I was five years old when I experienced my first heartbreak. My dad worked as a HAZMAT technician. He dealt with oil spills, toxic materials and natural disasters. In August 2005, my father was asked to help clean up New Orleans and provide necessities like blankets and personal toiletries after Hurricane Katrina. Little did I know that the loving arms that I called home would be taken from me for a long two and a half months.
There were times when I would stop whatever I was doing and try to remember what my dad looked like. I would try to remember, but I couldn’t. I would feel my heart begin to race and my entire body would get hot. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The world around me slowed down yet my heart felt like it was beating at a hundred miles an hour. And I would start to cry. Cry because I couldn’t remember what he looked like and cry because it felt like he was never going to come home. My grandma would say, “Esta pobre nina esta sufriendo,” which translates to, “This poor girl is suffering.” Quite frankly, I felt like my heart was broken. These crying episodes were triggered by the smallest of things, from seeing a picture of him to the songs that the choir would sing in church.
To try and ease my pain, I would read. I would read anything that I could get my hands on. Whether it was reading the Rainbow Fish to my dog Lucky or random papers around the house, reading seemed to be the only remedy to my broken heart. It distracted me from thinking about the fact that my father was gone and would be gone for a long time. Reading made time slow down and when I would read, the only thing that had my attention were the words on each page that never seemed to end.
My favorite part of the day was at night, when I would get to talk to him over the phone. Even though when I heard his voice I would cry, it was comforting to hear him say that he would be home soon. That he missed me and that he loved me. But there were some days when we wouldn’t get to talk because he was busy cleaning up the havoc that Hurricane Katrina left behind. However, when we were able to talk after a period of not talking, he would talk to me about what he was doing. He would say “I helped so many people today” and “I helped clean up broken houses today.” Just hearing him go on about his day made me happy, to hear his voice anchored my anxiety.
When I would talk to him, I forgot about him being so far from me and it felt as if he were standing right in front of me. We probably only talked for about ten minutes, but it felt like two hours. When it was time to say goodnight, I was faced with reality and the sadness came back like a wave. I do feel that each phone call got harder each day, especially when it was time to say goodnight.
And of course then I couldn’t understand then why he was separated from me, but now I see him as a hero. While he was out there, he was helping so many people see their lives coming back together. What he gave to those people was a new outlook on their lives; he gave his time and they received hope.
Even though this was a difficult time in my life, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience this temporary loss at a young age. I have come to learn that this sense of loss I felt was essential to becoming independent and who I am today. I also learned that there is no way to get over loss, you simply have to learn to live with it. Which is what I had to do. The more time I spent away from my dad, the easier it got to get through each day. As I have gotten older, I have realized that loss is a recurring theme in life and that it forces us to become stronger. And we shouldn’t be afraid to go through loss because it helps us to grow.
In a few short months, I will have to say goodbye to both of my parents as I go off to college. However, this time around, we will be separated for much longer over the course of four years. Although I am looking forward to continuing my education, the thought of leaving them does scare me. Saying goodbye this time around may be a little harder, but I am quickly reminded of how I managed to live without my dad for two months and I can see that I am fully capable of living on my own. I am seventeen years old now, and if my five-year-old self was able to do it then, I can do it now.
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