One very long day
By Aleha Syed
Content warning: death of parent
A journey of acceptance and yearning.
“He’s gone!” My little sister exclaimed the moment my dad walked out the open door with his suitcase in hand. It was December 2021.This was the first time in eight years that my dad was returning to his home country of Pakistan. That also meant this was the first time in eight years that my dad left us without his watchful eye censoring all that we did. For us, this was exciting. My dad is strict, he would be cautious of letting me out because of my safety and was always stern about my education. So him being gone for two weeks was a new beginning for my sixteen-year-old self, even if it was only for two weeks.
The night he left, I hung out with a friend of mine at her house. We got dressed up and acted out the life of the iconic teenage girl you see in movies. The corner pizza delivery and the cookies we baked tied the night together. With my dad gone, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to carry the stress of being “watched”, as a teenager would dramatically say, by my father. Being from a background with strict cultural enforcement especially on women, not having my father’s eyes piercing my every move wherever I went was relieving. It felt freeing.
The two weeks went by in a blur, from going out and being relieved of the stress of strict cultural pressures. The weeks were a breeze. Until the last day.
The day before my dad was due to return, I suddenly yearned for him. I realized I missed him a lot, which was unexpected. I thought I would have wanted him gone for longer, which was true in the beginning but as one week turned to two weeks the days felt oddly unending. You see, my dad coming home at night was the shift in our days that made it feel like night. His entrance brought the family together in the living room to greet him and to have family dinner together. After these dinners we would all go to bed. That was our routine. Him waking up and being ready before us was the shift from night to morning. My dad’s presence brought stability, security and regularity to our lives. Without him, time wasn’t passing as it usually did.
Finally, dad was coming home. It was a Friday. I came home as the hustle of my apartment was in full swing again. The aroma of my mother’s spicy chicken biryani flooded the hallways, and the apartment was sparkling clean. The TV was tuned to his favorite channel; the news channel. I walked into the room my sister and I shared with a glimmering smile. Friday was always a fun day. It was the day to wind down from the hustle of the week and relax. I started ranting to my sister about the things that had happened. I told her about how I had aced my calculus test and was excited for the weekend. I started taking off my jewelry and brushed out my hair as I had begun to de-stress from the school week.
My brother came into our room and sat down with us. The three of us hung out in the bedroom, sitting on the floor, and stretched out across the bed. There were then two loud knocks and screams coming from the living room. We all jumped. My heart raced. I pulled open the door and my mom burst in. Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, “He’s gone!” she cried between sobs.
I felt like I could not breathe. Time stood still. My dad was gone. He’d died.
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Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
He died on January 6, 2022. The day before he was supposed to return home. I cried for him, missing him. Maybe I was feeling what was to come and didn’t realize it. I may never know.
Earlier in 2021, we lost my aunt. Grief wasn’t something my siblings and I knew how to deal with. My mother lost her mother at a young age so she had some idea of it. But my siblings and I didn’t. When my aunt died, I remember my siblings telling me how they didn’t know how to react since no one close to us had passed away.
We still don’t know.
It’s been a month. As I’m writing this, a month has felt like a very long day. Very long. Time doesn’t pass the same way it once did when my dad was with us. Life seems to be one continuous loop. The two weeks are now an eternity.
My hope in writing this piece is perhaps my way of not getting over the grief, but to recognize it, to understand that the weight I thought I carried around was not really heavy at all and the weight made me strong, made me who I am. Recognize the change, and instead of replacing what I considered the switch between day and night and night and day, to challenge it.
This piece was mainly inspired by my own personal experience. Ive read multiple accounts of people using writing to overcome their grief. Writing this piece was a way for me to do the same, to accept it. Through writing this I learned at times, no words could genuinely describe my emotions. It took time and a lot of emotions to be this vulnerable to a public audience and I hope that my piece can help someone else out there who may be struggling with something similar.
Aleha (uh-lee-ha) loves learning, as weird as it sounds. The rush of learning something difficult, but then finally understanding and getting it right exhilarates her, which explains her love for math and science. However, Aleha does also have a creative side. She loves art; one of her pieces made it to the Metropolitan Museums of Art semi-finals this year. She also loves expanding her horizons and trying new things out! Growing up with immigrant parents, speaking English wasn’t always reinforced, however with the program, she hopes to change that.