That weird place in the middle – 10 years on

Ten years ago, I was in the strangest, most surreal place, a place I visit every year in the same 3-week stretch. It was between March 19 & April 8, 2012. I was hugely pregnant and beyond ready to have the baby (who was still a week late, because she enjoys pushing things to the limit). And I was barely staying afloat in the waves of grief from losing my father.

Even now, as I type this, my eyes burn and my chest tightens with unshed tears. I wanted so, so much to see my father hold my daughter. For him to get to drink out of his “#1 Grandpa” mug I’d gotten him for Christmas. For him to talk to her about trains and magic and the turn of the wheel that brings all souls to the center.

Even at the end, when I knew he didn’t have much time left, I held onto the hope that he’d at least live long enough to see her, to know he was seeing her. To have that Skype call with his first (and only) grandchild.

And I know he wanted that, too.

I would have loved to hear his thoughts on the warp and weft of the theology and fantasy I created in my Eden Valley series. He would’ve loved Barachiel, been afraid of Elle, and delighted in Shelby and Lily (the two halves of my child, split and doubly magnificent).

We had so much left to say. So many more games of cribbage to play. So many more good-natured jabs about religion, the lack thereof, and the proper pronunciation of panache.

And this time…this in-between… The space between grief and joy. The space so narrow I can stand with one foot on either side but too wide to be bridged. This is the hard time.

This is where the dragons hang out. Not the good ones. Not the Eleanors of the world (and oh, I wish he’d gotten to know Eleanor. But maybe the abridged & sanitized version). The ones he wrote about.

The year after he was gone when I was beginning to climb up from the soul-destroying postpartum depression, I wrote an essay that ended up being the first thing I was ever paid cash money for. It is about dragons and despair and survival.

So much has changed since I wrote that essay. I traded in husbands (newer, much more reliable model), jobs, goals, lives. I still struggle, and always will. My crazy-dragons are always there, looking for a chink in the armor, a way to get in. But for the first time in ten years, the walls are strong, and they were built on a solid foundation.

There will always be the what-ifs. The might-have-beens. The drowning sorrow. The anger at his disastrously terrible timing.

But there is so much love and gratitude. He showed me how to be who I am today. I didn’t take a pen name, because I wanted us both to show up on Amazon when you looked for “Cissell, author.” He would be so motherfucking proud of what I’ve done, and he would adore the (not-so) tiny demon I’m raising.

He showed me how to be a parent – both by what he did and who he was. And also through all the things he did wrong. And maybe someday, my kid can say the same thing about me with the same amount of love and respect.

I hate the in-between.

I hate this space where the grief tries to drown the anticipatory joy.

But I am so fucking lucky to have had him in my life for 35 years to trade Buffy quotes, theology arguments, crossword puzzles, Doctor Who, Stephen King, and so much love.

The only pic of my dad & my kiddo together. I am secretly pregnant (a secret from my parents, not from me) in this August 2011 pic.
My dad embroidered this for me. Because dragons.

Tomorrow morning, my daughter and I are leaving Portland for a whirlwind weekend to San Francisco to celebrate her upcoming 10th birthday. Her first trip to California, our first flight together in almost 6 years. And my first real travel in 3 years. We’ll be safe. Masked. Careful.

And we will be joyful.

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