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A Letter To The Man Who Left Me

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I'm trying so hard not to be angry with you right now. You left us. You left us without saying goodbye. You didn't check to make sure every single thing in the house was unplugged and the heat was turned down to subzero temperatures. Your heart stopped beating without a warning, without a heads-up or without one last chance to sit in the dark and listen to The Rolling Stones.

You left Izzi, the adorable mutt I rescued before conveniently moving to a new city and leaving her to keep you company against your will. She's lost without you to share the recliner and feed her cheese. She no longer gets to go for truck rides or tromps through the woods in the middle of a Tuesday.

You left Chelsea, your best bud and middle daughter. Because of her autism she doesn't understand why you did it and where you are, all she knows is that things are harder now and everyone acts strangely.

You left Abby, the youngest progeny who was not ready to be without a dad. You also lied to her when you promised a few short months ago to be there to walk her down the aisle... if she gets married (if any of us do), because you know we are all adamant on keeping our last name. And some people don't like that, as we've learned.

You left mom. You left her in a big house, with a big yard and a lot of big responsibilities. You left Gram -- she's 95, and that just seems cruel. You left your sister and the rest of our family. You left an unbelievably large group of friends. I didn't even know it was possible to have so many. The line for your funeral wound around the outside of the building as people waited in line for an hour to bid you adieu. It was touching and heartbreaking and truly beautiful -- but I'm still angry.

Also, you left me.

You left us. I know I should take comfort in the fact that you left us with each other, and sometimes I do, but you still left us, and that hurts.

You left behind more than people. You left behind your camping gear, and all of your hunting paraphernalia that I hated so much - what the hell are we supposed to do with it? Every time I look at it now, I feel guilty that I didn't listen more carefully when you talked about the things you loved. I feel guilty for the fact that there are many times I could have been a better daughter. You left your truck Ruby with an empty bag of chips, a sweat stained camo hat, and a handwritten list of cell phone numbers. I'm number two. You left behind half-finished home projects, and a small motorbike I can't even picture you riding with your huge shoulders and solid frame from years of power lifting and baseball.

You left behind a goddamn legacy. You lived a big life. You had a gift of making everyone feel special and every day feel like an adventure. I had forgotten what this really means and how important it is until now. Each snow day with you was magical, each hike an experience and every cookout felt like the event of the year. You gave the best nicknames and delivered the perfect one-liners like it was nothing. You had so many friends and 'adopted' children that I often felt jealous because you were supposed to be just mine. I realize now that you were teaching me what it means to always make people feel like they matter, because they do. You did this every day.

I cannot eat the last Ziploc bag of Bluegill in the freezer because it is the last one you caught for me, the real last one. There have been many times when I needed to use cash, but I still cannot part with the last crisp twenty-dollar bill you slipped me for gas money and instead head to the ATM to extract some twenty-dollar bills that didn't come from you. The funny to do list that I stole from your notebook, because your brilliant misspellings never fail to make me laugh, is now a treasure to be folded carefully and kept in my box of special things.

I'm writing this letter because I picked up the phone to call you and forgot. I was driving unnaturally slowly and remembered how I used to pick on you for driving at your country pace. You always said it was so that we could bond longer.

I still think this may be your best April Fools' Day prank yet. You've fooled me most of my thirty-one years and decided to go all out this time. I'll call home and you'll pick up with an enthusiastic "Crunchal, how's my number one?" and we'll check the boxes of all the usual topics of conversation. I'll ask you if you're making healthy choices and you'll say "Welllll it's the holidays," or "Welllll it's picnic season," or "Welllll your mom keeps baking and leaving it lie around." You'll ask me when I'm coming home and I'll tell you how busy I am. We will hang up and talk again soon.

I'm still really angry with you for leaving me, but I'm happy to carry you with me, even just little bits at a time. I feel your smile when I tell a dumb joke. I hear your laugh when I say something that is most likely inappropriate, but we both know to be true. I try to do more of the things you'd approve of. I try to do less whining; I know you hated that. I try to be present and make sure people know they matter. I see you in me when I look at my giant traps and my tree trunk legs that were built for squatting with a barbell on my back. I carry you with me knowing that I'm lucky to have had you in my life in the first place.

Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for living a big life and encouraging me to do the same. Thank you for being funny and weird. Thank you for teaching me to love to sweat. You've given me a love and passion for fitness and the drive to do it on my own terms. You've saved me from a life full of office tedium, fluorescent lighting and pointless meetings. Thank you for being my dad.

I miss you. I love you. Thank you. And also, fuck you, just a little bit,