My father liked to write. He wrote day and night, night and day. I bet he’s still writing in heaven. He’s probably typing pages and pages of letters at the moment, his small, neat, handwriting sprinkled across off-white paper. I wished I could see what he wrote. I tried once, when I was very young. Four years old, at most. He kept them on him most of the time, in a musty smelling brown briefcase. But when he slept it was at the end of the king sized bed he shared with my mother, laid sideways against the bed frame. I vaguely remember sneaking past them, my pale pink socks barely making a sound on the wooden floor. When I lifted the papers from the briefcase, however, I couldn’t make sense of any of it. They were either scrambled with lines sticking out of them, horribly misspelled, or both. They all seemed to start with the same words, though. I decided not to look at them again, as they made no sense to my four year old brain. I knew he wasn’t American. Maybe they’re in his native language, I thought to myself. Yes, that should be it.
Nearly a decade later, my father became ill with cancer. We thought we caught it early. “It can be cured with surgery,” the doctors explained. The doctors lied. A week after the doctors attempted surgery, they gave my father two months to live. I took two months off from school. I only needed to take three weeks. During those painful three weeks, I never left his hospital bed. I slept in the armchair beside it, and showered in the bathroom next to it. We both knew the end was near.
I hated the whole experience. I hated watching my father’s caramel hair clump together and fall out. I hated seeing him neglect food, until he became as close to a skeleton as possible. I hated seeing the pain on his face as his breath came out in sharp, ragged, gasps.
The night before his death, my father pulled me to his bedside.
“Mia,” he whispered, struggling to get the words out. “I am going to die.”
I hesitated, not sure what to say. “Don’t say that,” I tried to make my voice as comforting as possible. “You never-”
“I am not a fool,” he interrupted. “I know what is about to happen.”
I let a tear slide down my pale, rosy, cheeks. He continued.
“Listen, I left something for you. It’s beneath the bed that your mother and I share.”
Before I could reply, his eyes blinked closed. Those were the last words that ever came out of him.
Two weeks later, I allowed myself to check the briefcase. It was full of the language that was there a decade ago, all written over the course of years. His tiny, neat, handwriting flooded me with memories, and I refused to look at it again. If I saw one photograph, one letter, one recording, then I would fall apart.
A few days after, I did. Not only that, I contacted my friend’s mother, a foreign language professor at the university two towns up. The language was Belarusian, explaining my father’s thick accent and eccentric ways. I quickly signed up for a class, and learned many things over six weeks, including my name, days of the week, and useful phrases. Now I know how to write my name in Belarusian. I’ve memorized it. And I think it is the first word in every letter he ever wrote.