It is night. I lay awake asking unanswerable questions. What did I do wrong? Do you have another daughter somewhere since me who you love more? Will this empty sorrow always be so deep inside me every time I hear the word "daddy"?
I am five years old and you come for a visit. We go fishing, you buy me Barbie's little sister Skipper, you make promises you can't yet keep. I light the photograph on fire, but quickly blow out the flame. I'm not ready to let you go. I've almost burned it up so many times, but always stop short. "Someday." I whisper and put the photograph away. The mystery of your eyes still haunting me. The red of your lips confronting me every day as I stare into the mirror, still unsatisfied with the unanswered questions.
For years I look for more. I ask my mother about you. She gives me the last letter you ever wrote and says softly, "He loved you very much. There was something different in his eyes the day you were born, a sparkle not there before." I hold in my tears until I am alone. The tears come like a flood as I read the letter. All I see are lies and bad excuses to walk away. I read it over and over and soon put it away with the photograph. For the first time I know you won't come back, and I hate you for it. Yet I can't burn the photograph.
Every time I make a friend they ask about you. I tell them the short story. 'He left when I was small and never came back'. They say "Sorry". I say "I'm fine, I'm better off without him". I try to believe it, but I know that I'm as much of a liar as I believe you to be. I begin to see myself in the photograph. Every Sunday and Wednesday I go to church. My youth pastor sees my wounds. "You have to forgive". They've told me that my whole life. I say the words to appease them. "Jesus, I forgive him." But really, I hate you more because I don't mean it. I start saying it every day. They say it will help. It becomes the only relationship we have.
One day I take the photograph out again. "I want to be rid of you." I whisper. I light a match and look at your photo glossy eyes and their sparkling blue secrets. Tears flood my eyes and I hate you because I can't stop loving you. I write you a letter I won't ever send and put it away with your last letter and the photograph. For a while I feel better.
Time passes by.
I'm older now and live far away in Scotland. Your last letter is lost from my memory, so I ask my mom for the real one. Two weeks later it arrives in the mail. I take it with me for a walk on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. The wind is blowing hard as it usually does so close to the ocean. My bones freeze within me, but I almost feel numb to it. Seven years have passed since I read that letter last. I take a deep breath and start to read. The words have not changed, but it is not the same letter. You speak of your fears, of wounds so deep you drown in them. You speak of failing, you speak of your father and how you hate and love him as I hate and love you. The wind howls around me. I close my eyes and forget the ground beneath my feet. For a moment I stand only on your words. I'm wearing your shoes. I am the person in the photograph, and I understand why you left. When I open my eyes I'm still on the cliff side in Scotland. You are somewhere half a world away, but closer than you have ever been in my life before that moment. I know now why I could not burn your photograph. I smile with the satisfaction of someone who has solved a great mystery and put the photograph away.