Mufasa: Simba, let me tell you something my father told me. Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars.
Young Simba: Really?
Mufasa: Yes. So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.
Today, as part of our training requirements, we had a movie night in our town. We planned to watch Frozen, but a few things went wrong and we ended up watching The Lion King.
Almost immediately, I started getting emotional. (Note: for me, emotional means feeling a tightness in my chest, remaining stoic, and shedding approximately zero tears.) I realized how long it had been since I’d seen this movie. I can’t pinpoint a day, month, or year, but I immediately, overwhelmingly realized that the last time I’d seen it was before Dad’s death.
(Remember how my life feels divided into Before and After? The after continues to be confuse me daily.)
Watching The Lion King today—after—I was hyper aware of any and all connections I had to the story.
Like Mufasa, Dad scolded us very, very rarely and he was always quick to forgive. He had a strong, silent presence that I miss constantly.
When Mufasa died, I almost left the room. (And by that I mean I considered going outside but stayed firmly planted in my chair, eyes stinging but dry, and forced myself to confront my feelings, but my friends likely had no idea that I was having a silent breakdown.)
The way Simba runs to his father’s body, touches him, urges him to wake up, and feels extreme guilt for his father’s death…I’m not saying that’s autobiographical…actually, fuck it, yes I am.
It was a Wednesday. I’d been planning to see him that morning at 11. At 10:45, I missed three calls from Bev. I called back and Uncle Greg answered and said we’d talk when I got there.
I sped. I called Jasmine when I got to the roundabout and left her a voicemail, and then she called me back and I told her that I was driving to Dad’s but that I thought something was wrong. I didn’t know exactly what, but I felt like I needed to prepare her. She’d been planning on coming back home to see him in two days, and I thought maybe he’d gone into a coma. Maybe she’d never hear his voice again.
I got to his house, and people hugged me and comforted me, even though nobody had told me what happened. I went into his bedroom and sat in the same spot I’d occupied the night before. I held his hand as I had before, but everything was different. Now was after.
That was my moment after the stampede, and the silence was excruciating. It was just me and him…actually, maybe it was just me. There were no sounds of his breathing. No rustling of blankets as he turned in his sleep. He wasn’t going to wake up and say, “Hey, baby.” There were no sounds of old westerns playing on the TV. It was too quiet, life without him. Life after him.
I held it together for a minute, and then I sobbed, because I knew I had to call Jasmine. I didn’t beg him to wake up—at least not out loud—but I felt like he should just be able to open his eyes at any moment and give us—give Jasmine—one more day with him.
And then I felt crushing, crushing guilt, not because I felt responsible for his death, but because I’d led Jasmine to believe that there was more time. On Monday, I’d told her I had a feeling she should come home soon, but that of course she didn’t need to get on the train that night. Of course she could wait until Friday.
I called Jasmine and somehow the words “Dad died” left my mouth. I remember almost nothing else, except that I apologized to her over and over and she just kept saying “it’s not your fault.” She was so calm in that moment—she managed to save her breakdown until after she hung up—and I was sitting in his house and the funeral home hadn’t come to pick up his body and I felt the enormous weight of life After Dad. The rest of the world was going on the same as it had before, and I had to call Jasmine and Mom and I had to tell my boss that I wouldn’t be coming back to work yet, that my early lunch break had turned into a long weekend.
When my brother called and asked “How’s Dad?” I had to break the news.
I had to tell friends in St. Louis that I needed to drive up there and sit on their couch and wait for Jasmine’s train to come.
All I wanted to do was run away by myself, pick Jasmine up from the train station, and listen to Jimi Hendrix and Gil Scott-Heron on repeat.
(To this day, when I need to feel calm, and especially during literal storms, I sing “All Along the Watchtower.” Over and over and over.)
I told Dad’s family that I was planning to go get Jasmine, and they all insisted that I take someone with me. That they could go with me. I said that I was fine, but obviously Mom and Daddy Mike and sisters and all the people who love me weren’t about to let me cry-drive into a telephone pole, so Mom drove me. I didn’t cry for the rest of the day.
Okay honestly I didn’t mean to go into that much detail about my equivalent of the post-stampede scene, and I am sobbing in my room and I gave myself a headache so I’m moving on.
(Mark your calendars, y’all: on October 8, 2016, Jade had her first cry in Nicaragua. I think the first since Dad’s birthday week, actually.)
Anyway, moving on. THIS IS A LION KING REFLECTION, REMEMBER?
When Simba asks Rafiki, “You knew my father?” and Rafiki responds, “Correction: I know your father,” I felt a tightness in my chest. When I speak English, I almost always, on instinct, refer to Dad in the present tense. Even eight months later, he feels present.
When Rafiki makes Simba look at his reflection to see his father, he says, “He lives in you.” That seems like such an obvious statement, but some days I need the reminder. I think if you’d asked Dad at any point during the last 2+ decades, “what are you proudest of?” he would have responded, “my girls.” Are we his legacy?
The weight of a legacy can feel really heavy when people have high expectations of you, but I never felt like Dad expected us to do great things; he simply knew we would. He has no Pride Rock. I don’t think he’d ever see my life as an extension of his, as something that he started and left me to finish. He just…sees me and believes in me. He sees me completely differently than I see myself.
He wrote that I’m a wonderful daughter.
That I’m warm.
Everything that one could ask for in a daughter.
I feel that I think pretty highly of myself, but for years, I’ve described myself negatively in the following ways:
Bad daughter. Cold and unemotional. Rude. Unfriendly. Selfish.
But damn it. He loves me. Loved me. Loves me. He’s never blamed me. He sees me for all the things I’ve done right, and he forgives all the things I’ve done wrong. And I’ve done a lot of things wrong. I feel like I did fine when I was a kid, but as soon as I got a whiff of independence, I spent a decade being a shitty daughter. Then two years being an okay daughter.
All he sees is wonderful. Everything one could ask for in a daughter. Can that part of him live in me? I want it to. I want to forgive. I want to see the best and let go of the worst.
Sometimes (often) I’m angry that I have to live the rest of my life without him, that I didn’t have more time to do better with him. That I didn’t do better with the time I had with him.
Sometimes I feel like I’m growing into a new person and he can’t witness it. Maybe…hopefully…hopefully I’m becoming the person he always saw. Maybe I can become more like him in all the right ways.
Funny without trying. Patient. Calm. Forgiving.
(Okay this post used to be about The Lion King and now that I’ve stopped crying I think it’s gone waaaaay downhill and also it feels sooooo loooooong.)
It’s hard to compare much of my experience to The Lion King because Simba ran away in a way that I really haven’t, and he came back in a way that I haven’t needed to. (I’ve actually been pretty open with my feelings since Dad’s death. Mostly with Jasmine, but that still counts.)
I do see myself in Simba’s guilt, and even though I know none of this is my fault, I will probably always feel some regret.
Maybe I should try to tie this up with one last cheesy Lion King reference about facing your feelings head on? (And maybe crying more than once in six months, you robot.)
Maybe I could say something about confronting your past (confronting years of guilt over being a bad daughter) and kicking it into the fire and allowing life to continue and flourish without the burden of that negativity?
SORRY Y’ALL, I’m tired and my comparisons fell flat a long time ago but this has been cathartic. Goodnight.