I texted her right away.
Me: I – noun, often capitalized often attributive | \'i\ : Levi Wesley Myers.
Me: Love – noun | \'l?v\ : a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.
Me: You – pronoun|[yoo; unstressed yoo, yuh] : Aria Lauren Watson.
Aria: Ditto – noun | dit·to | \'di-(?)to\: I love you, too.
I picked up the letter and opened it as knots formed in my gut.
I’m a shit father.
I’m a shit person.
And I don’t know how to start to tell you how much I hate myself daily. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m sorry because you would probably think it’s just the cancer and the fear talking.
Which might be true.
I’m afraid to die. I’m afraid to die, and it’s not a surprise because I was afraid of living too. I’m afraid that I’m leaving this place with no one who will remember me. And if they do remember, it will be memories of things I wish I hadn’t done. I treated this town, these people like shit. I’ve treated you even worse.
But still you came back to me. You loved me when I didn’t deserve to be loved.
I was afraid to get close to you again knowing I was dying. I was afraid it would hurt you even more when I passed away. The happiest days of my life were with you sitting inside of that tree house. You are the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’m not a good person, I was never a decent friend or husband or father, but somehow I got one thing right. Somehow I didn’t screw everything up, because I know this to be true:
You’re the only thing left of me that’s good.
I’ll love you well after the end.
I sat there with the letter in my hand, rereading it ten times over.
I love you too, Dad.
* * *
During our homeschooling violin lessons, Mom and I sat outside in the forest playing. In front of me was a music stand holding the new song Mom was teaching me. The branches of the tree swayed back and forth, casting shadows over us. She kept frowning at me every few seconds.
“Okay, stop, stop, stop.” She slapped her hand to her forehead before leaning against a tree. “What in the world happened?”
“What do you mean? I played all of the right notes.”
“Hitting the right notes doesn’t matter if you play the music without putting your soul into it. Otherwise it’s just noise.” Her head tilted to the left. “What’s on your mind?”
I sat down my violin in the case, and shrugged. “It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand why Dad ever stopped writing me or having me come up to visit him. And now knowing that I’ll never find out the answers…I don’t know. It’s just eating at me.”
“I see.” She pushed herself off of the tree trunk and headed into the house. When she came back, she had a small box. “He made me promise that I wouldn’t tell you about these. I was in a really bad place, Levi. I don’t know how to explain it but, I felt like I was losing you to him. I thought you would leave me to go stay with him. My mind was unstable. When I was doing better and wanted to give these to you, your dad asked me not to.”
“He didn’t want you to hate me.”
I took the box and started going through the cards. Holiday cards, birthday cards. Five and a half years of cards that I never knew existed. I read them over and over again as Mom stood across from me. “I wouldn’t hate you, Mom.”
“He’s the one who talked me into going to St. John’s. He paid for it all himself, too. He pretty much convinced me that the only way you would come home this time was if I went to the treatment center. The deal was if I went in for treatment, he would send you back to me after I started doing better. Plus, he didn’t want you to watch him get sicker.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he knew his life was ending. He didn’t want you to lose us both.”
There was so much about my father that I didn’t know. I had questions that would never be answered by him, but the one thing I’d always wondered about was answered.
He never stopped loving me.
And that was good enough for me.
“He left you something, Levi.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She started walking toward the house and said, “Come inside. You might want to be seated for this one.”
Simon and his family boxed up all of their things to leave Wisconsin in June. They attended Mike’s graduation, where James gave a fantastic valedictorian speech about past mistakes and future opportunities.
We all went back to our house for Mike’s graduation party, where we laughed, cried, and said our goodbyes.
They were leaving that night to start their long drive to Washington, and a part of me wasn’t sure how to deal with losing my best friend.
Simon, Abigail, and I sat on his front porch as Keira buckled Easton into his car seat.
“So this is it, eh?” I smiled at Simon.
He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I guess so.”
He turned to Abigail and placed four kisses on her lips before they said their goodbyes, promising to text each other the whole way to Washington. As they held each other in a long hug, I walked over to the car and kissed Easton’s forehead four times, in honor of his new big brother.
After one last kiss, I pulled away from the car and hugged Keira and Paul.
Simon walked over to me and didn’t hug me four times like I thought he would. It was simply one long, tight, loving hug that almost made me cry.