Below is one of my favorite chapters from 22 Scars. It follows the thoughts of the father of one of the main characters following her tragic death in a car accident.
I feel like I didn’t know my daughter, like I never got a chance to find out who she really was. Once Geri and I divorced, I was … I was gone, I was always drunk. I never paid attention. She even took care of me, for god’s sake, and I don’t know if I ever said thank you. I don’t even know when I last said ‘I love you’.
She never got a chance to find out who she was, either. She was barely eighteen.
I got the call from the hospital. Geri couldn’t speak, and all they said was that I needed to come right away. Wouldn’t even tell me what was wrong. Guess that’s how they do things now, I don’t know. I was a six-pack and half a Jack in for the night, so there was no way I was going that night. I hardly knew what they said. I went in the morning, cotton-mouth and dirty. Took a cab, cost me a hundred bucks. It didn’t matter.
Geri was there, her parents were there, and they all looked at me like I was trash, like it was my fault. Hell, it might as well have been. Where was I, they asked. Why didn’t I come right away? Well … what kind of answer could I give? I was too drunk to watch my daughter die?
I thought she’d be in a bed, hooked up to who-knows-what, on some kind of life-support … no. She was in the morgue. They said I didn’t need to go, she’d already been identified. I went anyway, even though it probably wasn’t the best idea. I didn’t want to look, I didn’t want to see her like that. I didn’t want to believe it was true, if I didn’t see her then she was just somewhere else, waiting to come home.
I saw her, and it was totally unreal. Her eyes were closed, and she could’ve ben asleep if her skin wasn’t so white, if there wasn’t a deep, dark bruise at her neck. I must’ve stared for twenty minutes. Finally they said they had to cover her back up, keep her cold. Keep her goddamn cold.
Geri arranged everything, of course. Her parents wanted her buried in their family plot. I didn’t want her in the ground, but who was going to listen to me? I didn’t have a say, they said. I gave that up when I left. What does it matter that Geri kicked me out? I was surprised they didn’t kick me out of the funeral. I don’t remember much—I gave up. Any hope I had of not drinking died with her.
They didn’t waste any time; she died on a Saturday, they buried her on Wednesday. It was Halloween. I think Beth would’ve liked that. Her friends were there, from school; I didn’t know most of them, and it just reminded me again how little I knew about her. How much of her life I’d missed.
Her room—the one in my apartment, back in the city—was so still, so quiet. I never really went in it, not when she was alive; it wasn’t my business. Just her space; just for her. But I went in when I got back from the hospital, even before I cracked a new bottle. I had to see it, I had to feel her presence. There was all her stuff, the bedsheets still a mess, the makeup on the dresser, the little cracked mirror I’d given her. It hurt, it hurt so much. There was no presence here, just empty loss. I sat on the bed, and I cried and cried.
In the end, I went through her drawers. I didn’t think she’d mind. I’d never thought she kept secrets from me; I didn’t find any, though a few things were surprising. I knew about the bottles, I knew about the cigarettes. It was a little awkward to find the tampons, and the condoms, but … she was eighteen. Not my business. I trusted her.
No, the surprise wasn’t any of that. It was the photos. In the back of one of the drawers, buried under books and papers, was a pack of pictures. I sifted through them, and they were good: all black and white, pictures of the city, of trees, of old cars … very pretty, well-taken. But most of them weren’t of things, they were of a person, and all the same person: a girl, probably sixteen or seventeen. Very pretty, but she looked so sad, like all her life had been taken away. Most of the photos looked like she didn’t even know they’d been taken; they were from the side, or at a distance. One or two were face on, the girl looked sheepish and awkward. In the very last one, she was smiling, and even then it was a sad, plaintive kind of smile.
I guessed it was one of her friends, and I tried to remember if I’d met her. I had a vague memory, but then, all my memories are vague. I thought maybe she’d even been to my apartment, but I wasn’t sure. I took the photos with me, and it was the only thing I took from the room. As I left, I dropped one; it fluttered to the ground, landed face-down. I picked it up, and saw there was something written on the back. I read it, read it again, and then I understood.
I saw the girl at the funeral; I could tell her right away. Even though everyone was sad, most were crying, no one else had such an aura of despair, of utter bereavement, of … death, for lack of a better word. I thought a part of me had died with her, but when I looked at this girl, it was as though all of her had died.
They were separate from us, of course, all the school friends. I was with the family on one side, watching as they lowered my baby girl into the ground. Geri’s family, I should say. My parents were long-dead, my brother couldn’t fly in time. None of them wanted to stand next to me. I didn’t blame them; I reeked.
Later, I saw her again. She was sitting with her friends, but while they were talking softly, she was just sitting, staring blankly. We were in the atrium of the chapel, and someone had set a slideshow going of her as a kid. I didn’t want to watch it. I did watch the girl, though, and waited for her to move, to leave the group. I didn’t know if she would, but eventually she did. She got up, walked outside. I followed her.
I found her smoking, leaning against the chapel wall. It was overcast, and I thought it might rain. I didn’t know what to say, how to approach her, so I asked for a cigarette. I haven’t smoked in twenty years.
She gave me one without speaking. I took it, fiddled with it for a moment. “You a friend?” I eventually asked.
She just looked at me, this forlorn, desperate stare.
“I’m her dad,” I said awkwardly.
“I know.” She looked away, staring into the distance.
I tried again. “I think we’ve met before,” I said. “What’s your name?”
She didn’t even look at me. “Amy.”
“Were you and Beth good friends?”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
I fingered the photos in my pocket. I wanted to give them to her, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know if she knew. “She … she never spoke much about her friends.”
She took a drag at her cigarette. “Okay.”
I took the photos out, started flipping through them. Amy glanced at them, then looked away again. I looked between the photos and the girl. I thought I could see why Beth had taken so many. “I, um … I found these in her room.” I held them out for her to take.
She glanced again, then took a deeper look. I could see she wasn’t expecting it. “Where did you get that?”
“They were hers,” I said. “I think … I think she took them.”
Amy reached out, took the photos gently. Slowly, she went through them, one by one. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, but she looked surprised—shocked, even. She spent at least half a minute looking at each one. Maybe she was trying to remember when they’d been taken.
Finally, she looked at me, actually looked at my face for the first time. “Why are you showing me these?”
“I’m giving them to you,” I said.
She shook her head. “Why?”
I could see the confusion in her eyes; I could tell she had no idea. “Flip them over,” I said gently. “Look through them.”
She did, flipping through them one by one until she got to the one I had seen, the one I’d dropped. I saw her read it, and I didn’t think she could get any sadder, but she did. She held the photo forever, just staring at it, tears streaming down her cheeks. I heard her murmur something. It sounded like, “I’m sorry.”
Eventually she stacked the photos up, put them in her purse. She looked at me through her tears and said, “Thank you.”
I could hardly keep my own tears in, and a sudden impulse came over me that I need to hug this girl. I opened my arms out, leaned in, but she backed away suddenly. Still crying, she turned and ran away.
I left the wake pretty soon after that. I’d done what I came there for, and there was nothing left for me. I didn’t need to make small talk with people I didn’t even know, much less like. I spent the afternoon in a bar, and got a cab back to the city.
I never saw Amy again.