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Dear Dad

I wish I'd been an adult when I was a teenager. You only ever wanted to connect, but I let my mom turn me against you in your disability. She made me an ally in her abuse and I was just a kid, trying to survive my teen years.

I was at times cruel to you. I was, after all, a teenager.

I wish I'd been able to address the neglect and trauma of those years while you were still alive, to be able to tell you some of what was happening in my life. You would always have loved to hear from me, I know that now.

I went on the second backpacking trip of my life with Kat, and it was fantastic. And at times miserable! But still fantastic. I was imagining you being proud of me and wanting to hear about the adventure.

Like mom, I have some fear of heights, so a couple parts of the trail were touch-and-go, but I'm getting used to being with my fear and letting it help me stay present with my immediate surroundings.

And the views up there were astounding. Just miles of forest and mountain and leaves just beginning to turn. Layers and layers of mountains into the distance. Literally breathtaking.

The second night we made the wise decision to stop early and stealth camp at a spot Kat found on a hiking app on her phone.

(Wow, you would have been amazed at these phones we all carry everywhere that give us endless access to information. Sometimes a curse, but such awesome potential, sometimes — like in this case — realized to great effect!)

It was a lot of fun interacting with other hikers. So many strangers with different stories, I felt curiosity about them all, a curiosity I have more difficulty accessing in "regular" life, but which also makes me think of you.

The long, arduous hours of hiking - where my knee was screaming or we were navigating round, wet boulders in the rain — were worth the gorgeous landscape and the campsite experiences.

I thought about a lot of things while hiking: how this land might have been before colonization; what trails would have been used for; how it's pretty cool the way they're maintained collectively at the moment, but how much more love they could use.

The campsites were so cool: they have caretakers, platforms for tents, springs for water, places for cooking and food storage (secure boxes to protect against bears & other creatures, and keep food smells away from the camping areas), privies with poop composting, and a couple of them even had big, beautiful wooden shelters to help hikers in bad weather.

When the hiking was extra rough, I would repeat to myself, "Almost there. Almost there. Almost there."

That transmuted into a mantra I've encountered in guided meditations: "I love you. Keep going. I love you. Keep going."

And during the most difficult stretch, I found myself repeating to myself words from a TikTok recording of a father giving encouragement to a child learning to bike: "Wow! I'm so proud of you! You're doing amazing, amazing!"

I was crying from the miserableness of it all, and from the unexpected power of those words, and thinking of you helping me learn to ride a bike. Thinking of you being proud of me and excited for me doing such an adventure, and how you would have loved to hear about this, disability or not.

I really missed out on a lot with you — because of your advancing mental disability, because of mom's abuse — but I think some part of healing from all of that gives me a new gift:

You'll always be with me, now.

Thanks, Dad.