  I don’t know why when I see photos of you I must fight the urge to cry.  First as a kid it was anger, then sadness, wondering why?  Now as a grown woman, it’s still sadness and tears.  As if my heart has been broken.  As if my heart has been ripped out of me.  As if there’s an emptiness inside, a void that’s never and will never be filled. 

I’ll figure this out.  I’ll begin to heal myself.  Fuck a therapist, what do they know?  Particularly with the complexity that comes with me, my childhood, my upbringing, and just … who I am as a person.

Every so often I’ll look at pictures of you.  Either just you, you with other people, or just me and you.  Even as I type this while sitting at my kitchen table, I am fighting back tears.  But what’s new?  I’m almost always fighting back tears these days.  I wonder, where did this tendency begin?  This urge to lock myself in a bathroom and cry.  Alone.  Silent tears.  Then look at myself in the mirror and feel shame, disgust, and sorrow.

Recently, I was sent a photo of the last three kids of the union between you and Mom, which includes me of course, your youngest daughter.  That fact brings me joy.  This time I gaze longer at the photo and the same feelings surface in my eyes, in my chest, all over internally.  This time I am propelled to create beauty from this photo.  I look deeper, and see you have such a large smile.  Your youngest girls are on either side of you and your second son is standing center, in front of you.  One of your arm rests on my sister K, and the other on me.  

I look longingly into the memory of that summer day in my youth, through this picture, of what once was, or more accurately what could’ve been.  Had I not been unduly blinded by the fear, and hate, the mental shackles that I was bound so tightly to, like a noose for the mind, combined and connected to a cement cage locked around my heart.  Oh, how I do ache so!  

Time passes, and ahhhh, I think to myself, now I see where it really began.  

“Daddy’s girl.  Daddy’s little girl.”  

What does that even mean?  It’s just words, depending on who’s saying it, whose story it belongs to, the tone of voice combined with one’s own personal biases and history.  I’ve heard that phrase and it sounds sweet until I hear my Mom say it.  When she says it, it burns.  It feels like gastroesophageal reflux disease.  It feels like a mini heart attack.  I feel psychic-phantom-spasms reverberate through me.  It penetrates deep.  But in this moment, I don’t move, I simply allow myself to feel it.  I allow the slow Denzel Washington tear to roll out and spill down my cheek.  No sobs, no dramatics.  Sadness, simply deep, hollow, penetratingly sad, somber, obliterating sadness.  It aches.  

But I snap out of it and recall that I’m creating beauty this time.  I have already done so with my child.  But what about my inner child?  What about little Daaimah?  The little girl inside who aches.  

This ache is changing.  Moments these days this ache moves me to create.  This ache brings a slight smile to my hardened face.  This ache makes me want to be that good girl.  If I were always “daddy’s little girl,” as I’ve been told, I’ll recreate the years lost.  The years that I’ll never get back.  The missed moments, the last goodbyes, the memories that never were.  

I proceed to go online and create yet another picture from this picture.  And it goes on social media as a fixed, focal image, and I’m proud!

Then I see there’s another picture of you, of us.  

These pictures, they keep coming to me.  Sometimes in the form of a memory, other times via text messages from relatives.  I’m happy each time.  But I must restrain it, constrain it.  Not everyone shares my happiness.  

I do indeed love you.  You are my dad.  You’re Abu.  And I?  I’m Daai.  I’m Daaimah.  I’m your girl.  I’m daddy’s little girl.

Then a sensation comes up.  

Ouch!  Here it goes again, another psychic-phantom spasm.  I swallow hard.  My face winces.  My body tenses up.  And now a memory resurfaces.  My mind moves quickly.  

I ask myself countless times, “why’d you say those things?”   I think, “why did those things get supplanted in my subconscious?  Ever so deep, and for so long that they became my reality, my story, my narrative.  Why?”  

Here I am with words and pictures.  Pictures and words.  Oh, the weight.  The magnitude.  The heaviness that I carry.  The burden I bear.  

“For every action there’s an even and opposite reaction.  That’s physics 101.  Simple basic physics,” I think to myself.  

But what about the pictures?  Don’t they hold weight?  Doesn’t a picture tell thousands of words, millions maybe?  The ones I have most certainly do.  

I continue to look at more photos of you.  I dig deep into my more recent memories.  Deeper into the memories that are concrete, the memories that are black and white, the solid memories, my memories, my recollections.  The kind of memories no one can take away.  The kind that don’t go away.  The kind that don’t change.  

I’m an adult now.  I no longer must be bound by the fear, by the chokehold of those words, those simple, horrid words.  Those words that were never mine to begin with, the story that doesn’t belong to me, yet the story that I’ve been bound to for my entire life.  

And then I think, “if a cycle is going to end, if generational trauma must not be repeated, then one must learn from it, one must exorcise those demons in some way.”

Then again, sometimes in life we have no warning.  There’s no flashing yellow light alerting you to slow down, there’s no caution sign, there’s no “no trespassing sign,” there’s no “beware” sign.  I certainly most definitely didn’t have one!  There’s a saying I’ve heard that says, “you can’t pick your parents.”  Maybe, not so much a saying but at least that’s what I’ve been told.  

If I had the choice, I’d still choose you to be my dad.  You fought hard for me.  You fought hard to be in my life.  You tried.  But in the end, you failed.  You failed because I was taught contradictory life lessons.  Hate, love, fear, compassion, justice, forgiveness, redemption.  But then back again to the hate, the fear, the mistrust, the matriarchy teaching and upholding the patriarchal bullshit.  Yet and still because of that upbringing, those contradictions, and the restrictions put upon me or perhaps despite it, I have love.  I choose love.  I choose forgiveness.  

But of whom?  Most certainly not you!  I see that now.  Perhaps it was for the best that I chose to forgive the unforgivable long before I knew the real account.  The real narrative.  The truth.  That dark demon of forgiving the unforgiving deed and I did it!  I did it for future me because I hated so much.  I hated so deeply.  I held the hurt, the pain, the mistrust, the betrayal.  And yet it was never mine to carry.  It was never mine to hold.  

Yet isn’t that what daughters do?  Isn’t that what women do?  Isn’t that what humans do?  We hold, we create, we bear, we withstand, and we continue.  Didn’t the poet Maya Angelou famously say, “and still I rise?”  

Yeah, rise from the ashes.

Through that continuing, I clung onto the pictures.  I held on to the memories.  However fragmented, however hazy, however clear in parts, I clung to those memories.  I dug.  I asked questions.  I prayed.  I cried.  I grieved.  I grieved you long before you died.  I grieved you before fully knowing what it meant to grieve.  How does an elementary age kid learn how to grieve?   How do you grieve someone who’s still alive?  Someone you see on a weekly basis, someone who is feared.  

Here’s how: I gained bald spots.  My teeth yellowed from lack of wanting to brush them.  I started to not give a flying fuck.  Partly because I did, I truly did, and still give all the fucks.  I care deeply.  I did.  And I do.  And through that grieving I learned forgiveness.  I thought you needed my forgiveness, so I forgave you first.  

As time went by, first days, weeks, months, until eventually years of not seeing you, my thoughts changed.  But the commandments were always the same.  Until suddenly, you and Isa came that fateful day.  It was unannounced and I just happened to be home from school.  It was a sunny day.  If only I knew then what I know now I would’ve run to you, hugged you, held onto you, and I would NOT have let go.  I would’ve asked questions right then and there.  I would’ve told you about the hurt and the pain.  I would’ve left Mom and went and lived with you.  I can be stubborn.  I should’ve done it.  

That was my chance!  

I wasn’t ready though, and I was still in shock, I was scared, utterly confused, hurt, and angry.  Petrified to be more exact.  Petrified.

Instead, I sit.  I sit with these photos.  I sit with the hurt.  I sit with the stories.  The lies I’ve been fed like the housewives and househusbands that sit at home waiting for 3 o’clock in the afternoon to come so they can live vicariously through Sonny Corinthos on General Hospital, or any one of those toxic characters that are glamorized.  Remember Luke and Laura?  The wedding of the year?  But it’s all fake.  It’s made-to-be-believed.  It’s a soap opera.  This right here, me, this narrative, this memoir, this, these words, this, this is the real shit.  This is a life who has created life.  It’s your daughter here.  Your daughter who’s created another daughter.  Your daughter who will be God-damned if some-mother-loving-son-of-a-gun-somebody will have me believing and recreating and telling a false narrative just because it suits their square-doomsday-world.  

No.  Fuck that shit!  I adjust my shoulders and wipe away the tears, because I’m more than content now.  Now, I can walk with my head held high and shoulders pinned straight back with ease.  I can love and be loved.  On a good day I can be called crazy, insane, and not give a damn.  And why?  It’s because I have made the choice to forgive a lie.  Forgive a story.  Forgive the demon that never was.  And boy, am I glad I did.  

You’re not here in the flesh, but you live on through me.  You live on through your grandchildren.  You live on through Soph.  

I’m glad we had that moment that I gave to you, to me, to Soph, to future me, to the part of me that still needs healing.  Soph was able to talk to you without the fear that I had held for so long.  

And that is partly what pains me.  The sheer amount of time I was terrified of a monster that never was.  Living someone else’s nightmare, someone else’s generational pain that I bore the brunt of.  

Perhaps that’s why I was named Daaimah.  Perhaps that’s why there are baby pictures of me.  Newborn baby pictures’ to be exact.  Fresh out the oven with the umbilical cord still attached pictures.  Innocence captured forever.  Love personified.  That’s what I choose to think.  

I must think that, because I had to have been loved at some point.  There must have been love; otherwise, how’d I come to be?  I found out that you took those photos.  You’re the one behind the camera lens.  Perhaps it was beautiful and special.  Perhaps there was love there between you and Mom.  And if that’s true, as are my memories, my siblings’ memories, our collective truth, then yes, I am daddy’s little girl, number 8.

My piece is about my struggle to come to terms with the complex relationship or lack thereof with my dad, who I was taught to call Abu.  This piece is part of my forthcoming memoir.  It ties into MITA’s mission being that I am from a gender-marginalized, and racial-marginalized group of people who has firsthand experience with the mental healthcare system.  Through writing it has helped me to slowly break the stigma that comes with something as simple as seeing a therapist, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, especially in my community.  I hope through writing and speaking my truths that my voice will add depth, nuance and a different dimension to those who have been impacted by the mental healthcare system. 

Daaimah Lyon is an English major, pursuing her education to ultimately gain her MLIS degree.  She’s a wife, a mother, a notary public and works full time at a public library on Long Island.  Daaimah is passionate about literacy, learning, reading, writing, and mental wellness.  On her spare time she enjoys walks on the sound and the ocean no matter the temperature, she truly loves being by the water. 

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