On Significance and the Unexpected

Note for readers:
I usually try to write something deliberately relatable and with a positive conclusion. I don’t know if I’ve successfully done either of those here; I don’t know if this is too personal for that. I hope that there’s something you can take away from this regardless. Thank you for reading. It means the world and more.

Yesterday marks eight years since my father died.
I didn’t find out until Christmas Eve, when a cousin called to give the news. At sixteen years old, I lay curled in my bed, buried beneath the weight of the knowledge, absolutely lost as to how I was going to tell my little sister and older brother. Their laughter carried to me from where they were playing video games together in the living room. They had no idea. I wanted so badly to go back in time to when I didn’t know, either.
It should not have been my responsibility to bare his death on my own, and it most definitely shouldn’t have been my job to be the one to tell my siblings. Knowing that doesn’t change the fact that it was left up to me.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years by then. I thought that that would mean his death would be less impactful. I was wrong.
What we tell ourselves often does not reflect what we truly feel. We can repeat words over and over, we can drill them into our own minds until they block out all else, we can shove emotions into the farthest reaches of ourselves and refuse to look their way. Sometimes, though, something happens and every barrier we so carefully constructed, every box we packed, labeled, and shoved into the darkness all come spilling into the light of reality. They shatter into a thousand scattered pieces that we have no choice but to clean up or to continue treading on for years. And even when we think we’ve collected each fragment, we sometimes stumble over a remaining one in the darkness.
The fact that it has taken me eight years to write this might tell you that I’m the kind of person who swept as many pieces as I could out of my immediate surroundings and am still, today, facing the consequences of not properly coping.
The finality of death did not truly hit me until I received that phone call. A thousand questions that I had hidden away from myself resurfaced, and in a frantic, chaotic maelstrom of them, I realized that there was no longer a chance at getting answers. A hundred hopes I didn’t know I carried with me collapsed with the understanding that they would never be realized.
Many questions began with “why?”. Why did I have to be the first in my household to know? Why did it have to happen? Why was he driving that night? Why was this the first news I’d heard of him in years? Why was he the way that he was when I was a child? Why did he do the things he did? Why was I not enough for him? Why wasn’t I enough to convince him to change? Why did he make the choices he made if he loved me? Why? Why? Why? I drowned in the questions, too afraid to voice a single one of them, allowing nobody the opportunity to explain to me that none of it ever had anything to do with me.
I was able to dismiss or answer many of the questions as I got older, but one remains with me to this day. Regardless of the logic behind it, despite what I know on a rational level to be true, I continue to battle with the idea of being enough.
I am not alone in my quest for significance. I’m not the only person in this world who feels like my worth is defined solely by people wanting or needing me. I’m not alone in struggling to redefine this part of me to be healthier and more self-sufficient.
My father battled more demons than I will ever know, and while I can accept and empathize with those battles, I have never come to terms with the knowledge that neither I nor any of my siblings were enough to save him. None of us were enough to change him. And on Christmas Eve at sixteen years old, I finally was forced to face the understanding that I would never, ever know why we weren’t enough. Why I wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that his parents swore to me that he had changed, gotten sober, patched up his life. He patched it up without me. He’d figured out how to do it, which meant that he was capable. So why couldn’t he do it for me? Why was I not enough?
Later would come a fight between two people I love. I couldn’t tell you the words which were exchanged. I don’t know if I knew even then. What mattered most was the yelling, screaming, absolute refusal to stand down. The fight was a petty one which escalated like a wildfire. I threw myself into the flames, desperate to extinguish them in any way I could, including with my own body.
My hands had once been too small to make a difference. My shoulders were too narrow and delicate to pull burdens atop them. My voice was far too quiet. I hoped that older meant more capable, that growing up meant power. I was so certain that this time, I could help. This time I could do more, do something that mattered.
It all ended abruptly and with no resolution. I stood, reeling and desperately confused, as one of them walked away, leaving behind nothing but the echo of his words to me: “Well, you tried. It just wasn’t enough.”
Later still, I found myself in a bedroom, surrounded by four children under the age of ten. Just beyond the door, which adults so often forget hides nearly nothing, came the screaming, the throwing, the holes punched into walls.
I held one child on my lap, my arm wrapped around another, trying in vain to surface from the fog of memory when it had been me who was the six-year-old, my parents the ones outside the room. I had to be strong enough to be available for the four small bodies in my care, each of them begging to know what was going on and if everyone was going to be okay. They didn’t know that I was holding onto them just as fiercely and for the same reasons as they were holding onto me.
I could hardly breathe, let alone be the responsible adult that they needed in that moment.
All of these incidences are difficult to write, but not as much as they once were. My goal isn’t to elicit sympathy or comfort; I’m so, so very far from the only one who has stories such as these, and too many people have experienced vastly worse.
The last few months have seen me struggle in some familiar ways and many unfamiliar ones. I don’t know if it’s the time of year or something else, but my grasp on the present and on contentment has been tenuous at best, nearly nonexistent at worst.
What do you do when being needed is what sustains you and you’ve convinced yourself that nobody does? What is my purpose in this world if not to be what people around me need? And who am I, where do I go, what do I do when that purpose is broken down?
I tend to lock myself into vicious, never-ending cycles. I will be given a reason for why I am not needed as much as I hoped I was, and I will allow that to attack myself worth. I will let it hurt me, because that is easy. It is less easy to fight it and defy its attempts to tear me down.
I will never be enough for everyone. I may not be enough for the people for whom I so desperately want to be. I know it is a fools arrand to seek to make everyone happy. The person for whom I need to be enough and who I should be trying to make happy is myself, but there is no greater sense of satisfaction and peace as when I have helped someone else. It’s easy to let that mean that I can and will only be happy when I am enough for someone.
I simultaneously crave closeness and friendship and avoid it at all costs. I withdraw when I should reach out, I reach out when I know I won’t maintain it, I let phone calls and texts go unanswered, I cling to every meaningful interaction like it is a life raft. I set myself up for failure and then allow that failure to define me. I convince myself that I am meaningless and that nothing would change were I not here, and then I look for reasons why it’s true.
I do it because it is easier to set myself up to be hurt than to be hurt unexpectedly. I do it because, when I get hurt, I can look back and know exactly what I did to cause it. I do it because I am so afraid of not knowing when, where, and how it is going to happen.
I can’t prepare myself for everything. I can’t look in every direction at all times. I’m going to get hurt, and sometimes it is going to be no different than Christmas Eve eight years ago. Sometimes I will not expect it. Sometimes it will come out of nowhere, punch me in the stomach, and leave me careening off a ledge I didn’t even know existed. Nothing is more terrifying to me.
The other day, I received two messages from different people, entirely independent of one another, expressing such kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring for me that it was breathtaking. I felt myself shatter all over again, pieces of me I’d foolishly put together to protect myself coming apart as though my attempts had been meaningless. I felt my tether to the world solidify a little bit. Nowhere in their messages did they express a need for me or a way in which I could help them, and yet they care. They care despite my desperation to remain uncared for. They care for… who knows what reasons. I was, in a way, almost angry with them for still caring. I don’t deserve it; I’ve done so little to deserve it.
I rarely mean anything as much as when I say I don’t know why they do or anyone else does. My sense of self-worth is so warped and twisted that I genuinely cannot fathom the reasons behind why someone could, let alone would. And the trouble with this is that, if I don’t think I am worthy of being valued, I will never truly believe that I am. And if I never believe that I have worth in this world, I will not survive it.
Every part of me ached at the knowledge that, regardless of my avoidance, despite my failings, there were people in the world who cared. I am holding so tightly to that moment of understanding, that ever-so rare moment of clarity, and I am afraid I will lose it. I’m afraid I will let go of it. I have it now, though. I have it, and I am trying not to descend into the cycles which will tear it from me.
I know logically that I’m not alone. It’s been a long time since I allowed myself to believe it on a deeper level. I want to change. I want to get off this roller coaster to which I’ve tied myself. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t do it alone for once. I hope I figure out how.