Crash & Burn by SG Huerta

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CW suicide, abuse

My grandmother described my dad’s penultimate suicide attempt in 2018 como un milagro through both of our tears over the phone when I found out about his overdose. I hadn’t talked to the man in years, and quite frankly, I was terrified. Not of him dying, at the time, but of what I would have to face if he survived. Yes. Un milagro. When I was 19 my father briefly shook hands with death and then decided that maybe telling his then-15-year-old child he never wanted to speak to them again was a mistake. So because of this milagro, this miracle, we were briefly back in each other’s realms.

I’m always throwing my dad under the bus to try to convince you not to do the same to me. I’m telling you I believe my actions are okay because he hurt me first. I can air out my grievances because the only way he will read this is if my tía was right and he really is my personal angel now. I think he would care more about my grammatical errors than my speaking out.

So here I am, throwing him under the bus. There I am, 13 years old and learning to drive and almost flipping his truck into a ditch near our house. My dad instilled a(n) (un)healthy fear of vehicles in me early in life. My vehicles and tenors are everywhere and my metaphors blend and blend and I pretend I’m sorry. But am I truly sorry if I don’t know anything is wrong? I don’t notice it anymore, the wrongness, and I think it’s a symptom of my mood disorder. Disordered moods and processes and writings.

Bagging up my youth group shirts to donate today should have felt good like a slam! of the closet door but instead I just feel like I’m throwing my teenage self away. Nice to meet you, I am pseudo-adult now, complete with new name new hormones new everything. The Pope is Dope, one shirt reads. My old favorite, I like Her a latte, features the Virgin Mary inside of the Starbucks logo. Catholic Classic. yo soy católico. I threw away the letters from church camp, too, three years of them, without rereading a word. It would have been the ninety-ninth time anyway. I was so católica it duele. Named after the wife of Abraham and the Messenger. A miracle, my dad called me in a letter, never to my face. Nice to meet you.

About a month after my dad’s 2018 overdose, I adopted a kitten and named her Lorca after the new-to-me poet. The day I took home this gray and white four-week-old I could comfortably fit in one hand, I cried and cried and cried. 

She will die some day. I feared it then and I fear it now, watching her chase nothing and bolt from one room to the next.

I can only remember one time my family, my brother, sister, mom– wait, you have a brother?–  were all on one merged call. My dad’s incident was the catalyst for the odd July occurrence. I sat on the disgusting tan carpet of my first apartment, both my roommates away for summer and me stuck in Lubbock trying too hard at a minimum wage front-desk job on campus. 

The phone call itself is hazy, except for my brother’s voice, my brother’s loud and clear ex-cop-voice, asking me if I knew what it looks like when someone blows their brains out because he knows what it looks like and our ex-marine ex-cop dad knows what it looks like and god it is your fault he took all those pills did you know our grandfather didn’t even call an ambulance? Blood and pieces of skull.

It’s hard to write about one’s estranged father’s overdose, though I suppose I’ve been doing it for years. What can I write that doesn’t make me sound as callous as I feel? What can I write that doesn’t expose myself as the callous person I try so hard not to be? After all, I was my father’s daughter. Wasn’t I? My psyche and prescription for antipsychotics both say so. I am my dead father’s sort-of son.

Trust me, I am empathetic towards my father. Perhaps to a fault. I see myself in him. When he died I became even more him.

Though it’s been a decade since my dad taught me how to drive, I don’t do it now and I likely never will. No car, no license, no problem. (See: Fear of vehicles.) That summer of manic energy, the offers for rides became plentiful, the free coffee and books and quality time… it’s as if every one of my acquaintances believed themselves responsible for my dad’s incident. But he didn’t die. I was on standby for about a week while he rehabbed and recovered. Supposedly. False alarm, he’s okay, just incoherent enough to believe we are on good terms. I repeated this to myself until his fatal overdose two summers later.

2018 was the summer I chain smoked a bit too much and actually slept with the girls I was into and blew through money and books at an alarming rate. I found solace in the staying-up-til-sunrise on my balcony with my pretentiously thick and jacket-less Hemingway book, cup of coffee, and pack of light blue American Spirits. Who was I fooling? I was nineteen and crashing and burning and smoking and crashing. I romanticize those days when I think back on them now. To do anything else would drive me mad.
I like to think I left 2018 in the past when I gave up on forgiving my father. When he got me wasted and said he wanted to knock my teeth out, when the stranger on the street grabbed my arm: Are you okay? Is that really your dad? Do you need help? But then 2020 happened. He was gone–  really!–  and I’ve been crashing for just as long.

SG Huerta is a Chicane writer from Dallas. They are pursuing their MFA at Texas State University. SG is the author of the chapbook The Things We Bring with Us: Travel Poems (Headmistress Press, 2021), and their work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Infrarrealista Review, Variant Lit, and elsewhere. They live in Texas with their partner and two cats. Find them at or on Twitter @sg_poetry

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