Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

A letter to my dad

Rawan Abu Asad | 18-06-2016

"I will be back in a few hours; be ready to leave as soon as I arrive," he said as he left the house. Three hours later, a call came through on her mobile phone and his name showed up on the screen. She answered, thinking she would hear his voice, saying he was almost home. She went still when it was a stranger instead, telling her he had found the phone next to an unconscious man near the gas station and was taking him to the hospital. She was speechless, unable to explain his sudden absence to her kids, as they waited for their father to go on a picnic before vacation ended. Two days later, without coming out of his coma caused by a sudden stroke, he died.

That was my father, and when I was 16, he left me, my mom and my seven siblings.

A collage of photos of her father on Rawan's bedroom wall

Dear Daddy,

It has been six years since we saw each other for the last time. I know no one could prevent what happened, but I still wonder how life can change so suddenly overnight.

I remember that day in September 2010, when I learned you had died. I was sitting with my friends on our first day of high school after a three-month vacation. For some reason, my heart started to beat quickly and I couldn't breathe. I felt something wrong had happened. I left school and while I walked in the road I saw it was so crowded with cars and people. I wondered where all of those cars were going. Once I arrived home, I knew. They were coming to pay their respects.

When I read in the news about the Palestinian prisoners whose children must grow up without a father, I realized how much I missed calling out to you: "Dad!" And I remember how fun my vacations were because of you. You made them unforgettable. When I was about 8 years old, I used to be so afraid of swimming or even touching the sea water. When you bought a small, yellow boat and put me in it, I started screaming. But I stopped when I felt your hands lift me to your shoulders and we walked through the water.  At that moment, I whispered, "My dad is my hero."

Later, when I graduated from high school and then university, I felt your absence in the congratulatory crowds. But there was always this feeling deep down inside that told me it was going to be okay. It is as if somehow you are still here.

Life goes on. I have a bachelor’s degree now in journalism and work as a filmmaker. I hope to earn a postgraduate degree in documentary filmmaking. Your spirit inside says it's okay.

Still, your absence is always felt. Do you remember the first Israeli war on Gaza, in 2008 and 2009? We all gathered around you and we weren't scared because you reassured us with your presence. You made us feel safe even though rockets were falling around our house, demolishing so much in our neighborhood. We missed that sense of safety during the 2014 assault on Gaza, because you were no longer here. It frightened me that I couldn't even tell you how scared I was.

The Muslim month of Ramadan used to give me so much pleasure. We would all eat together, pray and laugh. But now the table seems empty and all we do is share memories, even though it’s been six years since you left. We smile, but our laughter seems empty.

The other day, I looked through my photo album. I saw many photos of you alone and me alone, and I wondered why I had never taken a single photo of us together. Now even the album makes me feel fragile and lonely.

I sometimes compare my life when you were in it to my life after you left. I’ve become stronger, because I had no choice. I had to be strong to support my mother and siblings. I do my best to make Mom proud. But she always cries, even when she's happy. It seems her only way of expressing her feelings now are tears. She never forgets to say, “If your dad was here, he would be so happy.” She will never forget you.

Ibrahim Naserallah once said, "I used to fear the graveyard, but now I am used to it because I have beloved people buried in there more than I have on the surface of earth." I have half of my beloved ones here on earth and the other half there.

Mentor: Pam Bailey
Posted June 18, 2016

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