Dear Darling Daddy Issues (Every 15 Minutes I Used To Think Of You),
It’s days like today that make me not sure which one of us had a psychotic break. The dreams are so ingrained in my REM sleep that I don’t see them as nightmares anymore. They are one step in the locomotive behaviors that still trap me for four, or sometimes five, hours every night. These dreams are just memories repeating. It seems like something a therapist would want to dive deeper into. But I have tried that, and I will get to that story later.
Or maybe, I will focus on it now, considering my favorite story of ours tends to be the rock that skips and ripples through the secluded points of the American River in my mind. It’s the one that every therapist and friend hears first. Do you remember? I do. Honestly, I am never sure what you remember. But even if you do, you most definitely see it differently.
From what I remember, I had died. Don’t worry though, it was school-sanctioned, and Mom signed off on it. I had died before lunch, right before lunch. So none of my friends really knew that I was gone. Not like they would have noticed anyways. They had never noticed my comings and goings before. Just that I seemed angry, wore the same three pairs of black skinny jeans, and never brushed my hair. But even those three things seemed like a lot for them to notice. The second-tier popular, mean girls in the group just knew I was too big, alt, and masculine for them. While the queer, isolated, alt kids knew I was too straight, virginal, and reserved for them.
No one missed me, I didn’t fit. So when I stayed away at lunch and looked at the professional and logically written eulogy by Mom, I was suffering alone. No one knew I was gone. Or even if they knew, they didn’t care. But I did.
I cared that I died since I was doing it in response to you. Myself, along with several other peers, one by one, Every 15 Minutes—dead. Just like the name of the program. Every 15 Minutes when a child is killed by a drunk driver in our country. While the program suggests the culprits are the teens themselves, in my case, the culprit was you.
I don’t know if you remember. But I do. The nights on the winding roads. Using your hazards because they were safer for people to see you. Veering off of your lane, while a beer sits in one hand and a cigarette is in the other. Or, several years later, when you kept a cooler of screwable beers in your car and took a few sips whenever we were too quiet or too loud. Or, when you had to take it slow on a scenic path so that no cars would follow you. Or the quick brake hits when cars were too close. I remember.
These were the things that I remember, that I remember telling others about when the program took us to a camp to ‘“debrief.” I guess Mom was a little upset when Mr. Harston, who played Death, thought I had impressive insights into drunk driving. Funny thing is, she didn’t even hear about this until months later because she refused to debrief with the other parents. Leaving her crying dead child alone, to be hugged and taken care of by her dead friend’s family. Too bad you were gone by then, or at least that’s what we thought.
Apparently, you were always there watching us, especially me. No matter what I tried to do to hide, you never gave up. When you first left the house, that was not the plan. Mom was supposed to go, and you and I were supposed to stay so that you wouldn’t kill yourself. I was supposed to be your tether. But unfortunately, that rope was already cut.
After you left, we thought you were only coming back around for Grandma. She was forgetting things. She knew my eyes, knew Mom, but who were you? Circling our driveway, making yourself known before parking across the street at Grandma’s. Not coming inside—–never inside. Just lurking around, in a way that almost convinced me you were lucid. You would always find new ways to stay close despite the growing distance I felt for you—it almost made it seem like you were aware.
When the judge told you to stop, our phone location kept mysteriously turning on. Eventually, we shut them off, which made me really good at telling directions by memory and no map.
But even when we changed our numbers, you still somehow knew where I was. I saw you, and your car, always conveniently parked far enough away from mine. Even after we found the GPS boxes on our cars, you still knew my comings and goings. Why were our dogs always barking? German short-haired hunting pups, the dogs you always wanted. Boys, so you could finally add testosterone to this house of women, and a son that was never who you wanted him to be. But you chose the wrong masculine energy. This masculine energy not only protected but also respected women—that was your own undoing.
Even when they sensed your danger, chasing you out of the garage, then the backyard, then the neighbor’s yard under the cover of forest trees, you still found a way to try to assert dominance. That’s why Mom got a gun. That’s why we slept with it that night when the lights went out for no reason, when she forced me into your side of the bed. Funny, even though it was her who needed the gun that night, I knew its use would be up to me.
Even when we got the restraining order, you still managed to find ways around it. I need you to know that the birthday signs your left outside our rural forest street looked like murder notes. The balloons tied to strings felt like nooses around necks. Every frivolous and colorful attempt at connection felt more sinister, because it was. You thought I was kept away by Mom’s decision. For that, she and I would pay until I bowed back down to you. You thought I loved you and that we were a star-crossed father and daughter in a world that would never understand. No, I did not love you by that point. And now, I do not even care about you. I do not want to know you and you do not get to know me. The physical distance you tried to control felt emotionally eons away from the days you tried to buy my affection, called me a slut, and said your love for your kids was conditional. This is why our second-to-last meeting is forever the introduction to all of my stories about you. The reason why I cycle through a memory of you every fifteen minutes when I try to sleep.
Coming back from the program, in my friend’s parent’s car—the same two parents who comforted me when I would cry alone during the program. You stepped towards their car as they drove up to the house. I think Mrs. Robertson knew something was off, she was abused too. She asked me if everything was all right as I tensed up at the sight of my father walking from the house he no longer lived in. I said it was fine. It was fine. It was fine. Leave, it was fine.
“We don’t want anything,” you said, unaware I was in the back seat.
It was only when I hopped out, solely thinking of protecting my friend and her parents from your wrath, that you looked surprised. “Leave, it’s fine,” I kept repeating. I know they knew I was lying. They didn’t leave until I was inside and the door was locked.
You destroyed the lock on the door. You were carting stuff from the house into your car. I shouted, “Leave! Fucking just leave.” Voice cracking, betraying the shell I had created over 10 years. I ran into my room. You followed, swinging at my door as I screamed for you to get out and leave.
I called Mom who had lied to me about being at work all day. She was getting groceries instead of being with me at the program. She said she was on her way, but of course, she had to finish checking out first. I called the police, but I was too far away to help. Evidently, your seclusion of our family worked. Stopped any law in its tracks. Dispatch linked me to a police officer. “Since your father never physically abused you, we can’t show up.” I guess violence through stalking, emotional abuse, financial domination, and both physical and mental intimidation just wasn’t good enough for them. Congrats on never physically touching me. You found the one loophole to my safety. Violence, so long as it doesn’t touch skin, isn’t real to most people. But it is to me.
What’s funny is that the night before you came to my home, You betrayed your own rule. You assaulted the court officer handing you divorce papers. I fact-checked this through public records documents later. While you may not lose your Bar license for the abuse against me, Mom, or your other kids, I hope you lose it to the court officer.
But after that day, I think you got the message. I hated you. I guess you wanted to know why but you knew that I would cause you harm if it came to it. That’s why the last time I ever saw you, we were both inside cars. You, driving down the secluded one-car road, were making space for me to pass by in my minivan. I saw your mouth agape as you stared into the minivan, trying to see if it was me or not. You’d soon find out through court records that I was going to Orange County for college. But at that moment, you didn’t know. All you knew was that you saw me, alone in my car, not showing one single emotion and refusing to recognize you.
After our second-to-last meeting, the shell that had formed to keep the trauma in did finally crack, but I decided to renovate. Instead of shells, I layered wood, stone, and metal. Nothing would let me feel that harm again, nor allow any of the past ones to come back out.
And that’s why I am how I am. Never allowing myself to get close to anybody and limiting access to all of the layers of me. Friends and family will get my experiences as stories, and maybe if they try they will get some general feelings. But the complexities of my deepest emotions, the things that make me truly cry, laugh, feel pain, and love, have never been accessed by another. What hides behind all these layers will not be accessed again.
That’s why I am alone so often. I can’t get close to people. Even if I want to. I will be fiercely loyal, run across a city to make sure they feel special, stay up through the night on the phone as they cry, knowing no one will ever do that for me. I wouldn’t let them even if they wanted to. I know that if I let them support me, it will hurt too much when they are gone.
I confess, there have been times when I almost dropped my guard, allowing some of the stone and metal to fall. But then I receive an email or letter from you, trying to contact me. Or hear that you and my sister shared a phone call. And now, even though I am across the country, it still feels too close for comfort. Your reminders, while no longer every fifteen minutes, are still enough to isolate me. Even though you don’t control me anymore, you still do.
If you didn’t, maybe I would have been able to tell the boy I have been friends with for months that I liked him. Or maybe, I wouldn’t be interested in emotionally fraught men with their own trauma.
Or maybe, I would be able to tell my friends who chose to spend time with my bully over me that we are not friends. Or maybe, I wouldn’t spend the first hours of every new year alone crying on the roof because of them.
Or maybe, I would tell my sisters that the music I post on Instagram is the cry for help and depression they think it might be. Or maybe, I would tell them that I can’t get past how they reject my emotions.
Or maybe, I would tell Mom that her emotional abuse is as bad as yours and that a hug from either of you is a violent performance. Or maybe, I would feel pride in my work and agree when someone pays me a compliment, and take up the space that I need at all times.
Or maybe, I would feel better in my own body and not be constantly striving to look thinner, lift heavier, and be more able to fight. Or maybe, I wouldn’t feel the need to protect myself and others as I do.
These are things I think about every fifteen minutes now. You aren’t the main thought in my head anymore. My nothingness towards you has grown and withered. But this is how you still affect my current thoughts.
As I sign off from this letter, I promise myself that our memories will not direct me. You do not direct me anymore. I do.
Your Darling Daughter With Issues
About the Author
El Carlisle is a sex work, gender-crimes, and policing researcher; CrossFit, USA Weightlifting, and Nutrition Coach; podcast producer, and adjunct instructor. She has three Bachelor of Arts degrees in Criminology, Law & Society, Film & Media Studies, and Religious Studies from the University of California Irvine. She is completing her Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on International Relations and Sociology from NYU in Spring of 2023, after which she will be pursuing a PhD in Criminology & Criminal Justice.