It doesn’t feel like five years. It feels like five minutes. Like I’m in between the two shattering calls from my brother that changed everything. “Dad had a heart attack.” “He’s gone…Mala, he’s gone.” I had to change my brother’s assigned ringtone eventually. For years afterward, every time he rang me, I was catapulted back to that morning—October 7, 2014—where the bottom dropped out from beneath us. I don’t know why it took so long to switch the songs out. Maybe because experiencing the pain over and over again felt appropriate. The joke’s on me, though: I changed the ringtone, but the pain is still here.
I wrote about it a year after. It doesn’t seem like that post and this one are all that far apart. Like that much has changed. But it has. I live in a different city. I’m not trapped in one extremely toxic job after another. I’m not curled up in the bottom of a liquor bottle, soaking up self-loathing like the worm in tequila. I’ve done things I never would have done had I stayed in New York City—published a widely beloved and popular romance novella, secured a paperback deal for three full-length books…survived.
My dad would be proud of how I fought to keep living, how I didn’t let so many terrible things grind me into dust, how I’m now pursuing the dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. He wouldn’t want me to dwell in those harrowing phone calls from five years ago. Or on how I picked the smart black, pinstriped, suit they dressed him in for the viewing and funeral. (He had awful taste in clothes. That black suit was by far the best of the lot.) Or how my brother and some uncles from our Bengali community and temple accompanied his body to the crematorium. As per patriarchal Hindu tradition, the women stayed behind. My mom and I didn’t want to see it anyway. Seeing it would’ve made it real.
Of course, it was always real. Even during the handful of months where I had vivid, recurring, dreams that Dad was actually in a secret coma in a hidden hospital room and woke up almost a year onward wondering why everyone was mourning him. (The perils of being a lifelong soap opera fan. Hoping that my dad was like Stefano DiMera, rising from the ashes like a phoenix.) We’ve had five years without him. There’s no ignoring it or changing it. Dad’s gone, the ringtone’s different, and I’m still here.
Maybe one day, I’ll be at peace with that. That day isn’t today.